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 month at the Vortex, Generic Ensemble Company presents the new original work Robin Hood: An Elegy.

The play, written by Krysta Gonzales (with portions devised by the ensemble) invokes not just the legendary folk hero Robin Hood, but also the current movement #blacklivesmatter. In this story, Robin Hood transcends space and time to experience state-sanctioned violence throughout the centuries.

From Mother's Milk Bank at Austin, this month’s Get Involved spotlight non-profit:  

The Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin is a community-based non-profit organization whose mission is to save babies’ lives by providing prescribed donor human milk, primarily to premature and ill infants.

You can contribute your time and talent to help improve the health and lives of preterm and ill infants.

You can join our Pour Team! Work on the front lines with our pour team!  You will work in groups of 3-4 in our lab, mixing and pouring donated milk for pasteurization. Involves standing for several hours at a time and lifting flasks of milk. Bonus: You get to “scrub in” and wear cool garb that makes you feel like you have a medical degree.

Last year, the folks at 7 Towers Theatre company made a decision to try and focus on smaller, more intimate shows this season. The result of that decision is their current production of Closer, a four-character dramatic comedy about, as director Amanda Gass says, "human relationships and the way that people are kind of messed up and treat each other poorly."

Mast, the current show from paper chairs, is a brand-new, world-premiere production. It's also a story that's been with playwright Elizabeth Doss for most of her life. Doss's grandmother, grandfather, and uncle all died before she was born; she never knew any of these people, but she's always been fascinated by them. "There were lots of things that happened in their family that were really peculiar and mysterious that have haunted my imagination since I was a kid," she says.

David Heymann is quick to point out that his debut book, My Beautiful City Austin, is not autobiographical.  He understands why people make the assumption, though; it's pretty common for first-time authors to create characters based on themselves, and his book's central character is a young man named David who is, like the author, an architect living in Austin.

In recent years, the production company Doctuh Mistuh has staged crowd-pleasing musical versions of Evil Dead, Silence of the Lambs, and Reefer Madness; it's safe to say that pop culture musical theater is in their wheelhouse. So it's not too surprising that they're the company that secured the rights to produce the regional premiere of Heathers, the Musical, based on the 1988 dark comedy cult film. 

Rich Merritt

Sky Candy has been producing aerial dance works for several years in Austin. Their seventh and latest full-scale work, Swings Asunder, is now being staged at the Rollins Studio Theater at the Long Center.

Like any Sky Candy production, Swings Asunder is the result of many artists (including dancers, aerialists, musicians, visual artists, and more) working together, but it's also a personal piece. 

The website Women Painting Women was launched several years ago by artists Alia El-Bermani, Diane Feissel and Sadie Valeri. The mission of the site was (and remains) fairly simple: to create an online space for female artists to share works which feature women as subject matter.

For a show that was born out of very real pain, 'Fragile Rock' is a lot of fun. While dealing with a divorce and the depression that comes along with such a life-changing event, Brently Heilbron found himself wanting to give in to the urge to write depressing, self-pitying songs. And since he's a comedian at heart, he saw the humor in that urge. The image of an all-puppet emo rock band singing sad songs stuck in his head, and before he knew it, 'Fragile Rock' was born.

Since he had no background in puppetry, Heilbron sought the help of puppet maker Shaun Branigan and the felt cast of 'Fragile Rock' began to come to life. More songs were written, a story began to take shape, and the show came to life. 

From Sustainable Food Center, this month’s Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

 

Sustainable Food Center cultivates a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food.  SFC envisions a food secure community where all children and adults grow, share and prepare healthy, local food.

From seed to table, SFC creates opportunities for individuals to make healthy food choices and to participate in a vibrant local food system.  Through organic food gardening, relationships with area farmers, interactive cooking classes and nutrition education, children and adults have increased access to locally grown food and are empowered to improve the long-term health of Central Texans and our environment.

Sustainable Food Center relies on volunteers to accomplish projects and to support our community programs. SFC has opportunities to volunteer at the SFC office, at SFC Farmers’ Markets, in The J.P.’s Peace, Love, and Happiness Foundation Teaching Garden managed by SFC, and  around town at community events.

For many years, musician and painter Ethan Azarian staged an annual show of his works in his own home; his "In-House Galleries" became a well-known holiday event in Austin. These days, the home-based shows are no more, and Ethan has started putting together a quadrennial solo show at what he calls "a real gallery," by which he means a gallery space that's not also his own living room.

Steve Parker truly enjoys staging large-scale and unusual musical pieces. Among other projects, he's organized performances for 100 marching tubas, he's staged an outdoor performance for a dozen trombonists arranged around the perimeter of a lake, and he's created multiple sound installations as part of the Blanton Museum's SoundSpace series.

'Greater Tuna' had its world premiere in Austin in 1981. In the 34 years since, the comedy (written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard) has remained an enduring favorite, spawning three sequels about the residents of Tuna, the "third smallest town in Texas."

Austin Translation is the new mainstage show at ColdTowne Theater. Produced and directed by Second City alum Dave Buckman, the show was created using the Second City method; over the past couple of months, Austin Translation cast members brought in ideas, worked on them together through improvisation, and then chose the best of the best to craft into scripted sketches.

Yoko Ono celebrated her 80th birthday on February 18, 2013. To mark the occasion, two of her friends (famed rock photographer Bob Gruen and KUTX's own Jody Denberg) put together a photo book of Yoko's life as a present for her. After receiving the gift, Jody says Yoko "kind of demanded, or at least requested, that we publish the book."

It started when Jody Denberg met up with Bob Gruen during 2012's SXSW. Though not close friends, the two had met on occasion through Yoko. For many years, Bob was the official photographer for Yoko and John Lennon, and has continued a friendship (and continued taking photographs) with Yoko in the years since John's death. Jody has also known Yoko for many years, and has conducted several interviews with her in that time. He hit upon the idea of putting together a book using Bob's photos and excerpts from his interviews with Yoko, and soon enough the gift was taking shape. "It's really a family scrapbook in some ways, this book" says Jody of the finished product.

Theatre en Bloc is currently staging the world premier production of Jacob's Ladder by local playwrights Dennis Bailey and David Mixner. Set in 1944 Washington, it's the story of a young Jewish staff member in the FDR White House who discovers that there is much he does not know about the war effort and what's really happening in Europe at the time.

God's Favorite isn't Neil Simon's best known work, but it does hold a special place in the heart of director Eric Nelson. It was one of the first plays he read after entering the theater world, and he fell in love with its wit, quick pacing, and characters. It's a script he's wanted to work on in some capacity ever since, and he found the chance to direct the play at Round Rock's Sam Bass Theatre.

From Candlelight Ranchthis month’s Get Involved spotlight non-profit:  

Candlelight Ranch Mission and History:

In the summer of 1999, Randy, Don, and Jeri (Don’s wife of blessed memory) Barr, purchased some acreage on the North Shore of Lake Travis that contained beautiful and diverse ecosystems with a wide range of flora and fauna, spring fed creeks, and two striking canyons that were created when the roofs of caverns collapsed.  They decided to share the property so that community groups that worked with children with special needs or challenging life circumstances could bring their children out to a natural environment.  They named this nature safe haven, Candlelight Ranch.  Now, almost 15 years later, Candlelight Ranch has grown into a respected non-profit that serves over 1,700 individuals annually in the Central Texas area.

Candlelight Ranch provides a unique outdoor environment for special needs and at-risk youth to learn, play, and embrace the wonders of nature. Candlelight Ranch works in partnership with community organizations and schools to provide nature based innovative activities that are customized to meet the specific needs of each group of children that are served.  At Candlelight Ranch, participants experience a memorable day in nature, flying over an 80 foot canyon on three ziplines, bonding with horses through equine therapy, learning about food sustainability through gardening and nature exploration, and much more! Through their active participation in these activities and contact with nature, our campers build confidence, self-esteem and skills that support overcoming challenges in their daily lives.

Forklift Danceworks specializes in dances starring people who don’t consider themselves dancers – firefighters, baseball players, sanitation workers, and now, members of the City of Austin’s Urban Forestry Division. 

Staging a large scale dance with the people and machinery of Urban Forestry is a natural fit for Forklift; they've already undertaken similar projects with the city's sanitation and power departments.

The piece, The Trees of Govalle, is more tied to place than some of Forklift's previous works. It's about the people of Urban Forestry, the work they do, and the trees they service, but it's also about a particular area of town: the Govalle neighborhod in East Austin. As such, it'll take place in Govalle Park. And, in addition to the Urban Forestry workers who will be dancing and participating, The Trees of Govalle will also feature Govalle resident and bona fide musical treasure Manuel "Cowboy" Donley, who will perform along with his daughter Sylvia Donley.

Bret Brookshire

This month, the modestly-sized Hyde Park Theatre has been transformed into the smallest megachurch you're likely run across. That's because they're staging a production of The Christians, by Lucas Hnath, which is set in just such a church.

This is only the second worldwide production of The Christians; after a well-received premiere at the 2014 Humana Festival, several theaters clamored to get the rights, but Hyde Park beat the others to the punch.

The play centers around Pastor Paul (played by Hyde Park artistic director Ken Webster), who has come to the conclusion that he no longer believes in the existence of hell. This puts him at odds with Brother Joshua (Joey Hood), and their theological debate forms the heart of the play.

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