arts eclectic

Comedian Brian Gaar has been performing standup in Austin and around the country for years now, and as of a few months ago, he's also a late night TV host.

His show, ATX Uncensored(ish), has been airing since the end of September on the CW in Austin. What's the like? "After four months, I think we're still trying to figure that out," he laughs. "It's a late night comedy show, so it's very topical, and it's very focused on Austin."

This month, Austin will host the second annual OUTsider Festival. The fest, which will last five days, aims to celebrate the diverse nature of the LBGTQI creative community.

Granite sculptor Jesús Moroles was a large figure in the Texas arts community, well known for both his enormous  artworks and his enormous energy and generosity. Among his many awards, he received a United States National Medal of Arts in 2008. His untimely death in an automobile accident last year was a shock and a large blow to his friends at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden.

Since November, they've been hosting a tribute to Moroles, displaying many of his works. The exhibit, simply titled Jesús Moroles: A Tribute, was put together by two of Moroles' closest associates, his sister Suzanna and her husband Kurt Kangas, who was Moroles' right hand man. They've tried to put together a showing that would make the artist proud. "I think he would be pleased," Kangas says, adding "You know, doing this without him is difficult. It's very bittersweet, it is. But it's an honor also." 

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.

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. 

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."

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."

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."

Nat & Veronica (Nat Kusinitz and Veronica Hunsinger-Loe) are theater artists from New Orleans, and they're currently partnering with Austin's Rude Mechs to bring their show She Was Born to local audiences.

Hands Up Hoodies Down was originally staged in March of this year at the Vortex, but its origins go back to 2012, when the killing of Trayvon Martin affected Miller, in his words, "not only as an artist, but also as a dad."

In the years since, he continued to read more and more news stories about the violent deaths of black Americans, often at the hands of police officers. "It just got to the point, for me as an artist," Miller says, "I felt like I needed to say something." 

The Warriors: A Love Story, from ARCOS Dance, isn't an easy show to sum up, even for its creators. It's a multimedia piece, using all the arrows in the ARCOS quiver: film, interactive video projections, live and recorded music, dance, theatrical elements, text, and narration. They've worked to make all those elements work together, though, "in a way that doesn't feel like there are multiple media; we try to make it feel like as immersive an experience as possible for the audience," says co-director Eliot Gray Fisher. "You can't just call it theater or dance...we've been struggling with what to call it. We're calling it 'multimedia performance' because that's kind of broad."

Pages