arts eclectic

"Underground is a play that's been in my consciousness for many years," says playwright Lisa B. Thompson. "I lived in Los Angeles during the uprising-slash-riots for Rodney King. I also lived in upstate New York during 9/11... and all that's been brewing in my consciousness for quite a long time."

"It began with a woman at the center," Thompson says. "She's now just a name in the play -- the men took over, and I was happy to let them. I've been writing it for some time and the characters announced themselves quite strongly." As Underground took shape in Thompson's mind, the work came to be about two men -- Kyle and Mason -- who reunite decades after meeting in college. 

Marc Pouhé plays Kyle. "At the start of the story... he's the head of the BSA, the Black Students' Association, on campus, and he takes Mason under his wing. But they have different beginnings and different... I don't want to say endings, but different where-we-end-up-meeting-them in this story."

"My mother wouldn't let me have dogs growing up," says Circus Chickendog ringmaster Darren Peterson. "So, you know, look at me now."

"It's really asking the question, 'what is our job as artists in a time of revolution and political unrest?'" says director Jenny Lavery of the play Neva. "Is art important at that time? Is seeing art important?"

Death of a Salesman is considered by many to be the quintessential America play, so it might not seem like a natural fit for Irish director Peter Sheridan. But Sheridan is excited about the opportunity to direct the play for Austin Playhouse. "They were talking to me about Bloomsday, because obviously the fit between me and Bloomsday seems kind of perfect -- it's a play set in Dublin... but I wasn't available for those dates," Sheridan says. "And they just happened to say to me, 'We're doing Death of a Salesman next,' and I said, 'God, I'd love to do that!'."

And when he learned that Austin Playhouse was planning to do the play with an African-American cast as the Loman family, Sheridan grew even more eager. "I thought... that could be a really, really interesting take on the story," Sheridan says. Directing Death of a Salesman also meant that he'd get to work with Austin actor Marc Pouhé, who's playing Willy Loman in this production. "This is a great, great stage actor," Sheridan says of Pouhé. "He's as good as I've worked with in forty years."

At Austin's Hideout Theatre, improv is performed several nights a week, and much of the work presented there is theatrical style. "A lot of improv on stage is just... a blank stage, no costumes... but this is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum," says Hideout co-owner Roy Janik. "We're still improvising the content and the characters and the plot and all that stuff, but we'll oftentimes know what genre we're playing in, we'll tell one long story, and we'll have costumes and lights and props."

Color Arc Presents 'A Girl Named Sue'

Feb 13, 2017

Writer and actress Christine Hoang has been working on A Girl Named Sue for over a year. It started in the holiday season of 2015, when Hoang hosted a trunk show of BettySoo's jewelry (in addition to her career as a singer/songwriter, BettySoo sells handmade jewelry on Etsy). After showing her wares, BettySoo played a couple of songs.

"It's pretty layered," Caroline Reck says of Glass Half Full Theatre Company's take on Don Quixote. "We traditionally do puppets, often mixing them with human performers, and that's definitely the case this time." The idea behind Don Quixote de La Redo isn't as simple as just adding puppets to the classic Cervantes tale, though. 

Since 2008, UT's Landmarks public art program has brought dozens of works of art to the University of Texas, turning the campus into a 433 acre art gallery. The latest of those works is O N E E V E R Y O N E, created for the Dell Medical School by multimedia artist Ann Hamilton.

Every year, a promising artist (or two) is awarded the Umlauf Prize, and their work is displayed at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. This year, the Umlauf is displaying not just the current prize-winning artwork, but a retrospective of several past prize-winners.

On Saturday, January 14, the sculpture garden will host an Insights artist talk with several Umlauf winners, including this year's winning artist, Elizabeth McClellan.

"This is the most ambitious production I've ever done," says Justin Sherburn of his new multimedia project The Time Machine. "It's definitely combining music and theater in a way that's new for me," he says, adding "the shows I've done in the past have been mostly music oriented with slight multimedia, [but] this is a full-on multimedia experience."

The show grew out of Sherburn's longstanding fascination with synthesizers. "I just always thought it'd be fun to... basically use a time machine as a theme to explore sythesizers.

In the sci-fi themed show, Sherburn and his band will journey through the 20th century, starting in Austin and moving through the decades and across the planet. Visual designer Stephen Fishman will manipulate an animation sequence live during the show, projecting images onto and around the band. "It makes it look like the band is actually immersed in this machine," Fishman says.

Hir, a dark comedy by multi-award winning playwright Taylor Mac, debuted only a year ago in New York to much acclaim. This January, Capital T Theatre is bringing the play to Austin for the first time.

The play is, in broad terms, an installment in the long pantheon of American family dramas; the four person cast includes a father, a mother, and their two children, and much of the drama revolves around their dysfunctional relationships. 

But Hir is definitely a modern take on that long-lived dramatic genre. It's more of a black comedy than a straight drama, and its characters include a father who's barely able to communicate (in a very literal sense, due to a recent stroke) and who dresses like a clown, a mother who is struggling to assert her dominance after years of oppression, a son who's returning from war while also recovering from drug addiction and a daughter who is transitioning from female to male.

Kirk Tuck

In only its third year, Zach Theatre's annual production of A Christmas Carol is already becoming a holiday tradition, for both audience and cast members. 

"I love it," says actress Kelly Petlin. "I tell [director] Dave [Steakley] 'I'll do this until you tell me you tell me I can't do it anymore.'" For actor Michael Valentine, the cast and crew of A Christmas Carol have become something of a surrogate family. "I'm not from Texas, but this is my third holiday season here," he says. "And I've always felt so embraced by this community."

When the Blue Genie Art Bazaar opened for the first time in 2001, founding member Dana Younger didn't realize the art show and sale would take over his holiday season for the next fifteen years (and counting). 

"Yeah, it's amazing that this is our sixteenth year, but it's a neat thing about traditions" he says. "And it's not just a tradition to us and the artists, but it's a tradition to the community, too." 

Once a fairly small showing of arts and crafts created by the members of Blue Genie Art Industries, the bazaar has grown to include works by some 200 local and regional artists, and it's now open daily from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. For Younger, the bazaar has become synonymous with the holiday season..

This month, Street Corner Arts is presenting Constellations, the award-winning play by Nick Payne. It's a love story, featuring only two characters, but with an important twist: we see dozens of alternate universe versions of these characters, playing out their relationship in myriad possible ways.

"The playwright assumes that... multiverses are real, so what he's done is take these pivotal moments in these two character's lives and allow us to see different variations on that moment," says director Liz Fisher. "Sometimes they get together, sometimes they don't, sometimes things are going great, sometimes things go poorly."

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."

Pages