Mike Lee | KUT

Senior Producer: Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, Sonic IDs

Mike is a features producer at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for kut.org. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.

Several years ago, he featured a young dancer on his Arts Eclectic program, and she was so impressed by his interviewing skills that she up and married him. Now they enjoy traveling, following their creative whims, and spending time with their dogs.

This weekend, Capital City Men’s Chorus will present two performances of Andrew Lippa’s new work Unbreakable. “The goal of Unbreakable is to tell the story of the LGBT history in the United States – the story that hasn’t been told before,” says Paul Halstead, the chairman of the board for the chorus. “It takes themes from the life stories of several characters through history that most of us have never heard of before and it puts those stories to song in a way that’s uplifting and fun and sometimes serious.

“This was started in 2004 in Kingston, New York, as the Wall Street Jazz Festival,” says Lulu Fest founder Peggy Stern. “Because a partner and I had noticed that there were very few women bandleaders playing in these festivals. Sometimes there were band members that were women, but still very few. And it was just a glaring oversight of the jazz business, which is supposed to be forward-thinking. And so we thought we’d help it along by creating this festival.”

Image courtesy of Ethan Azarian

For the past few years, artist Ethan Azarian has been working to create murals on the exterior walls of Austin schools. This year, he’s been creating a piece just outside the entrance to Travis Heights Elementary School. For this work, as is always the case with his school murals, Azarian is collaborating with the school’s students.

From Pease Park Conservancy, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

As one of Austin, Texas’ most iconic green spaces and oldest parks, Pease Park is a civic landmark and regional treasure. Unfolding across 84 acres, Pease Park serves as a shaded and lush oasis in the heart of the city – providing residents and visitors alike with an intimate, yet sprawling, natural amenity for picnics and birthday parties, nature walks, recreation and relaxation, connectivity, and general enjoyment and exploration of the outdoors.

Plein air is a French term that was established by the French impressionist painters back in the early 1900s, which meant the artist would go out on location and paint on location and try to get at least a study or an established painting while they were on site,” says artist Alexis McCarthy, president of Plein Air Austin.

“I was down here when it started, because I kind of knew when they were having the big parties down on Sixth Street,” says Shannon Sedwick, a longtime organizer of the Pecan Street Festival who’s now considered the “chair emeritus” of the Pecan Street Association. “But it was all … really haphazard at that time and not half as organized as it is right now. It was more like a block party.

“I think a lot of plays… even if it’s just a question that you’re asking, you’re always sort of writing from inside your own mind, so in some way it’s autobiographical,” playwright Elizabeth Doss says of her new not-exactly autobiographical play Severe Weather Warning. “But [for] this play in particular… I was thinking about old friends that I’d had, and sort of the loaded history that emerges.”

Photo by Sarah Annie Navarrete

Unusual Kinships, a new solo show from soft sculpture artist Magda Jarkowiec, is currently on display at Dimension Gallery. Jarkowiec has been creating art since 2001, but hasn’t always felt free to actually call herself an artist.

“We like to call it movement-based comedy,” says Pete Betcher, one of the founders of The Back Pack. “It’s a little bit of dance, it’s a little bit of media, it’s a little bit of theater, all kind of blended into one thing. It ends up being very fast paced.”

From Preservation Austin, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

About Preservation Austin

Preservation Austin has been our city’s leading nonprofit voice for historic preservation since 1953. We promote a culture where our historic landmarks, neighborhoods, and iconic venues and businesses are valued and protected. These places shape Austin’s unique character, making it unlike anywhere else in Texas or beyond. They inform our identity, defining our sense of place and civic pride. By celebrating Austin’s diverse heritage through education and advocacy, we work to make sure that our unique past is part of our shared future.

“He was a kid in the middle of the '60s, and he learned from his father what it meant to really play the system, to see all the moves you could make,” Hal Roberts says of Frank Abagnale Jr., the character he plays in the musical Catch Me If You Can.

“And he really took that to heart and lived his best life, so to speak," he says.

Salvage Vanguard Theater is currently presenting Antigonick, a modern translation of Sophocles’ Antigone.

“The translation’s by Anne Carson, and she is a well-known poet and experimental fiction writer, and a photographer, actually,” says director Diana Lynn Small. “It was published in 2012, and it was published as a hardbound book. The pages are handwritten by her and there’s beautiful illustrations by Bianca Stone. She didn’t necessarily write it to be performed, but it is starting to be performed around the country by experimental companies and dance theater companies.”

“We realized that we had a lot in common with each other,” Linzy Beltran says of her comedy partner, Kim Tran. “[We] both come from immigrant parents – her’s from Vietnam and mine from El Salvador – [and] we’re both in about the same place in our lives."

"There were just a lot of these, like, kismet moments when we started playing improv together," she says, "and we decided to come up with a sketch troupe, which is Glam Fam.”

From United Way For Greater Austinthis month's Get Involved spotlight organization:  

Our Mission

We bring people, ideas and resources together to fight poverty in our community

Street Corner Arts is presenting a production of Ayad Akhtar’s play Junk. “The play is based on the junk bond scandal back in the '80s, but what’s interesting about it is that … here we are thirty years later and you’d think that the financial world [and] the political world would’ve learned their lesson but we see a lot of the same behavior today,” says Rommel Sulit, the company’s associate artistic director and an actor in Junk.

“As far as men behaving badly, it seems like they haven’t learned.”

“It’s actually going to be a quite dynamic night,” says Cheryl Chaddick, the founder of Chaddick Dance Theater, about their upcoming winter showcase performance, Beneath the Mind. “We have three pieces, and one is a nightmare, one is a dream, and one is a memory of a life spent in marriage.”

That memory piece is choreographed by Chaddick and based on her own marriage.  “I lost my husband last year, and so I was just thinking about all the stages of when we started dating and how we behaved and then in the middle of the marriage and then the last part of the marriage,” she says. “So it’s a lot of reflection on that, and just the arc of that experience.”

Austin’s OUTsider Festival will celebrate its fifth year this week, but when Curran Nault and the other founders were planning that first fest, they weren’t really thinking about year five.

“It’s such an unusual idea, the festival,” Nault says. “So I think we were just really thinking in the moment that we wanted to create something. And we were hoping that people would like what we created and then we would take it from there. And honestly, that’s how we’ve approached it every year since.”

Rap Unzel, the new children’s play running at Austin Scottish Rite Theater this month, was born out of a brainstorming session last summer, during which writer Jeremy Rashad Brown and members of the theater discussed ideas for this year’s Black History Month.

From Mainspring Schools, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

The mission of Mainspring Schools is to deliver the highest quality early education and care to Austin’s most economically disadvantaged children – along with services so each child and parent have tools for success in school and life.

For the past decade or so, the nonprofit Austin Creative Alliance has been hosting an annual unified audition, a one-day event that aims to connect actors and other creative artists with producers, filmmakers and casting directors. Originally an actors-only audition day, the event has now expanded to include directors, designers, choreographers and other theater professionals.

“I play all the characters in whatever world or scene we’re in at the time, and Quinn plays me,” says Shannon Stott, who is one half of the improv troupe Twins. “And if you haven’t figured it out by now, Quinn is a white male and I am a black female.”

Stott’s partner Quinn Buckner adds with a laugh, “If you haven’t figured it out yet, by the… magic of radio…”

Twins came into being when Stott and Buckner (who are not actually twins, but are actually best friends), both improv veterans, started discussing a longstanding but frustrating truth about the improv world.

“So it’s taken me about 11 years to complete this film,” Richard Whymark says of his documentary Fiore: In Love With Clay.

“I started when my wife first mentioned Fiore as a family friend who would be the sculptor who would come and visit their home in D.C.," he said. "And she would have a cigar in one hand, whisky in the other, and somehow sculpt members of the family or friends. And she would tell stories about her character as either being very bombastic or very reflective and artistic. She was a great artist and had an artistic temperament as well, and I thought, ‘that sounds like a good story to document.’”

From American Gateways, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:  

American Gateways champions the dignity and human rights of immigrants, refugees and immigrant survivors or persecution, torture, conflict, and human trafficking through exceptional immigration legal services at no or low cost, education, and advocacy. We empower immigrants to know their rights and be their own best legal advocate, and for some we provide full legal representation.  Last year, over 10,000 immigrants from nearly 70 countries were empowered through the information and assistance they received from us.

To hear Darren Peterson tell it, his long-running holiday show The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) was created by his love of both dog tricks and puns. “Well, I love doing dog shows, and the name ‘Mutt-Cracker’ occurred to me, and how can you not just base a show around that name?” he says. “And then the ‘sweet’ part – once I thought about ‘Mutt-Cracker (Sweet),’ that just turned into its own little thing. Who’s not going to love that?”

Kirk Tuck

Director Nat Miller isn’t a stranger to Zach Theatre’s Mainstage productions – The Santaland Diaries is his third – but he’s spent more time directing shows for Zach’s Theatre for Families series. But despite Santaland’s decidedly more adult nature, he says the jobs are pretty similar. “I find that Santaland Diaries and doing plays for young people aren’t that different,” Miller says with a laugh. “It is on top of a toyland set. There just happens to be some swearing involved.

“We didn’t see this coming at all,” says Blue Genie co-owner Dana Younger about the enduring appeal of the group’s annual bazaar. “I think one of our employees one year said ‘You know what? Y’all should do a Christmas show.’ And we said, ‘Oh, OK, we’ll do a Christmas show.’ And we put some things up, we invited some friends to put some things up, and we were shocked when things sold.”

After the surprising success of that first show, the folks at Blue Genie said, “’That was great. That was fun. We should do that again,’”  Younger says.

For Ryan Crowder and the other folks at Penfold Theatre Company, producing old fashioned radio plays has become a holiday tradition. “This is our seventh Christmas radio show to do,” Crowder says. “We started out in downtown Round Rock in this little British tearoom. We took a radio script that was already adapted – of It’s a Wonderful Life – and had such a great time… we said, ‘Oh, we have to do this again.’”

This holiday season, Ventana Ballet will present its debut performance, a new, interactive, re-imagined version of The Nutcracker called The Watchmaker’s Song. For producers AJ Garcia-Rameau and Dorothy O’Shea Overbey, it’s a project that’s been a long time coming.

From NAMI Austin, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:  

NAMI Austin will celebrate 35 years of providing no-cost classes and support groups to families and individuals living with mental health conditions in 2019. In the last 5 years, NAMI Austin’s programming has expanded to include free site-based mental health education and training in schools, workplaces, faith communities and with law enforcement. Because mental health challenges impact 1 in 5 people in our community, the need for our programs is increasing.

Our Impact

In 2018, NAMI Austin impacted more than 21,000 people in Austin and surrounding counties who participated in our free education, support and advocacy programs. Our 2018 Impact Report and Strategic Plan reflect where we are today and what we hope to accomplish in the next three years as we expand our programs to serve the needs of our growing community.

“I didn’t know I was going to like painting, but it’s the color that I gravitate toward, so my stuff is all pretty loud,” says artist Marilyn Swartz, who’s getting ready to show a year’s worth of new paintings at the upcoming annual art show and sale put on by Art From The Streets, Austin’s long-standing art therapy non-profit.

“We’ve been working with the homeless and at-risk in Austin, Texas for twenty-six years. We’ve had shows all through the community, and this is our big annual show,” says Art From The Streets executive director Kelley Worden. Artists who participate in the program have free access to art supplies and studio space three days a week. “We work all year, gathering artwork and working with our artists in open studio. They paint [and] create beautiful pieces of work and have a culmination show, and that’s what this show is.”

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