arts eclectic

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. 

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.

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.

When one thinks about Austin in the 1960s, organized crime isn't the first thing that springs to mind. But during that decade, the Timmy Overton gang did everything it could to take over the Capital City.

That chapter of Austin's history is now largely forgotten; author Jesse Sublett, despite being a history buff and a fan of the noir, knew nothing of the story until stumbling across a newspaper article while researching an unrelated book.

The folks at Glass Half Full Theatre like to combine elements in their show. The combination of live performance and puppetry is a trademark of Glass Half Full, and they also tend to mix a little social commentary in with their comedy.

The new work 'Simple Sundries' uses all those elements. Using an earlier short play about a woman and a pigeon as their basis, writers Caroline Wreck and Parker Dority crafted a full-length show that includes puppetry and physical comedy and also has something to say about the changing face of Austin's East Side.

Paul Bardagjy

Since 2008, the folks at Landmarks have been commissioning and installing public art across the University of Texas campus. Piece by piece, they're turning the university into a self-guided outdoor museum space.

The latest piece in the Landmarks series is also the largest. Monochrome for Austin, by artist Nancy Rubin, stands nearly 50 feet high and stretches across 24th street. It comprises around 75 kayaks, canoes, and small boats, arranged together to form an impressive whole that almost resembles a giant, otherworldly tree. The piece is so large that, when assembling it, considerations had to be made to ensure that it wouldn't block the path of any firetrucks.

Justin Sherburn and his band Montopolis have been performing live film scores for a few years now, creating original music for silent films and documentaries. For their next project, though, they're playing the music of another composer, the legendary Ennio Morricone. In fact, the project began with Sherburn's desire to pay tribute to Morricone and grew from there. 

He selected the 1916 silent film western 'The Return of Draw Egan' as a canvas, largely because it contains all the elements you'd expect to see in a classic western (gunfights, love interests, bad men trying to go straight). Then he decided to add an extra layer to the project, by changing the existing title cards to something a little funnier, creating what is essentially a Mystery Science Theater treatment for the silent film. Once he sat down to start writing some comedy, Sherburn came to an important realization: he's not a comedy writer.

Austin author Martha Louise Hunter recently published her debut novel, Painting Juliana. The book has elements of magical realism, but it was inspired by actual events in Hunter’s life.

100 Heartbreaks was originally performed as a one-woman show in Seattle some eight years ago. After that run, writer and performer Joanna Garner found herself, like her heroine Chalane Tucker, longing to play with a real-deal band. 

Following a move to Austin and some tinkering with the script, Garner's now starring in a new-and-improved, expanded version of the show. No longer a solo project, 100 Heartbreaks now features a full cast and band, under the direction of Jess Hutchison and musical direction of Peter Stopchinski.

This weekend, A’Lante Flamenco will present Prophecies, a music and dance production inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 book The Prophet.   

The book, a collection of poetic essays, addressed many of the issues of the day, as the residents of a village asked a foreign prophet for his insights on the human condtion. While many of those issues remain just as relevant 90 years after the book's publication, and are addressed in the show, the creative minds of A'Lante (husband and wife artistic partners Olivia and Isai Chacon) decided to tackle some more modern questions as well, such as negotiating friendship in the age of social media.

Mark Pickell, the artistic director for Capital T Theatre, first became aware of Dennis Kelly's dark comedy DNA several years ago; it'd been a big hit in London, but had been performed only once in America. He immediately knew he wanted to produce it with Capital T, but saved the script until he felt the time was right. 

When, as part of Capital T's "New Directions" program, Molly Karasch was set to make her Austin directorial debut, the time felt right. "When Molly came on board," he says, "I thought this would be a great fit for her." Karasch agrees, saying that "finding the humor in really dark things" is kind of in her wheelhouse.  

Deus Ex Machina, a new co-production from Whirlygig, Fusebox, and Shrewd Productions, is not a show for folks who enjoy being passive observers to the action onstage. For this show, the audience takes an active role, essentially becoming the gods of Greek myth, deciding the fate of the players before them.

Austin author Ernie Wood has spent years writing non-fiction books, magazine articles, and documentary film scripts. And now, he's published his first novel, One Red Thread.

It's the story of an architect, Eddy McBride, who discovers that he's able to travel through time. Using this ability, he reexamines his own family history, discovering more than he might have intended.