arts eclectic

Twenty-one years ago, when Austin's FronteraFest was new, it was a small fringe theater festival consisting of a mere forty short-form performance pieces. Now, it features twice that many short pieces during its Short Fringe component, and nearly a dozen long-form shows during the Long Fringe.

The Short Fringe is a nightly occurence, with five short pieces every night, a weekly best-of-the-week show on Saturdays, and then a final best-of-the-fest series of shows.

That's close to a hundred performances by dozens of new and veteran artists just in the Short and Long Fringes alone, not counting the Bring Your Own Venue and Mi Casa Es Su Teatro parts of the festival.

The Long Fringe takes place at Salvage Vanguard Theater between January 20 and February 2; the Short Fringe is at Hyde Park Theatre now through February 15; BYOV and Mi Casa shows are at various locations throughout town over the next couple of weeks. For a complete schedule of events, head to the FronteraFest website.

It's been almost a decade since Coldtowne Theater relocated from New Orleans to Austin, and in the years they've been here, they've become one of our city's premiere sources for improvised entertainment. 

Their latest show is Beware of Female Spies, which takes its inspiration not just from the spy genre at large, but from a particular recurring trope within many spy shows and movies, that trope being the highly competent female spy who manages to save the day while her semi-clueless male partner stumbles through the case.

When it was published in 1870, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus in Furs was pretty scandalous, but it has remained an enduring part of popular culture in the years since. There have been a handful of film adaptations, a stage play, a Velvet Underground song, and the recently Tony-nominated play Venus in Fur, which is not an adaptation but a new work inspired by the novel.

Written by David Ives, Venus in Fur is a two-actor play about a young writer/director searching for the lead for his play based on the 19th-century erotic novel. When a young actress arrives hours late and unprepared for her audition, he's initially dismissive. But as he gets to know her, she becomes more mysterious and their relationship starts to parallel the themes of the novel.

For the past several years, the people and animals of Circus Chickendog have presented our fair city with their own unique take on Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. In their version, the story is told not through ballet but through animal acts and circus performances. 

In addition to the six starring dogs performers (and a scarlet macaw in the title role), The Mutt-cracker (Sweet!) features a number of human performers, including jugglers, unicyclists, musicians and much more.

Like many people of his generation, actor Chris Gibson grew up with the film "A Christmas Story," and in his younger days, he identified with Ralphie, the BB gun coveting protagonist of the movie. Now, with a few decades of life lessons under his belt, he can see eye-to-eye with The Old Man (Ralphie's dad) a little better.

That works out well for Zach Theater's new stage production of "A Christmas Story," in which Gibson plays The Old Man, alongside veteran actress Meredith McCall as his wife and young Keaton Brandt as Ralphie. In preparing for the role, Gibson avoided any additional viewings of the movie version, in an effort to create an interpretation of The Old Man that's separate and distinct from Darren McGavin's performance.

At this point, the yearly Blue Genie Art Bazaar is an Austin holiday shopping tradition. But it hasn't always been this way. The first bazaar was held thirteen years ago, when an employee remarked that they should try a Christmas show. The folks at Blue Genie decided to give it a try, sold some stuff, and a tradition was born.

Now, the bazaar features works by well over 100 artists and lasts for nearly a month. Open from 10:00 am until 10:00 pm every day through Christmas Eve, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar aims to create an Austin-style holiday shopping experience. All merchandise is handmade by local artists, and in addition to the handmade arts and crafts for sale, there's a bar, occasional live music, and artist talks. 

Every year around this time, musicians, dancers, poets, actors, and more join together to stage Wassail Austin, a truly old-fashioned, family friendly celebration of Christmas and the Winter Solstice. Darrel Mayers is the founder of Wassail Austin, and he created the show to be the sort of thing he wished he'd had when growing up in England -- an all-ages holiday show that combined whimsy with spirituality.

The yearly wassail features medieval music, puppetry, poetry, and more types of entertainment, including a mummer's play, an artform that dates back to pre-Christian times, when the Winter Solstice was celebrated.

2013 is the inaugural season for Austin's Gale Theare Company, and in just a short time, they've already produced two full shows. One of those, Florence, is being staged this month as a site-specific work at Sparky Park.

The multi-media show is inspired by the life of Florence Lawrence, who's widely credited as the first real movie star. Before her, actors in movies usually went unbilled, but when the studio decided to create some publicity by inventing an unlikely and untrue story about Florence, that changed.

For the past several years, a rotating collection of local artists have been gathering together every weekend to sell their wares at the Gibson Street Artisan Market. Located at a South Congress lot just north of Gibson Street, the market features a wide variety of arts and crafts, all handmade locally and usually sold directly by the artists.

You'll find paintings, jewelry, functional art such as pottery and plenty more. Dogs are welcome and there are a couple of food carts on the premises as well, so it's a great place to do a little weekend holiday shopping.

The all-woman improv troupe Girls! Girls! Girls! has been performing improvised musical comedy shows for a decade or so. Typically, their shows will have a full plot, characters and Broadway-style musical numbers, all made up on the spot, but their holiday show this year will be a little different.

Rather than take on character roles, the ladies of Girls! Girls! Girls! will all play themselves (or heightened versions of themselves) in A Very Merry Musical Christmas Special. They'll start things off with some holiday memories, which will spur improvised comedy and songs in a Christmas vein, creating a one-of-a-kind comedic  holiday special.

The play "Steel Magnolias" has been enduringly popular since its Off-Broadway debut in 1987. The comedy-drama features a cast of six women, and one set, the Southern beauty parlor in which the women congregate, gossip, argue, and laugh over the course of several years.

Artistic director Andy Berkovsky chose "Steel Magnolias" as City Theatre's holiday production because of its themes of family and togetherness.

This weekend's Wizard World Austin Comic Con will be a three-day celebration of comic books, science fiction, and pop culture in general. There will be panel discussions, Q&As with artists, actors, and writers, and special appearances by myriad celebrities, including Stan Lee, William Shatner, cast members of Firefly and The Walking Dead, and many, many more.

The con will also feature several local artists, who will display and sell their artworks. Cartoonist Will Rodriguez, of the online and self-published comic Mangled Stare, will be there, pen in hand, sketching convention goers and displaying his wares.

The classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace opens November 22 at the Vortex. The play, by Joseph Kesselring, centers around the Brewster family, which is eccentric to say the least. The clan includes Teddy, who believes he's Theodore Roosevelt and is digging the Panama Canal in the basement; Jonathan, who failed as a doctor but found success as a murderous mafioso; and Martha and Abby, the sweet, elderly aunts who have recently started murdering lonely old men. As the relatively calm center, third brother Mortimer tries keep things together.

The play was written in 1939 and is probably best remembered for its 1941 film version. The version which will open at the Vortex this week is produced by Different Stages, under the direction of Norman Blumensaadt. It stars Jennifer Underwood and Karen Jambon as the Brewster sisters, Tyler Jones at Mortimer, Michael Harlan as Teddy, and Steven Fay as Jonathan.

"Murder Ballad Murder Mystery" began its life several years ago, as a site specific work at the Vortex Theater.

Since then, its creative team decided to form their own production company. And the play's been condensed and made a little more travel-friendly.

The show (as the title implies), is a murder mystery inspired by murder ballads. It will soon hit the road, to be staged in several bars in Austin, as well as stopping at New Orleans and Marfa, Texas.

After listening to the White Stripes' recording of Robert Johnson's "Stop Breaking Down," playwright Kirk Lynn was inspired to try a cover version of his own.

He decided to take on a Shakespeare play. But, reluctant to tamper with one of the greats, he opted to create his own version of what he considered Shakespeare's worst play, "King John."

The Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary this weekend. The festival specializes in "disabilty films," which festival coordinator William Greer defines as a film about, starring, or made by a person with a disabilty.

This year, the festival will be headlined by two feature documentaries, "The Crash Reel" and "Getting Up: The Temp One Story." "The Crash Reel" focuses on aspiring Olympic snowboarder Kevin Pearce and his attempts to return to competitive snowboarding after suffering a traumatic brain injury. "Getting Up: The Temp One" Story documents grafiti artist Tempt-One as he learns a new way to practice his art after being paralyzed by the degenerative nerve disorder ALS.

This November, Crank Collective will debut the second of three Texas history musicals. "Alamo Aftermath: A Texas Revolution Operetta" tells the story of Jose Antonio Menchaca in the time between the Alamo and the battle of San Jacinto.

Before people started mispronouncing his name when referring to a street in south Austin, Menchaca was a soldier in the Texas Revolution, a mayor pro tem of San Antonio, and a crusader for the rights of Tejano veterans.

Florian Holzherr

Over the past quarter century or so, renowned artist James Turrell has created dozens of experiential artworks known as Skyspaces around the world. They're rooms designed to give viewers an uncorrupted view of the sky -- just the sky, with no horizons, buildings, or trees visible to get between viewer and sky.

Innocent When You Dream is a one-man show featuring puppets, masks, physical comedy and song which tells the epic but intimate story of one man stuck in a place he never wanted to be. It was written by and stars Zeb West, who was inspired by the characters of Captain  Ahab and Don Quixote. 

He uses those two characters, both larger-than-life and delusional in their own ways, to explore the idea of self honesty and the overcoming of personal despair.

In 1993, artist Sam Coronado founded the non-profit Serie Project to teach and promote fine art serigraphy (or screenprinting) and to bring more attention to Latino artists in Central Texas. In the two decades since, Serie has fostered hundreds of artists, some of them veterans of serigraphy and many of them new to the art form.

For their twentieth anniversary this year, the Serie Project is presenting Serie XX, an exhibition of work by this year's group of artists along with material by project founder Sam Coronado.

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