ICYMI: Co-Lab Projects plans for downtown space

Caitlin Greenwood wrote a splendid story for the American-Statesman on Co-Lab Projects final shows at its downtown space. We thought it would be useful to share some text and a link here at Austin Arts.


Soda_Jerk is a two-person video collective. “Astro Black” is a two-channel digital video on display in “Unrealpolitik.” Contributed

“Co-Lab Projects began in 2008 with a gallery space at 613 Allen St. and, after a couple of years of successful exhibitions and events, cemented itself as a cultural hub. On any given weekend night you could find a steady stream of people discussing the work, knocking back beers and just hanging out. But Co-Lab wasn’t immune to the rent increases that affected many arts groups on the city’s east side. Programming started shifting to their annex gallery, the downtown N Space, and 613 Allen closed for good in 2014.

“Co-Lab now occupies Demo Gallery, an empty commercial space on Congress Avenue that’s owned by longtime donor the Nelsen Partners. They have use of the space until this fall, when the building is scheduled to be demolished to make way for new construction. The industrial, exposed concrete aesthetic of the gallery and its central location have no doubt influenced some programming, but what hasn’t changed is the kind of work and the audience it attracts. Executive director and gallery curator Sean Gaulager talked with us about the space, upcoming exhibitions and where Co-Lab grows from here.”

New Farrah Fawcett mosaic smiles on Austin’s Oltorf Street

Courtesy Darlene Fiske

There’s never enough Farrah Fawcett in Austin.

Courtesy Darlene Fiske

Darlene Fiske, who reps for the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, sent us these images, taken quite recently at 500 W. Oltorf St.

Courtesy Darlene Fiske

The  mosaic of the feather-haired star, who attended the University of Texas and studied with sculptor Charles Umlauf, was recently finished by Stefanie Distefano for a hair salon, aptly.

We especially like the crop below, since it reminds us somewhat of her famous poster as well as the Andy Warhol print that became the subject of a lawsuit between UT and Fawcett’s longtime main man, Ryan O’Neal.

Courtesy Darlene Fiske

The Umlauf recently showed an exhibit that documented the artistic link between mentor and student.

Time to plan your fall season at the Long Center

A picture of Austin’s fall arts season is falling into place. The latest booking news is from the Long Center for the Performing Aarts. We rearranged, condensed and edited for style their fine descriptions of the following.

Notice that the fall season begins in July. Why not? We only wish the weather would comply.

Also, there’s a lot of other offerings, including Summer Stock Austin, at the center that aren’t part of this season package, so stay alert.

A character from Legend of Zelda. Contributed

“The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses

Dell Hall, July 7

Coinciding with the newly released “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and Nintendo’s new Switch, this returns to the Long Center stage on July 7 for one performance only. Now in its fourth season and featuring new music and video, the concert comes to life with a 66-piece orchestra, 24-person choir.

“Fun Home”

Dell Hall, Aug. 11-13

The winner of five 2015 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Direction, this unusual show is based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 best-selling graphic memoir.

“An Evening with The Piano Guys

Dell Hall, Aug. 23

The Piano Guys have become an internet sensation by way of their immensely successful series of self-made music videos, leading to over 500 million YouTube views.

Carrie Rodriguez. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

“An Evening with Carrie Rodriguez

Rollins Studio Theatre, Aug. 30

Austin native Carrie Rodriguez is a fiddle playing singer songwriter who approaches her country-blues sound with an “Ameri-Chicana” attitude.  Her latest release, “Lola,” takes her back to her ranchera musical roots and was hailed as the “perfect bicultural album” by NPR’s Felix Contreras.

Manual Cinema: “Lula Del Ray”

Rollins Studio Theatre,  Sept. 13-14          

This troupe of theatrical artists are not just puppeteers, but creators of otherworldly landscapes through a striking combination of live actors, old-school projectors and silhouette magic.

“Kaki King: The Neck is a Bridge to the Body 

Rollins Studio Theatre, Sept. 16

Hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine as “a genre unto herself,” composer, guitarist, and recording artist Kaki King performs her latest work — a simultaneous homage and deep exploration of her instrument of choice. In this bold new multi-media performance, Kaki deconstructs the guitar’s boundaries as projection mapping explores texture, nature, and creation.

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”

Dell Hall, Sept. 30

Part coming-of-age story and part divine commentary, Terrence Malick’s star-studded and slow-burning art film, “The Tree of Life,” sparked a dialogue within the industry about memory, the meaning of life, and the role that film can play in representing those ideas. Screening with live score performed by Austin Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Austin.

“Star Wars: A New Hope”

Dell Hall, Oct. 11–12

John William’s legendary “Star Wars” score didn’t just enhance a great story, it gave life to an entire galaxy. From “Binary Sunset” to the “Imperial March,” the themes of “A New Hope” ushered in a renaissance of film music, the likes of which Hollywood had never seen before. A special screening with live score performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

“Shopkins Live!”

Dell Hall, Oct. 21

This lights up the stage in this premiere live production packed with show-stopping performances featuring the Shoppies and Shopkins characters taking the stage with an all-new storyline, music, and videos. Join Jessicake, Bubbleisha, Peppa-Mint, Rainbow Kate, Cocolette, and Polli Polish as they perform the coolest dance moves, sing the latest pop songs, and prepare for Shopville’s annual “Funtastic Food and Fashion Fair.”

Jeff Lofton. Contributed by Claire Newman.

“The Jeff Lofton Electric Thang

Rollins Studio Theatre, Oct. 25

Jazz artist Jeff Lofton – together with his groups The Jeff Lofton Trio and his Electric Thang – has quickly become a household name around Austin’s low-key bars and jazz lounges.

An evening with Maureen Dowd and Carl Hulse In Conversation

Dell Hall, Saturday Nov. 18

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, Maureen Dowd, and award-winning author and the Times’ Chief Washington Correspondent, Carl Hulse, will examine the state of the nation one year following the most divisive presidential election in American history. Join us for an evening of incisive dialogue as Dowd and Hulse discuss how we got here and what lies ahead.

“Santa on the Terrace”

City Terrace, Nov. 24 

Bring the family and join us on the City Terrace and take some time out of the busiest holiday of the year to celebrate the season. Bring the kids for a free photo with Santa and enjoy holiday treats, activities and entertainment, all overlooking the best view in Austin!

“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical”

Dell Hall, Nov. 24-25

The favorite TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage in this beloved adaptation. Come see all of your favorite characters from the special including Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius, and of course, Rudolph brought to life.

Graham Reynolds. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

“Graham Reynolds Ruins the Holidays”

Rollins Studio Theatre, Dec. 20

Composer and bandleader, Graham Reynolds, along with some of Austin’s best musicians wreak musical havoc with an explosive set of holiday favorites. By playing most of them in a minor key, Reynolds and his band bring a new perspective to these season standards.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical”

Dell Hall, Dec. 29–31

After a smash-hit Broadway run garnering three Tony-Award nominations including Best Musical, this Christmas classic returns for another year. Based on the perennial holiday movie favorite, the story takes place in 1940s Indiana, where a bespectacled boy named Ralphie wants only one thing for Christmas: an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot range Model Air Rifle.


New to Gilbert & Sullivan? ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ is the show for you

Gilbert & Sullivan Austin are taking on Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic “The Pirates of Penzance.” Contributed

I have a confession to make. One that is somewhat shameful for a theater critic to admit.

I’d never seen a Gilbert & Sullivan production.

My interest in live theater has always skewed towards the performative, experimental and experiential, with a love for actors, poetry and subtle emotions. Gilbert & Sullivan, with their deliberately over-the-top comic operas, never appealed to me, and their production today seems to appeal to fans of classical music and opera more than followers of musical theater.

It was consequently an eye-opener to see Gilbert & Sullivan Austin’s new production of “The Pirates of Penzance,” playing through June 25 in the Worley Barton Theater at Brentwood Christian School. Overcoming my prejudices and experiencing the work of librettist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan first-hand showed me which aspects of my suppositions were right and which were wrong.

The focus of Gilbert & Sullivan Austin’s “The Pirates of Penzance” is, to be sure, the music. Most of the performers are classically trained musicians, rather than trained actors and actresses, and the entire cast, from the impressive soprano of Suzanne Lis as Mabel to the rich baritone of Russell Gregory as the Sergeant of Police, sounds wonderful, even if they falter a bit during the dialogue sequences (though the richly baroque comedy of Sam Johnson as the Pirate King is a strong exception to this). The impressive Gillman Light Opera Orchestra, under the baton of music director Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, is also to be praised.

However, within that musical emphasis, there is an extraordinary amount of poetry to be found, from Sullivan’s rich score, to Gilbert’s complicated rhymes and still-punchy comedic patter, to the vocal nuances of the talented singers.

Director/choreographer Ralph MacPhail Jr. puts the full emphasis of the production on those singers, whose mellifluous tones capture the satirical whimsy of a plot full of deliberately silly twists and turns, focusing on a group of not-so-terrible pirates, virginal young women and cowardly policemen.

If you’re a Gilbert & Sullivan virgin yourself, you’ll find that Gilbert & Sullivan Austin’s “Pirates of Penzance” is an excellent primer for their work. If you’re already a fan, this production is right up your alley.

“The Pirates of Penzance”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through June 25, with additional matinee 2 p.m. June 24
Where: Worley Barton Theater at Brentwood Christian School, 11908 N. Lamar Blvd.
Cost: $8-$27
Information: gilbertsullivan.org/SummerProduction


Show from “Hamilton” creator takes Zach Theatre to new “Heights”
Feminism, comedy and the Reign of Terror meet in “The Revolutionists”


NEA dispatches almost $500,000 to Austin arts

The National Endowment for the Arts today announced almost $83 million in grants nationwide.

The NEA has awarded $20,000 to Collide Arts to remount “Traffic Jam.” Contributed

Of that, $2.5 million went to Texas. Almost $1 million of that was given to the Texas Commission on the Arts to pass along to artists and arts groups statewide. In fact, of the $83 million that the NEA handed out today, almost $51 million went to its state partners like the Commission.

RELATED: Legislature cuts Texas arts funding 28 percent

Austin’s share of the NEA grants is distorted by the fact that the Texas Commission is located in the city but benefits artists statewide. Some of that will be spent here, but we don’t know yet how much.

Interestingly, the $100,000 that Austin’s Creative Action garnered was for a partnershiip with Six Square, a group that seeks to preserve and promote the historical and cultural legacy of African-American in East Austin. Six Square is a designated Texas Cultural Arts District, but the state legislature declined to fund $5 million for the more than 30 such districts statewide.

Unless I’m missing something, these are the Austin beneficiaries:

Forklift Danceworks: $40,000 (in two grants)

Austin Chamber Music Center: $20,000

Austin Classical Guitar: $55,000

Austin School District: $100,000

Big Medium: $20,000

KLRU: $10,000

Austin Cultural Arts Division: $50,000

Collide: $20,000

Conspirare: $30,000

Creative Action: $100,000

Texas Folklife: $35,000

Total: $480,000


Show from ‘Hamilton’ creator takes Zach Theatre to new ‘Heights’

Contributed by Kirk Tuck

Before the award-winning pop culture phenomenon that is “Hamilton,” writer/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda had already taken the Broadway world by storm with his first Tony-winning musical, “In the Heights.”

With music and lyrics by Miranda and a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, the show tells the story of a group of diverse, multicultural neighbors living and working on the same block in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. What the show was most notable for, though, was its mix of musical styles — hip-hop, salsa, meringue — to create a sound that was new to the Broadway stage, a sound that Miranda would later expand even further with “Hamilton.”

Thanks in part to the success of “Hamilton,” “In the Heights” has had a popular resurgence at regional theaters, and Austin’s Zach Theatre has just mounted its own production, running through July 2. To make sure their version stays in keeping with the energy of the show’s Broadway run, Zach has brought in director/choreographer Michael Balderrama, who was a cast member in that original run and served as the resident director/choreographer for its national tour. Zach and Balderrama even utilize scenic designer Anna Louizos’ original set, which cleverly re-creates the various storefronts and apartments of an entire Manhattan block without overcrowding the stage.

RELATED: How you can get tickets to see “Hamilton” in Austin

It’s very clear from watching this production of “In the Heights” that the director is a choreographer, as the characters’ movements and dances reveal as much of their inner life as the script and lyrics do. Hudes’ book is, in some ways, the weakest part of the show, as it hews to highly traditional notions of family and community, and so the added layer of characterization embedded within the choreography makes for a stronger presentation of the musical as a whole.

Of course, inventive, engaging choreography and a dynamic score mixing a variety of musical styles can’t succeed without a cast that can pull them off, and the cast of “In the Heights” — mixing local talent with performers from out of town (some of whom have been a part of the show’s national tour) — keeps the show’s energy running high from beginning to end.

Keith Contreras-McDonald is given the difficult task of re-creating Usnavi, a role made famous by Miranda himself, and he pulls it off with boyish charm and innocence, particularly in his relationships with his younger cousin Sonny (Nicolas Garza) and love interest Vanessa (Alicia Taylor Tomasko). As another pair of young lovers, Benny and Nina, Vincent J. Hooper and Cristina Oeschger steal the show with a mixture of chemistry and earnestness that lets us see their inner workings throughout the course of the evolving plot.

“In the Heights” is a triumph for Zach Theatre, a production that brings energy and vitality to their stage thanks to text and sound that resonate with contemporary audiences. Though ultimately telling something of a small, intimate story of love and family/community devotion, the sheer vibrancy of the show’s music demands a large-scale, vibrant production, which Zach and Balderrama deliver with energy and skill.

“In the Heights”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through July 2
Where: Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar Blvd.
Cost: $29-$81
Information: zachtheatre.org



Feminism, comedy and the Reign of Terror meet in ‘The Revolutionists’

“The Revolutionists” looks at larger themes of women’s rights and revolution through the relationships of four women. Contributed by by Errich Petersen

Given today’s political climate, it is easy to draw parallels between various historical dramas and the current state of America. Portrayals of turbulent periods in history have much to say about the repetition of the past in the present, and Austin’s theater companies are not shying away from material that can easily be interpolated within a contemporary context.

Such is the case with Shrewd Productions’ “The Revolutionists,” playing at the Santa Cruz Center for Culture through June 25. Written by Lauren Gunderson and originally produced in 2015, the black comedy about four women in the French Revolution speaks to issues of women’s rights that remain unresolved today.

Director Rudy Ramirez neither shies away from nor leans into the comparisons between the French Reign of Terror and today’s America but rather allows the text to seduce audience members into reaching those conclusions on their own. Gunderson’s play does this through a variety of tried-and-true theatrical tricks, including high comedy, bleak drama and dream-like reverie. As a text it’s somewhat hard to pin down, with a light, comedic, almost sitcom-esque first act (which feels like it could be cut down a bit) and a brutal, moving second act featuring key moments of beautiful and simple theatricality.

Fortunately, Ramirez and his talented quartet of actresses are able to mine the somewhat uneven text for its moments of both great wit and moving tragedy. Sarah Marie Curry, as playwright Olympe De Gouge, provides the heart of the production, as well as the most extreme emotional transition, as she begins to watch what little power and privilege she holds disappear among the corruption of the Reign of Terror. Her friend Marianne Angelle, an activist for Caribbean freedom from French occupation, is presented with a steady intellectual bent by Valoneecia Tolbert, the conscience of the play. Gricelda Silva, as assassin Charlotte Corday, brings in an element of in-your-face punk rock attitude, while Shannon Grounds’ oblivious-yet-likable Marie Antoinette provides reams of comic relief undergirded by a strong sense of personal tragedy.

The show’s creative team (set designer Chris Conard, lighting designer Patrick Anthony and sound designer David DeMaris) wisely sticks to a rather minimalist aesthetic, allowing the text and the performances to hold sway. The one exception is Jennifer Rose Davis’ gorgeous costumes, which provide the period-placement for the action while simultaneously evoking the central characters of each of the women.

Though dealing with large themes — the rights of women, the excesses of revolution, the fortitude to outlast corrupt regimes — “The Revolutionists” is an intimate play, dealing with the relationships of the four women and the emotional toll that these issues take on them. Shrewd Productions’ mounting of the show focuses intently on this intimacy, creating a dark, funny and moving tribute to the long, ongoing history of the fight for women’s rights.

“The Revolutionists”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through June 25, with additional performance 8 p.m. June 19
Where: Santa Cruz Studio Theater, 1805 E. Seventh St.
Cost: $15-$37.50
Information: revolutionists.brownpapertickets.com.


‘Around the World in 80 Days’ is free fun for the whole family

Penfold in the Park this year will produce “Around the World in 80 Days,” a Jules Verne adventure novel that Penfold Theatre has given a feminine spin. Contributed by Penfold Theatre

Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel “Around the World in Eighty Days” tells the story of British gentleman-turned-adventurer Phileas Fogg as he attempts to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days in order to win a bet. Penfold Theatre’s adaptation of that story (playing, for free, through June 24 at the Round Rock Amphitheater) has turned it into a fun, frenzied, family-friendly outdoor production with a direct message of female empowerment.

In taking on Verne’s novel, director and adapter Emily Rankin has made two decisive choices — to turn the story into a comedy, and to turn the two main characters from men into women. Indeed, the first moments of the play address this very circumstance, with the narrator (played by Megan Sherrod) expecting to introduce Phileas Fogg but finding herself confronted, instead, by Ms. Phyllida Fogg (Jessica Hughes).

Similarly, Phyllida’s valet and sidekick, Passepartout (Eva McQuade), becomes female, while love interest Aouda from the novel becomes Sir Niles Adams (Ryan Crowder). The majority of the narrative still follows much of the same story beats as Verne’s novel, with Phyllida and Passepartout desperately trying to stay on schedule as Detective Fix (Robert Berry) following doggedly behind them, believing that Phyllida has robbed a bank back in London.

With the exception of Hughes, each member of the show’s cast must assume a variety of personalities (particularly Tanuj Potra, credited as playing “everyone else”), often with broad, cartoonish characteristics. Though this constant back-and-forth means that there’s limited development for most of the characters, it plays well to the show’s primary audience of children and families.

“Around the World in 80 Days” is goofy, with sight gags and corny jokes aplenty, and it knows not to take itself too seriously. The show’s set (designed by Chris Conard) and props deliberately evoke laughter rather than striving for verisimilitude, focusing the show’s energy instead on the wackiness of the characters’ misadventures and interactions.

Indeed, the show excels at presenting a fun, engaging romp of an adventure that draws in the younger audience members (sometimes literally, when they are asked to come to the stage and participate as extras). There’s enough metatextual humor and wordplay to keep the older crowd engaged, though, particularly in the humorous asides of McQuade as Passepartout. Meanwhile, Berry, as Detective Fix, is given the biggest opportunity by the script to show his character’s depth, while Hughes commands the stage as a strong, confidant, empowering leading lady.

Penfold Theatre’s “Around the World in 80 Days” is pure charm, designed to delight children while still entertaining their parents. At this, it definitely succeeds.

Around the World in 80 Days
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through June 24
Where: Round Rock Amphitheater, 301 W. Bagdad Ave., Round Rock
Cost: Free
Information: penfoldtheatre.org

‘Scheherazade’ is timely and necessary piece of political theater

Contributed by Errich Petersen

According to their website, Austin’s Generic Ensemble Company “makes the invisible visible through bold, socially relevant, body-centered theatre.” In the past, this has included works like “Robin Hood: An Elegy” and “The Mikado: Reclaimed” that have focused on loosely adapting classic texts into contemporary, collaboratively devised works that tell the infrequently heard stories of people of color in today’s America.

Now, the company has done it again with “Scheherazade,” playing through June 17 at the Vortex Theatre. The show, directed by kt shorb with a script devised by the entire ensemble (compiled and edited by Annie Kim Hedrick and Leena Warsi), updates the storytelling conceit of “The Arabian Nights” to explore one woman’s experience of being Muslim and queer in a world hostile to both of those identities.

The framing story of “Scheherazade” follows Leila Suleman (played by Laura J. Khalil) as she attempts to re-enter the United States after having spent time abroad in the Middle East searching for her best friend Yousef (Donnesh Amrollah), who has either been forced to go into hiding or been killed over his homosexuality. At the airport, she comes up against racist Department of Homeland Security agent Ginny Wight (Laura Baggs), who is obsessed with catching a terrorist.

Contributed by Errich Petersen

The interactions between Leila and Wight are counterpoised against a variety of flashbacks, showing both a mythologized vision of Leila’s childhood with Yousef and Wight’s intense, pop culture-infused fantasy of becoming a hero through stopping a terrorist plot in the course of her job. These scenes intentionally play off one another, showcasing the role that our own fantasies and self-created narratives play in our lives and interactions, both for good and ill. The moments of memory and fantasy also allow for various explorations of theatrical possibility, from dance to symbolism to agitprop.

Austin theater, as a microcosm of American theater in general, can often rightly be accused of being overwhelmingly white, which is what makes GenEnCo’s work, both in “Scheherazade” and more generally, so important and so overwhelmingly vital to our community. The cast, the majority of whom are actors of color, are clearly speaking from their own experiences with pain and trauma, which creates a visceral connection that overcomes some of the actors’ less technically adapt performances. There is, ultimately, passionate, painful truth in this art that creates the beating heart of the production.

“Scheherazade” is political theater at its most raw and most direct, giving a voice to a marginalized group of creators who revel in the chance to tell their own story, a story that demands to be heard.

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through June 17
Where: 2307 Manor Road
Cost: $15-$35
Information: 512-478-5282, vortexrep.org