arts eclectic

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."

Ebony Stewart's 'Hunger'

Aug 26, 2015

Spoken word artists Ebony Stewart has been a big part of the Austin slam poetry scene for about a decade, but she's never created a full-length solo show until now. Her new one-woman show, Hunger, has been a long time coming, she says. 

The show is based on Ebony's difficult relationship with her own father."It basically stems from the idea of me trying to get over my daddy issues," she says. "I feel like I am constantly mourning not having the father that everyone else has." The title Hunger refers her need and desire for a positive male role model. "I crave my dad," Ebony says.  "I crave having that experience or that relationship, or being reared by a man."

Terrence McNally's acclaimed play Love! Valour! Compassion! made its Off-Broadway debut in 1994 and quickly started winning awards. It transitioned to Broadway the following year and was adapted as a feature film a couple of years after that. It's frequently hailed as McNally's finest work and has remained popular for the two decades since its original run.

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.

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. 

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