Arts Eclectic

Over the past five years, Justin Sherburn and his band Montopolis have been creating not just music, but a series of immersive concert experiences that focus on the diverse landscape of Texas.

Cindy Elizabeth

Forklift Danceworks has created performances starring roller skaters, Elvis impersonators, and the city’s sanitation department (and their trucks). Oh, and also baseball players, traffic cops, and marching bands. Non-dancers dancing in unexpected places is kind of their specialty. 

Maria Luisa Mendoza has seen a lot of changes in the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood in the past few decades.

In 1988, she and her husband opened the health store and restaurant Mr. Natural on East Cesar Chavez Street, and while other businesses have come and gone since then, hers has remained and become a fixture of the community.

Chloe and Lane Ingram – who perform under the portmanteau Chlane – had already been married for about a year when they started taking improv classes together a decade ago. Since then, they’ve performed together and apart in various improv troupes, and that shared love of performing led them to eventually create their own sketch comedy show.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The Austin Public Library launched its own music streaming service late last year, offering up a collection of tracks by local musicians. Electric Lady Bird is free for anyone – whether or not you have a library card.

The idea behind the service is to share Austin music and to help practicing musicians find new fans.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

“I definitely lobbied [for the job],” says Liz Fisher, who is directing Penfold Theatre’s new production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, “because it’s a play that’s been very near and dear to my heart for many, many years."

Fisher says it was one of the first plays she ever performed in and got her "hooked" on Shakespeare.

“I was doing it for two years in New York with my co-host and good friend Liisa Murray,” says Meghan Ross of her variety show That Time of the Month. “And then when I moved to Austin I wanted to bring it down here with me, so it’s been about two years in Austin as well. And it’s grown since then, and changed in format. And, yeah, it’s found a nice home here in Austin.

This weekend marks Austin’s first People of Color Comedy Festival. But while the fest is brand new, it’s been a dream for founder Leng Wong for several years.

Eric Culver, one of the co-founders of the online marketplace ArtStartArt, got a degree in art and later went to business school, so starting a business that helps art students sell their works online was a natural use for all of his schooling. “Yes, it’s certainly kind of the culmination of all my both education and professional experiences,” Culver says. “This definitely makes sense, at least on paper.

“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.

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