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.

"This is the most ambitious production I've ever done," says Justin Sherburn of his new multimedia project The Time Machine. "It's definitely combining music and theater in a way that's new for me," he says, adding "the shows I've done in the past have been mostly music oriented with slight multimedia, [but] this is a full-on multimedia experience."

The show grew out of Sherburn's longstanding fascination with synthesizers. "I just always thought it'd be fun to... basically use a time machine as a theme to explore sythesizers.

In the sci-fi themed show, Sherburn and his band will journey through the 20th century, starting in Austin and moving through the decades and across the planet. Visual designer Stephen Fishman will manipulate an animation sequence live during the show, projecting images onto and around the band. "It makes it look like the band is actually immersed in this machine," Fishman says.

From this Brighter Bites, month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

Brighter Bites is a non-profit that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables directly into families’ hands, while teaching them how to use and choose a different kind of fast food. We make it fun. We make it free. And we make it happen via a simple, three-part formula. Since summer 2015, Brighter Bites has distributed over 1 million pounds of produce to more than 3,500 Austin families.

Mission

Brighter Bites creates communities of health through fresh food.

Vision

Brighter Bites is rooted in the belief that if we give our kids something better to munch on, they will. And the lives they lead will be as vibrant as the foods they crave.

Hir, a dark comedy by multi-award winning playwright Taylor Mac, debuted only a year ago in New York to much acclaim. This January, Capital T Theatre is bringing the play to Austin for the first time.

The play is, in broad terms, an installment in the long pantheon of American family dramas; the four person cast includes a father, a mother, and their two children, and much of the drama revolves around their dysfunctional relationships. 

But Hir is definitely a modern take on that long-lived dramatic genre. It's more of a black comedy than a straight drama, and its characters include a father who's barely able to communicate (in a very literal sense, due to a recent stroke) and who dresses like a clown, a mother who is struggling to assert her dominance after years of oppression, a son who's returning from war while also recovering from drug addiction and a daughter who is transitioning from female to male.

Kirk Tuck

In only its third year, Zach Theatre's annual production of A Christmas Carol is already becoming a holiday tradition, for both audience and cast members. 

"I love it," says actress Kelly Petlin. "I tell [director] Dave [Steakley] 'I'll do this until you tell me you tell me I can't do it anymore.'" For actor Michael Valentine, the cast and crew of A Christmas Carol have become something of a surrogate family. "I'm not from Texas, but this is my third holiday season here," he says. "And I've always felt so embraced by this community."

When the Blue Genie Art Bazaar opened for the first time in 2001, founding member Dana Younger didn't realize the art show and sale would take over his holiday season for the next fifteen years (and counting). 

"Yeah, it's amazing that this is our sixteenth year, but it's a neat thing about traditions" he says. "And it's not just a tradition to us and the artists, but it's a tradition to the community, too." 

Once a fairly small showing of arts and crafts created by the members of Blue Genie Art Industries, the bazaar has grown to include works by some 200 local and regional artists, and it's now open daily from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. For Younger, the bazaar has become synonymous with the holiday season..

This month, Street Corner Arts is presenting Constellations, the award-winning play by Nick Payne. It's a love story, featuring only two characters, but with an important twist: we see dozens of alternate universe versions of these characters, playing out their relationship in myriad possible ways.

"The playwright assumes that... multiverses are real, so what he's done is take these pivotal moments in these two character's lives and allow us to see different variations on that moment," says director Liz Fisher. "Sometimes they get together, sometimes they don't, sometimes things are going great, sometimes things go poorly."

  

From Little Artist Big Artist, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

About fifteen years ago, Austin artist Ethan Azarian started hosting an annual holiday art show. Appropriately called the In House Gallery, the show took place in Azarian's own home; toward the end of the year, he'd move all of his furniture into one room, turning the rest of the house into an empty gallery space. Then every available wall space would be filled with Azarian's (or a guest artist's) works, and the house became the In House Gallery.

Author and UT professor H.W. Brands has spent most of his life thinking and writing about history, and he's always looking for compelling moments or figures in American history as possible book subjects. 

His latest such work is The General Vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nucleur War, which focuses on the stressful relationship between President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, specifically their conflicting views on the possible use of nuclear weapons during that war. 

For Brands, tackling this moment in American History takes him back to his postgraduate days. "When I was a graduate student, I was studying the early 1950s, and I was aware of this controversy that developed within the American government between the president, Harry Truman, and the American commander for the Far East, Douglas MacArthur," he says.  "I had this vague notion then that the United States and the world might've been closer to nuclear war then than at any other time in American history." 

Every year, the Houston Film Commission curates the Texas Filmmakers’ Showcase, a collection of short films by Texas directors. The showcase, which comprises eight movies, is touring the state, making stops in several Texas cities.

This year, the showcase features works by two Austin filmmakers, Bryan Poyser and Jason Neulander.  Poyser is a veteran, having directed three features and five short films over the past fifteen years. "I've actually been trying to do at least one short in between the features that I've made," Poyser says. "With a short, it's a lot easier to just pull the trigger and do one." His latest short (the one that a part of this showcase) is More Than Four Hours, a comedy about a school teacher trying to hide the affects of an accidental Viagra dosing.

For Poyser, creating lower budget, shorter films like this gives him room to experiment a bit and take chances that might not be viable when creating a feature-length film. Or, in the case of More Than Four Hours, to tell a more contained story. "It has a very distinct beginning, middle, and end and wouldn't work if it was sustained throughout the course of a whole feature."

From CareBox Program, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

Mission:

CareBOX Program provides free essential care supplies to cancer patients to help prevent malnutrition, infections, and injuries from falls.

"I feel like the voice that's silenced in America is the black woman," says writer/director Zell Miller III about his new show Ballot Eats the Bullet. 

"The Vortex wanted me to create something that would be political around this time," Miller says. "And for me, being a black person in America is a political statement, and to be a black woman, to me, is the biggest political statement that you can make."

This month, Doctuh Mistuh Productions is presenting the regional premiere of the musical play Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. The show is a good fit for the company, and would've been even if director Michael McKelvey wasn't already a Poe fan. But he's been a fan for years. 

"Look, I went through my goth period like everybody else did," he says. "I still wear black most of the time. Poe, Byron, and Whitman were kind of how I became so enamored with literature."

ColdTowne Theater has been a mainstay of the Austin comedy scene for a decade now, offering improv and comedy shows seven nights a week and also teaching the art of improv to hundreds of students. But it actually had its origins in New Orleans -- that's where ColdTowne was born, in 2005. They performed together in the Crescent City for a few months and then, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, several members fled New Orleans for Austin.

Here, ColdTowne was reborn in what had been a storage room. "The first student group was four folks that were taught in the back of dusty storage room that later became a theater," says managing director Erika McNichol. "It was a pretty humble beginning."

"And now we have hundreds of students at any given session," adds executive producer Dave Buckman. "A modest empire."

To celebrate ten years in Austin, Coldtowne will present special programming all next week, with a weekend-long celebration October 20 - 23 (individual tickets are available, as are badges that will get you into all the shows. There will be parties, roasts, awards, and reunion shows, in which ColdTowne alums from around the nation will return to celebrate. "It's amazing and sweet and beautiful," Buckman says, "being able to look back at ten years of... hundreds of people's accomplishments."

ColdTowne Theater's Ten Year Anniversary is October 20-23.

From the Texas Appleseed, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

About Texas Appleseed

As a nonprofit public interest justice center, Texas Appleseed works to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential. Our organization does this by anchoring a dynamic network of pro bono partners and collaborators to develop and advocate for innovative and practical solutions to complex issues. Through data-driven research, we uncover inequity in laws and policies, identify solutions for lasting change, and advocate for these solutions. When justice is beyond reach, Texas Appleseed provides the ladder.

This fall, several members of the Yawanawá tribe are leaving their home in the Amazon forest for the first time and traveling to the U.S. to share their culture and try to preserve it.

Over the years, the creative minds behind Ethos have created many ambitious shows at the Vortex. They've filled that theater with performers, musicians, and dancers, creating large-scale shows on a relatively small stage. 

  From the Blanton Museum of Art, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

Blanton Mission Statement:

Founded in 1963, the Blanton Museum of Art is one of the foremost university art museums in the country and holds the largest public collection in Central Texas. Recognized for its modern and contemporary American and Latin American art, Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings, and encyclopedic collection of prints and drawings, the Blanton offers thought-provoking, visually arresting, and personally moving encounters with art.

Blanton Education Vision:

Our Vision: We believe that art matters. Our aim is to provide visitors with engaging and memorable gallery experiences that will motivate further exploration.

We make this vision a reality through the dedicated work of volunteer gallery teachers. Our volunteers make visitors feel welcome in the museum and introduce them to a variety of ways of looking at and experiencing art. A gallery lesson at the Blanton helps visitors develop visual literacy skills and make personal connections with art that can extend beyond their time in the museum.

In 2014, Austin's Doctuh Mistuh staged the first local production of Silence! The Musical, the award-winning musical parody of the 1991 movie Silence of the Lambs. The show was a big hit with audiences -- as a parody of such a popular film, Silence! drew in theater fans, comedy fans, and movie fans. "We drew a lot of audience members in who weren't regular theatergoing audiences," says director Michael McKelvey. It was also a big hit with critics -- it didn't win quite as many B. Iden Payne awards as Silence of the Lambs won Oscars, but it came close.

In the time since, there's been interest from audience members (and from the cast as crew as well) in staging the show again. When some space opened up in Austin Playhouse's August schedule, the time was right.

"It's just a show [where] we all really enjoyed the experience, which is scary to say with this show," McKelvey laughs, "but we had a blast with it, so we said 'Let's do it again."

Writers Jodi and Owen Egerton have been married for a dozen years, and in their time together they've always helped each other with their various creative projects. "We keep editing each other and re-reading each other, and we've found that we have a similar approach to creativity," Owen says. That shared approach to (and love for) creativity led to the pair co-writing This Word Now, their new book on the creative process.

"I didn't think to myself 'Owen and I are launching into a two-year venture to write a book together. Let's see what that approach to marriage and life is going to look like,'" Jodi says. "And it turns out it was actually really fun, but it did take us a while to discover how we write together as opposed to just how we brainstorm together or how we edit each other's stuff."

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