Mike Lee

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.

Ten years ago, writer and performer Zell Miller III was inspired by his then six-year-old son to create the one-man show My Child, My Child, My Alien Child. Several years later, he created a sequel about his second child, titled Oh...Sh*t...It's a Girl! Now that son is 16 and that daughter is eight, and Zell's ready to complete the trilogy with Oh Snap, My Alien Children Are Trying to Kill Me.

From Drive a Senior, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

Meeting the Needs of our Community

For most of us, car keys represent freedom and independence. Staying connected is essential to healthy aging, but without transportation, many seniors feel stuck and alone. Public transportation may not be available in their area, or they are surviving on a restricted income. For thousands of senior citizens in our community, not having transportation may mean they are no longer able to stay in their own homes.

Express Yourself, the new show from ColdTowne Theater, began life as a parody of a specific genre of film: movies like Dangerous Minds, Finding Forester, and Freedom Writers, or what co-director Frank Netscher calls "white savior public school movies." 

Over the years, Justin Sherburn has composed new music for old movies, new movies, stage shows, puppet shows, and all sorts of other things. His latest work, Monolith, was written for Central Texas' favorite ancient dome of granite, Enchanted Rock.

Like many in the area, Sherburn has long been fascinated by Enchanted Rock. "It was one of the first things I knew about Austin," he says, "that there was this sort of mystical place outside Austin called Enchanted Rock." His interest in the place led him to not only compose music for it, but to start asking others about their connections to Enchanted Rock as well, "recording people's interviews and conversations about their experiences at Enchanted Rock."

Comedian Brian Gaar has been performing standup in Austin and around the country for years now, and as of a few months ago, he's also a late night TV host.

His show, ATX Uncensored(ish), has been airing since the end of September on the CW in Austin. What's the like? "After four months, I think we're still trying to figure that out," he laughs. "It's a late night comedy show, so it's very topical, and it's very focused on Austin."

This month, Austin will host the second annual OUTsider Festival. The fest, which will last five days, aims to celebrate the diverse nature of the LBGTQI creative community.

From Art from the Streets, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

Through its 23 year history, Art From the Streets has helped hundreds of homeless individuals improve their circumstances - literally and figuratively - by providing them the means to make art. We believe that anyone can make art and that making art is good for everyone. 

Granite sculptor Jesús Moroles was a large figure in the Texas arts community, well known for both his enormous  artworks and his enormous energy and generosity. Among his many awards, he received a United States National Medal of Arts in 2008. His untimely death in an automobile accident last year was a shock and a large blow to his friends at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden.

Since November, they've been hosting a tribute to Moroles, displaying many of his works. The exhibit, simply titled Jesús Moroles: A Tribute, was put together by two of Moroles' closest associates, his sister Suzanna and her husband Kurt Kangas, who was Moroles' right hand man. They've tried to put together a showing that would make the artist proud. "I think he would be pleased," Kangas says, adding "You know, doing this without him is difficult. It's very bittersweet, it is. But it's an honor also." 

This weekend, the Institution Theater will unveil the sixth installment in their "Jukebox Musical Project," which combines a historical period or event with the music of a popular entertainer with no apparent connection to that event.

The Institution's Asaf Ronen was inspired to create the project after seeing a youtube video created by actress Rachel Bloom using the music of Sugar Ray. "As is my wont," he remembers, "when I see someone else do something, I want to do something like it."

Inspired to create jukebox musicals that would combine "a historical event and an artist that shouldn't appear in that historical event," Ronen quickly noticed the flaw in his plan: creating a show based on history would necessitate doing some research, and as Ronen says, "I hate doing research. And I was like 'what writers do I know that would love to do this and are really strong writers?'."

Enter Courtney Hopkin, who says she loves researching. "One of my favorite things to do is just read long, boring books about historical events, so it really worked out for me."

FronteraFest Turns 23

Jan 16, 2016

FronteraFest has a been a staple of the Austin theater community for nearly a quarter of a century. As perhaps the premier fringe theater festival in the southwest USA, FronteraFest has given hundreds of artists an opportunity to present their works to an accepting audience.

From Keep Austin Fed, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:  

What is Keep Austin Fed?

Keep Austin Fed is a all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that gathers wholesome and nutritious surplus food from commercial kitchens and distributes it to area charities that serve hungry people in need. Our mission is to share healthy nutrition with our hungry neighbors by keeping surplus food out of the waste stream.

In 2004, founder Randy Rosens saved high quality catered food from an Austin Museum of Art Fundraising event at Laguna Gloria that was headed to the dumpster. The food fed a small group of women and children living at a shelter in south Austin. Last year Keep Austin Fed rescued over 500,000 meals, feeding hundreds of our neighbors living with food insecurity — the 1 in 7 Central Texans who don’t know where their next meal will come from. As we fight against hunger, we also fight for our environment by keeping food out of landfills. 40% of the food we produce in America never gets eaten. According to the USDA, that’s the equivalent of 133 billion pounds of food with a retail value over $161 trillion – each year. It’s a daunting challenge, but with your help we’re making a dent.

StoryCorps was back in Austin in November, recording the stories of Central Texas veterans as part of their Military Voices Initiative.

Brooke and Clayton Hergert, who are both veterans, have been married almost eight years now and have two young sons. Their love story began in 2005, halfway across the world. While serving in Afghanistan, Clayton, a Special Operations Force member, was surprised to meet his new Army pilot, Captain Brooke Taylor.  

StoryCorps was back in Austin in November, recording the stories of Central Texas veterans as part of their Military Voices Initiative.

Jeffrey Moe recently shared his story with his friend Brandon Barrera. Jeffrey enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002, serving as an Arabic linguist during deployments to both Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Kenneth Gall Photography

For writer/actor Alex Garza, performing Abuelita's Christmas Carol has become a holiday tradition. It began nearly a decade ago, when he wrote the play as a tribute to his late grandmother. For that first performance, the show was a traditional play, with different actors playing the various characters and Garza taking on the title role, a character based on his grandmother.

After that run, though, he changed the play into a one-man show, playing characters based on his abuelita and several other members of his family as well (including himself -- the narrator character is based on Garza). "I really loved the play and it meant so much to me -- because it was about my grandmother and my family -- that I wanted to keep doing it," Garza says. 

StoryCorps was back in Austin in November, recording the stories of Central Texas veterans as part of their Military Voices Initiative.

Adam Wagner recently shared his story with StoryCorps facilitator Sylvie Lubow. Adam served in the U.S. Marines for 11 years, including several deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan starting in 2003. During and after his time in active duty, he has found strength in his wife Katie.  

This holiday season in Round Rock, Penfold Theatre Company is presenting a new but still pretty old-fashioned take on Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol.

This version of the story (adapted by Penfolds's Nathan Jerkins) takes place in a the fictional KPNF radio station sometime in the 1930s or '40s, where a group of actors are presenting a radio drama version of the familiar holiday tale. In keeping with radio play tradition, the actors will be playing multiple roles and creating their own sound effects live on stage.

One chilly and rainy night forty years ago, Bruce Willenzik, an employee at the Armadillo World Headquarters, was chatting with a young singer named Lucinda Williams when the topic turned to the artists who made their livings selling their wares outside on the Drag. As Willenzik remembers it, Williams remarked "It's too bad those artists don't have a warm dry place like this to sell in."

From Front Steps, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

About Front Steps

Front Steps believes that all people deserve the dignity of a safe place to call home. For those experiencing homelessness, Front Steps’ mission is to provide a continuum of services, by offering shelter, seeking affordable housing, and providing community education.

Front Steps was created in 1997 as the Capital Area Homeless Alliance with the overarching philosophy that each homeless person deserves respect and dignity. Front Steps manages the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) in downtown Austin which meets the basic needs of about 600 men and women daily, operates an overnight and daytime shelter and permanent housing, and operates the Central Texas Recuperative Care Program.

The history of La Pastorela dates back many centuries. The play has been performed during the Christmas season by amateur and professional artists, in theaters and churches, in Mexico and in Mexican communities since the middle part of the last millennia.

It's long been a tradition to stage La Pastorela in Austin, too. After financial difficulties kept ALTA (Austin Latino Theater Alliance) from being able to stage the play last year, director Rupert Reyes set to work to ensure it could return in 2015. His production company, Teatro Vivo, will be staging La Pastorela this holiday season at the Mexican American Cultural Center.

The Wimberley Players are currently presenting Other Desert Cities, by playwright Jon Robin Baitz. The play, which was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for drama, centers around a contentious family gathering on Christmas Eve.

The setting is the Palm Springs, California home of the Wyeth family; daughter Brooke (played here by Shelby Miller) returns home for the holidays after a six year absence. She's written a book a book about the family, and the way in which her family members (including mother Polly, played by Whitney Martlett) react to this news spurs the action of the play.

"It starts out as a family comedy," says director Tracy Arnold, "but we quickly discover the family's deep-rooted secrets and their conflicts that they've had from the past and that continue into the present."

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