arts eclectic

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.

This year, Austin's Rude Mechs are celebrating twenty years of producing theater in Austin. They're doing a lot to celebrate that milestone, including a restaging of one of their favorite shows, Requiem for Tesla, an imaginative biography of late scientist Nikola Tesla.

As part of the anniversary celebration, Rude Mechs are staying in Austin all year, eschewing any touring in favor of performing at home in the venerable (and soon to close) Off Center. "When we were trying to think about which old chestnut of ours we wanted to do, this one came up because the nature of it is kind of impossible to tour," says director Shawn Sides . "It's so inspired by our funky old warehouse... it was made for that space and it works well in that space and it's probably never going to be able to go to any other space, so in a way it's a little love note farewell to the Off Center."

Requiem for Tesla was originally staged in 2001, with a revamped second staging a couple of years later. This latest version combines elements of both of those productions. "It's going to be a lot of the... 2001 set and environment and feel," says Sides. "But we like a lot of the movement and stuff we did in 2003, so we're putting it all together and just picking our favorite bits."

Several decades into his theater career, Jaston Williams remains a prolific writer and performer. He's well known, of course, for co-writing and co-starring (along with Joe Sears) in the long-running Tuna plays, but in more recent years, he's created several autobiographical one-man shows.

"I went on an autobiographical binge. You know, Maid Marion in a Stolen Car was all the truth," Williams says, adding with a relieved laugh, "You know, nobody sued! I'm so amazed!"

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."

"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.

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.

See 'The Totalitarians' at the Off Center

Sep 20, 2016

Theatre en Bloc's Jenny Lavery became aware of The Totalitarians shortly after it was first produced a few years ago. And in that short time, the political comedy has already started to feel less farcical.

"I knew that it was timely," she says, "but with current politics as it is, the play has become even more timely. Peter  Sinn Nechtrieb wrote a crazy, outlandish farce based on the Obama and Palin election cycle. But now with Trump and Clinton in the mix... it's now becoming more realistic."

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. 

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."

Peter Max Visits Austin

Aug 17, 2016

Pop artist Peter Max has been drawing and painting all his life, and has been earning a living by drawing and painting for well over half a century now. "I never knew I was going to be an artist when I grew up," he says, "but I loved it."

Husband-and-wife artists Dana Younger and Felice House have shown their works together before, but never in their hometown of Austin. "I think our first debut as an artist couple showing together was in Houston in 2013," House says. "Since then, we've gone to Michigan [and] we've had a show in New Mexico."

This summer, Austin Classical Guitar has been presenting narratives, a three-part series of shows that explores both music and literature. The summer series began with persona [beginning], continued with process [middle] and concludes with nocturne [end].    

Hyde Park Theatre's artistic director Ken Webster has been a fan of playwright Annie Baker for many years; since 2010, he's staged three of her works at Hyde Park. This summer, he's tackling a fourth: the Pulitzer Prizer winning The Flick.

The play fits the Hyde Park mold well. It's got a small cast, primarily focusing on three characters. It's a pretty recent work, having won that Pulitzer in 2014. And it walks the narrow path between funny and sad, which is a path that Webster and the crew at Hyde Park are adept at walking.

For the cast of Doper Than Dope, watching the early '90s sketch comedy TV show In Living Color was a formative experience. In addition to being edgy and often hilarious, In Living Color stood apart from other comedy shows of the time by featuring a cast made up primarily of people of color, which had a big impact on many of its viewers, including a young Ronnita Miller. 

"As a student of comedy," says the Doper Than Dope head writer, "it's very important to me to see people that look and act like people I know represented on screen." 

The Austin-produced web series The Pantsless Detective returns for a third season this week.  The serial, a comedic take on classic film noir detective stories, was created a few years ago by friends Tom Chamberlain and Dipu Bhattacharya and has gone on to become an award-winning continuing series.

This weekend, A'Lante Flamenco will present Snapshots: New World Flamenco, the first installment of what they hope will become an ongoing series. For Snapshots, A'Lante (under the leadership of husband-and-wife creative team Olivia and Isai Chacón) has partnered with two guest artists to showcase what Olivia calls "an outsider's perspective of flamenco."

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