At some point, South by Southwest will encompass all human activity.
Austin’s vast March spree started with music in the 1980s, then added movies and technology, before taking on education, philanthropy, the environment and allied fields.
Art came next.
Today, SXSW announced six art projects for its second annual program scheduled for the conference and festivals March 9-18, 2018. Combined with the UNESCO Media Arts Exhibition at SXSW, the installations are meant to expand the discussion on visual and digital and media arts during the confab.
Kids rush into the doors and hang out the windows. Adults step gingerly over the mulch floors and step back to view the five, tall, curved, leaning structures that look like something from “Where the Wild Things Are” or “The Hobbit.”
“We let the kids in early,” says StickWork artist Patrick Dougherty. “They weren’t sure they were allowed to come in the gate.”
The fences come down today. The public unveiling is 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 10, courtesy of the Pease Park Conservancy.
“We wanted to make a cathedral,” Dougherty says. “We got five corners instead.”
The $106,000 project made from 10 tons of locally harvested then bent, woven and fastened Texas ash, elm, ligustrum and depression willow were built in three weeks by Dougherty and his son, Sam, along with volunteers and staff from Houston’s Weingarten Art Group. The site off Parkway not far from Windsor Road was picked because of accessibility and parking, but it’s also a little sheltered and not clearly visible from North Lamar Boulevard.
Dougherty, who has built 288 of these StickWork projects around the world after working on a family cabin, had always wanted to work in Austin. He says the still-unnamed group of five structures should last two years before they begin to deteriorate seriously.
The Conservancy will maintain the art, then, with the help mulch the remains to spread around the park.
Austin Operaunveiled its most inspired and innovative season in a long, long time on Jan. 25 at the Long Center.
Start with the Opera ATX project, which reaches out to new audiences with fresh material in unexpected venues. The first effort will be “Soldier Songs” by David T. Little. This multi-media experience mixes video, rock, opera and theater to tell the stories of veterans of five wars. It is produced by Beth Morrison Projects, a leader in contemporary opera and will appear at the Paramount Theatre.
Not content with this edgy endeavor, General Manager and CEO Annie Burridge also announced that the Austin company would produce the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night,” based on the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël,” which reimagines the famous Christmas Eve truce during World War I. Hometown hero Kevin Puts wrote the music, Mark Campbell the libretto; they’re the same team that created “The Manchurian Candidate,” which won multiple prizes from the Austin Critics Table last season.
In addition to these two new pieces, Austin Opera has committed ever more resources to the more traditional repertoire. First up is Giuseppe Verdi‘s tumultuous Shakespearean tragedy, “Otello,” which hasn’t been seen in Austin in decades. The sets come from Cincinnati Opera and the costumes from Portland Opera, while the lead roles will be taken by Issachah Savage, Marina Costa-Jackson and Michael Chliodi.
Late in the season, we’ll be treated to Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Boheme” in a lavish production from San Francisco Opera by way of Michigan Opera Theatre, starring Kang Wang, Elizabeth Caballero, Noel Bouley and Susannah Biller.
This story about how Heather McKinney and Brian Carlson of McKinney York Architects helped artist and educator Katelena Hernandez Cowles and her husband, financial planer James Cowles, plan a home fit for the rest of their lives has enjoyed an afterlife on social media.
Cut straight to the crucial tip: Talk to your designer. And listen. You probably won’t be sorry.
Fourteen years ago, Katelena Hernandez Cowles and James Cowles talked and listened to Heather McKinney and Brian Carlson of McKinney York Architects. And they could not be happier with their pliable three-story Tarrytown house built above a dry creek for the couple and their two children, Celia and Gabriel.
Instead of limiting their ideas to the wants and needs of the time, they collaborated with their architects to cook up a house that they can adapt for the rest of their lives, taking into account inevitabilities such as maturing children, aging parents and life’s hard-to-predict thunderbolts.
Take their tall, airy living room flanked on two sides by hanging art and on the other two sides by a long, open kitchen and a tree-friendly deck with a fireplace. At first, the creative and energetic family furnished this inviting central room with four cozy, double-wide chairs equipped with wheels, since the room’s function fluctuated wildly.
“When kids were young, we’d clear the chairs out of the way to set up huge wooden train-track layouts and had group painting sessions with long rolls of paper, science experiments, paper airplane battles from the balcony down into washtubs on floor,” says Katelena, 46, an artist and educator. “The kids learned to ride bikes and to roller skate in a circular pattern around the central staircase. The Brazilian cumaru wood flooring was so hard it was indestructible. We finally resealed the main floor 11 years later.”
The 2004 film “Finding Neverland” would not seem, at first blush, to be a natural fit for a Broadway musical comedy. Directed by Marc Forster, with a screenplay by David Magee based on Allan Knee’s play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan,” the movie starred Johnny Depp as the playwright J. M. Barrie and related the story of his relationship with a young widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and her four sons, who served as his inspiration when writing “Peter Pan.”
Though well received and nominated for several Academy Awards, “Finding Neverland” didn’t exactly beg to burst into song. Nevertheless, in 2014 a musical adaptation with a book by James Graham and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy hit the scene, transferring to Broadway the next year. Though the show closed within a year, it has found new life in its U.S. national tour, which Broadway in Austin and Texas Performing Arts now bring to Bass Concert Hall through Jan. 21.
This musical version of “Finding Neverland,” directed by Diane Paulus with choreography by Mia Michaels, is, in a word, charming. What’s more, it is a family-friendly production that is accessible to kids as well as adults, something that is a rarity in contemporary Broadway fare.
In order to make the film a more natural fit for a musical, the production plays up the text’s comedic side a great deal, reveling at times in its own silliness, which can be a bit at odds with the more melancholy aspects of the story. However, the cast is able to hit both notes superbly.
The talented ensemble shines in the scenes where they are asked to play the theater company producing “Peter Pan,” allowing the real-life performers as well as their stage personas to boisterously cavort amid moments of brilliant but simple theatrical magic. The young actors who play the Llewelyn Davies boys are at their most endearing during these moments of energetic play, as is John Davidson, as the warmly grouchy Charles Frohman (and, in fantasy sequences, Captain Hook).
The two adult leads, on the other hand, though enjoyable in the play’s louder moments, truly show their strength during the quieter, more bittersweet scenes. As J.M. Barrie, Billy Harrigan Tighe is a consummate leading man, imbuing Barrie with an instant likability and boyish glee that only serves to underscore his more contemplative depths, which we get to see later in the play. Similarly, Lael Van Keuren, as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, shines brightest when given the chance to explore the more solemn dimensions of her character, beyond just doting mother to the four boys.
Though “Finding Neverland” is well paced and movingly told, with a decent first act and very strong second act, there is a fatal flaw that keeps it from achieving perfection — its music. Though the score is evocative, and many of the songs are fun and serviceable to the plot, none of it is very memorable. The show-stopping aspects of the production come more from staging and performance than from the music itself, which is lackluster at best, preventing what is a well-produced show from truly soaring as a great musical.
Though it shies away from the upper echelons of the musical theater canon, “Finding Neverland” is nevertheless an endearing show that provides plenty of moments of shining theatrical brilliance.
“FINDING NEVERLAND” When: 8 p.m. Jan. 18-20, 2 p.m. Jan. 20 and 1 and 7 p.m. Jan. 21 Where: Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive Cost: $30-$150 Information:texasperformingarts.org
Forklift Danceworks co-founder and artistic director Allison Orr — known for her creative productions that use everyday performers in unexpected spaces — is one of 45 artists and creators from across the country to be named 2018 fellows by the Chicago-based United States Artists. Orr is the only 2018 fellow from Texas; the honor comes with an unrestricted $50,000 grant.
The show will not go on Tuesday night at Bass: The opening night of “Finding Neverland” has been canceled because of winter weather and the closing of the University of Texas at Austin campus. More weather coverage on statesman.com.
Texas Performing Arts issued this statement about ticket refunds or exchanges:
Tickets purchased through Texas Performing Arts at the Bass Concert Hall or Frank Erwin Center Ticket Offices, online at texasperformingarts.org or by phone at 512-477-6060, may be exchanged for a future performance of “Finding Neverland.” To request a refund or exchange, please call the Bass Concert Hall Ticket Office at 512-471-1444 or email email@example.com. Exchanges must be processed at least four hours in advance of the new performance.
Subscribers should call the Subscriber Hotline at 800-731-7469 (Mon – Fri, 9AM to 5PM) to complete refund or exchange requests.
ALL single ticket purchase and subscriber requests for exchanges or refunds must be completed by Friday, January 19 at 5PM. Seat locations and ticket prices vary by performance.
The Vortex Theatre is no stranger to producing provocative, confrontational works; they’ve been doing so for three decades now. Their latest production, Isaac Gomez’s “The Way She Spoke: A Docu-mythologia,” a part of their “30 Years of Truth & Thunder” celebration, pulls no punches in an interrogation of both the murders of thousands of women each year in Juarez, Mexico, and the ability of theater to address subjects of such horrific magnitude.
“The Way She Spoke” is a densely layered play, featuring a single, unnamed actress on an empty stage with a script she has never read, having a conversation with the unseen, off-stage playwright, Gomez himself. The script details Gomez’s research into his previous play, “The Women of Juarez,” and dramatizes his interviews with a variety of people throughout Juarez, all of whom held intimate connections to the murders. As the play continues, the actress comes to increasingly embody the people she’s reading about, to identify with the slaughtered and abused women, and to feel deeply disturbed by the nature of Gomez’s script.
As it unfolds, “The Way She Spoke” becomes less a relation of the stories of the women of Juarez and more an exploration of Gomez’s own guilt in writing a play that provides no direct help to those women. The actress embodies this guilt, taking both Gomez and the audience to task for feeling edified by simply watching a play about the topic when these women are still suffering so much. The actress’s response to the stories also ties those experiences to the objectification of women closer to home, and the ongoing threat posed by men who treat women as property in one form or another. This is underscored by the very nature of the performance itself, wherein a male playwright is asking a female actress to embody all this pain and suffering.
This is not the first iteration of “The Way She Spoke” (it was previously produced in Chicago), and certain aspects of the text seem to still be a work in progress. Gomez hasn’t quite found the perfect balance between the stories of the women and the story of the actress, whose intensely personal reaction is only vaguely contextualized, which serves to weaken some of the play’s meta-textual commentary.
Despite these textual problems, the Vortex production is phenomenal. Karen Rodriguez, as the actress, fills in some of the missing gaps of her story through the magnetic strength of a visceral performance that plumbs the depths of her emotional and physical expressiveness. Director Rudy Ramirez’s simple but effective staging allows Rodriguez to initially charm with wit and warmth and then slowly but surely descend into moments of staggering psychological intensity.
Though hopefully this is not the play’s final draft, Gomez has nonetheless crafted a nuanced, challenging work of both emotional and intellectual depth. Rodriguez and Ramirez plumb those depths with great skill and empathy, crafting a performance that is powerful, thought-provoking, and a fundamentally resonant call to action for its audience.
“The Way She Spoke: A Docu-mythologia” When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, 5 p.m. Saturday through Jan. 20 Where: The Vortex, 2307 Manor Road Cost: $15-$35 Information:vortexrep.org
I am a Jewish transplant to Texas who married a shiksa (a non-Jewish woman) from small-town Texas. Just last month, I related to my mother-in-law the story of Hanukkah, after which she told me that she didn’t understand why there has been so much prejudice, historically, against the Jewish people. At the time, I had no answer, but in the weeks since I realized what I should have said: “For the same reason that there’s so much prejudice today against Muslims and immigrants; people are scared of the unfamiliar.”
Mark Harelik’s moving and nuanced play “The Immigrant” holds a much more poetic, if similarly shaded, answer to that same question, which makes Austin Playhouse’s new production of it so timely and important. After staging the same play 28 years ago, director Don Toner felt the time was right to remount it, explaining on the company’s website that, “With all the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of the White House these days, it is good to be reminded that this country was built by immigrants who came to the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”
Although it certainly heralds these values, “The Immigrant” is far from anti-Trump agit-prop. Rather, it is the story of Harelik’s own grandfather, Haskell Harelik, a poor Russian immigrant who came to America in order to escape the pogroms that threatened the Jewish people there. Instead of entering the country through Ellis Island into the crowded tenements of New York City, Haskell came to the United States in 1909 through the port of Galveston, ending up in the small town of Hamilton.
“The Immigrant” tells the story of Haskell’s experience in Hamilton as he grew from an itinerant banana salesman to a dry goods merchant who was a pillar of the community. This transformation was possible because of the help of banker Milton Perry and his wife, Ima, and Haskell’s relationship with the couple — as well as with his own wife, Leah, whom he was eventually able to afford to bring over to America — forms the heart of the play.
“The Immigrant” is a rather simple text, with no stylistic flourishes to hide behind. It relies entirely upon the honesty of its performers, and Austin Playhouse’s production is blessed with a dynamite foursome. Playhouse company members Huck Huckaby and Cyndi Williams are as strong as ever in the roles of Milton and Ima, mixing Texas charm and openness with a dash of conservatism that makes each of them believable. Estrella Saldaña, as Leah, is equally adept at playing the newcomer to America, scared of losing her culture, as she is at depicting the established matron pushing her husband towards the forgiveness of his grievances.
As the titular immigrant, Joseph Garlock gives a breathtaking performance. His nuanced portrayal of Haskell undergoes an endless series of permutations throughout the play, and the kindness, humor and heart with which he imbues the character brings the audience along on his emotional journey from Yiddish-speaking banana-peddler to anxious and forcefully opinionated family man. Garlock evokes mythic resonance that speaks to the immigrant histories in all of our family trees, summoning the universal through his attention to the particular.
Although it is a small, contained story about one man’s journey, the play’s implications about the nature and essence of American community and family (both biological and chosen) speak volumes in today’s world. It is a vital contribution to one of the most important contemporary public conversations, and one that makes its case through sympathy and humanity rather than virulence. It is, in short, not to be missed.