Arts Eclectic

“I had done some productions for KLRN prior to [Carrascolendas]… without budgets, you know,” says Aida Barrera. “But then I decided that maybe the time had come to go out and look for some funding and do a series that would have a different kind of goal. That turned out to be Carrascolendas.”

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.

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.”

“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.”

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.

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.’”

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.

“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.”

“Now, we did this show almost thirty years ago at Capital City Playhouse, a formerly legendary theater in Austin, Texas that no one remembers,” says Turk Pipkin of his upcoming show with old friend Butch Hancock. “So, back by lack of popular demand after thirty years.”

It’s been a while since the last installment of their “two-man one-man show,” but Butch and Turk have remained close friends since meeting decades ago in Austin. “I met Turk right out here – you know, two hundred yards from here, out on the Drag,” Hancock says. “And he was out there juggling and I was totally amazed and went up and talked to him and from that day on, we’ve known each other.”

“When I inherited these works and artist friends and people in the art world in Washington, D.C. would come in, they’d say, ‘Oh, who did this?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, that’s my grandma,’” says Marni Roberson, the granddaughter of 19th century American painter Anna Stanley. “But, you know, she wasn’t a little old lady in tennis shoes.”

Anna Stanley’s art career wasn’t long – she died at only 42 – but it was prolific and world-spanning. She was born in Ohio, but painted in Paris, Holland, Asia, the Philippines, and across the U.S., including an extended stay in San Antonio. Her works were diverse; she painted landscapes and portraits, and showed a notable affinity for capturing the lives of working women she encountered in her travels. Many of her works are currently on display in the Neil-Cochran House Museum’s exhibition Through Her Eyes: The Impressionist Work of Anna Stanley.

"We did this two years ago, [and] it was a regional premiere of the work," says Michael McKelvey, Doctuh Mistuh Productions’ artistic director. “A friend of mine sent the soundtrack and I thought it was one of the most inventive things I’d seen, so I brought it here to Austin.”

That 2016 production of Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe was a big hit for Doctuh Mistuh, selling plenty of tickets and winning a handful of awards. Given the popularity of the show and it’s appropriateness for the Halloween season, it made sense to bring Nevermore back this October.

"This show examines what it means to be human and to feel all the things that humans feel and experience all the things that humans feel but have outsiders impose labels on you that make you essentially subhuman," says Trinity Street Players artistic director Ann Catherine Zárate of the musical Side Show.

"And so it plays with those ideas of 'Who's an insider? Who's an outsider? How do we all function together?' And ultimately, 'What does it mean to live in community and to feel and experience love and friendship?'"

"It's about motherhood, it is about female sexuality and the veneration of women... particularly looking at how women are shaped and formed in patriarchal, hierarchal institutional environments, says Tryouts director Diana Lynn Small, who goes on to say that "it's totally unconventional and it breaks almost all the rules. And in many ways it's more of like a play poem... we looked at it like it's a theatrical painting."  Then she adds, "It's so wild and bonkers."

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