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 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."

Michael Lee

Brently Heilbron started performing standup comedy at the tender age of 14, which means he's now been in the business for close to a quarter century. So when he says that the current scene in Austin is "an incredible time in comedy that I haven't seen in years," he's speaking with a certain level of authority.

The burgeoning Austin scene has inspired Heilbron to find a way to serve as a sort of comedy curator, presenting local talent to a wider world. That inspiration led to the development of the upcoming television series "Standup Empire." Heilbron will serve as producer and host of the show, which he and director Mike Wilson hope will do for comedy what "Austin City Limits" has done for music.

Steve Rogers

As a story, Frankenstein feels like a pretty good fit for the folks of Trouble Puppet Theater Company. It's a classic tale, with monsters and dark imagery of the sort that Trouble Puppet excels at. It's also ripe for fresh interpretations, which Trouble Puppet always enjoys.

Ten years ago, improv performers Roy Janik, Kaci Beeler, Kareem Badr, and Valerie Ward compiled a list of 300 possible troupe names, rejected them all, and then ended up calling themselves Parallelogramophonograph almost as a joke.

"Picking a name is the hardest park of being in a band or an improv troupe," Janik explains. "Once you pick an amazing name  that's super-easy to google and spell, like Parallelogramophonograph, it's a piece of cake."

From CASA of Travis County, this month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:  

About CASA:

CASA of Travis County speaks up for children who’ve been abused or neglected by empowering our community to volunteer as advocates for them in the court system. When the state steps in to protect a child’s safety, a judge appoints a trained CASA volunteer to make independent and informed recommendations in the child’s best interest. 

Founded in 2005, the Umlauf Prize is a yearly award bestowed upon a deserving UT Austin graduate student in Art. After a several-year hiatus, the prize was reinstated in 2014 and continues this year with, for the first time, two winners.

On October 30 and 31, Wizard World Comic Con returns to Austin, and it'll feature all the stuff you expect in such an event. There will be plenty of special guests, mostly familiar faces from geek-friendly and/or genre movies and TV shows (including Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell and RoboCop/Buckaroo Banzai portrayer Peter Weller among others), but also a surprising number of sports figures (including Texas legend Earl Campbell, no relation to Bruce). There will be lots of comic book writers and artists. There will be panel discussions such as "How to Write Comics" and "Diversity in Geek Culture." There will be lots of comics and colletables for sale and lots of people in elaborate costumes.

There will also be a handful of local artists in what's known as the "Artists Alley." One of those artists will be Tim Doyle, who's found himself in the surprising position of being able to support not only himself but also his family and a small staff by creating the art he's always loved. Despite his success, he still finds himself making air quotes when he discusses his "art career." 

"If you told me that I was in a coma and these last six years had been a dream, then I'd be like 'Oh, that makes sense,'" he says. That six year figure refers to "Change Into a Truck," a painting he did in 2009 that parodied Shepard Fairey's famous Barack Obama "Hope" poster. That image, featuring Optimus Prime in the place of Barack Obama, became a viral hit and essentially started the money-making portion of Doyles' career.

His work is a good fit for an event like Wizard World, because much of his inspiration comes from pop culture, particularly from the geekier edges of pop culture. His painting subjects have included, among many others,  Mad Max director George Miller, Godzilla, and the set of Ghostbusters. "I've been a geek since the '80s," Doyle says, "And so it's soaked into every atom of my being, and that's just going to come back out on the page."

This Saturday night, The Vortex is hosting 'Salvador Dali's Naked Feast," a performance/cocktail party that will also serve as a fundraiser for the upcoming Vortex season.

The entire Vortex compound (which now includes the theater space itself, the Butterfly Bar,  and Patrizi's Italian Restaurant) will be overtaken by the party, which will feature aerial performances, live music, dance, food, cocktails, and more. 

It's meant to be a surreal experience, influenced by the art and aesthetic of Spanish painter Salvador Dali. And, in a pretty big coup, they've convinced the great artist to overlook his 1989 death and travel to Austin to serve as the host of the party.

The dark comedy Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric play debuted to acclaim and award nominations in 2012, and this fall it makes its regional debut in Austin, courtesy of the theater program at St. Edward's University. David Long, artistic director of St. Ed's Mary Moody Northen Theatre, was keen to bring Mr. Burns to Austin because he was "excited about not only the premise, but the content, dealing with something that travels in time, and most importantly... the importance of community [and] theater."

Pages