The folks who run America’s historic theaters were in Austin last week. They conferred their Marquee Award on Jaston Williams, the actor, writer and director whose plays have brightened the Paramount Theatre and State Theater for more than three decades.
The members of the League of Historic American Theatres do not just preserve hundreds of the country’s older venues, they keep them breathing and alive by producing and presenting all sorts of entertainment on their stages.
Among Austin’s main historic live theaters, the State and Paramount, along with the Scottish Rite Theater (originally Turn Verein), Scholz Hall (now known as Scholz Garten) and HoggAuditorium, still see performances. The Millett Opera House stands but long ago lost its theatrical function; it now houses the Austin Club, which is reviving the memory of the building’s theatrical past. Among those lost to time: Hancock Opera House, Brauss Hall, Peck’s Hall, Austin Opera House, Long’s Opera House, Smith’s OperaHouse, Casino Theater and Capitol Theater.
Austin’s Paramount served as host of the League’s annual summer conference and at a dinner on July 15, Williams, who often worked with collaborator Joe Sears on the “Greater Tuna” comedies, picked up the honor that has gone to Hal Holbrook, Garrison Keillor and Vince Gill. The Marquee Award, established in 2012, goes to artists who inspire League members and also showcase the historic theaters where they perform.
Stars for Williams and Sears were planted under the Paramount’s marquee years ago. Three years ago, on its 100th birthday, the theater, built for vaudeville in 1915, regained it upright blade sign which once again graces Congress Avenue.
Creek Show, the annual procession of light art staged by the Waller Creek Conservancy, turned a corner of sorts last year.
What started as mostly elegant minimalist efforts along downtown Austin’s eastern waterway went maximalist in 2017 with masses of pink flags for “Night Garden” by Eric Leshinsky (lead) with Colter Sonneville, Megahn Skornia and Wenjie Zhao.
The designs for year five — the free event will be Nov. 9-17 — were recently announced and promise to continue the large-scale experience. In 2017, more than 20,000 people attended Creek Show, sampling the kind of attractions planned for a transformed Waller Creek. For 2018, Creek Show will be in a different section of Waller Creek — between Ninth and 11th streets — and include Symphony Square, where the “Creek Show Lounge” will be located.
Here’s a look at early renderings of what’s planned for 2018, along with the teams behind the designs:
For the past five years, the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria has benefitted the Contemporary Austin. Hosts expertly employ the arboreal setting on the grounds of the Clara Driscoll villa to create an elevated atmosphere at dusk and into the evening. This year, that effort included the passage of the S.S. Hangover through the lagoon with members of an Austin music collective playing a dirge-like piece.
Visual artists do love a bit of theater!
Guests were in no hurry to pass up cocktails a key points in and around the villa, but the seated dinner took place under tents on the front lawn. Happily, I was placed next to designers Lydia G. Cook and Geoff Fritz from the Cambridge, Mass. firm of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. They helped explained the company’s master plan for the Contemporary’s Marcus Sculpture Park, including connectivity to nearby Mayfield Park.
The modest but tasty dinner arrived courtesy of restauranteur Tyson Cole along with chefs Ed Sura of Uchiko and Joe Zoccoli of Uchi. (Note to other Austin charity hosts: You don’t need a big slab of animal protein to satisfy.) The evening climaxed with an unusually civilized live auction featuring work by artists close to projects at the Contemporary.
“When all was said and done, we raised more than $500,000 in the live and silent auctions,” reported the museum’s spokeswoman, Nicole Chism Griffin. “One hundred percent of these funds will go to support exhibitions at both of our locations. We also raised $325,0000 toward the purchase of Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree Trunk.” Our goal had been $100,000 for the evening! This $325,000 will go toward fulfilling the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation’s challenge grant of $500,000 (for the purchase).”
I hear that some guests danced till the wee hours.
Some notes on the Austin Symphony‘s recent concert at the Long Center.
• One way to fill a house: Schedule Beethoven‘s Fifth. It is the duty of artistic leaders such as Peter Bay to expand tastes and lead audiences in new directions. Still, the Fifth — if well done, and it was — satisfies and enlightens with each fresh interpretation. It comes with the added benefit of a standing-room-only crowd.
• I’ve tried to sit in every part of the Long Center house since it opened 10 years ago. Row 4 on the orchestra level was not the right place to take in the concert’s opening piece, Michael Torke‘s “Bright Blue Music.” All I heard was the lower range of the strings and all I saw were the polished shoes of the musicians.
• Turns out the same seat was ideal for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion.” Here, only the strings really mattered and they came together beautifully in conjunction with violinist Vadim Gluzman‘s playful then profound solo turn. Booked as part of the “Bernstein at 100” celebration, this near-concerto is a gem to revive more often.
• Bay has proven time and again that he can take epic forms to ever higher heights. Last season, it was Mahler‘s Sixth, an almost brutally difficult symphony to get right. With Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, the challenge instead is overfamiliarity. Bay and his always advancing ensemble treated the first movement with rhythmic clarity, the second with architectural balance, the third with taut force and the final movement with bristling brilliance.
Since 2001, the Texas Cultural Trust, an advocacy group, has been honoring our state’s luminaries through the Texas Medal of Arts. The laurels are bestowed every other year at one of the most glamorous galas in Texas. The most recent one in 2017 at Bass Concert Hall was a blow-out.
Send your nominations in by April 5, 2018 for the February 2019 edition of the honors. Categories include architecture, arts education, arts patron (corporate, foundation or individual), dance, design, film, lifetime achievement, literary arts, media/multimedia, music, television, theater and visual arts.
For a complete list of past honorees, go here. The 2017 winners included Eloise and JohnPaul DeJoria with Paul Mitchell/Patron, Kris Kristofferson, Lynn Wyatt, Lauren Anderson, Yolanda Adams, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Tobin Endowmen, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Leo Villareal, Frank Welch, John Phillip Santos, Scott Pelley and Kenny Rogers.
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.
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.”
It’s one of the most charismatic spots in the city — the Long Center City Terrace.
From the day that the performing arts center opened in 2008 — that’s right, almost 10 years ago — the semi-circular procession of columns left over from the old Palmer Auditorium made a powerful people magnet.
The view of the downtown skyline is priceless, even after the addition of some south shore buildings that cut off the view to the east. Instantly, everyone needed portraits on that terrace. Festivals and concerts followed. Pre-show, intermission and after-show crowds lingered there above a grassy hill.
So a naming opportunity for the terrace, right? H-E-B, one of the most munificent corporate citizens in Texas, has stepped up to the plate with five-year naming agreement for an undisclosed amount of money. Say hello to the H-E-B Terrace.
The name change will be made official at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 24, to be followed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. by a free holiday event dubbed “Santa on the Terrace.”
“Our collaboration with H-E-B has been very valuable to the Long Center and the city of Austin,” says Cory Baker, president and CEO of the center. “Their dedication to the community and to providing access to the arts is something we both feel passionately about.”
“We are thrilled to be able to strengthen our partnership with the Long Center as we share in the belief that arts are an integral part of building a strong community, understanding our diversity, preserving our history, and building our future,” says Jeff Thomas, H-E-B senior vice-president and general manager for the Central Texas region. “The H-E-B Terrace is the ideal community gathering place for these beliefs to intersect – it is the heart of the Austin arts district and welcomes everyone to experience art in a public way.”
The organized arts and humanities generally don’t save lives directly during emergency situations. Yet they save our culture — our shared memory — over the long run. Here are some ways the state and national communities are responding to Harvey and where the help will be most needed.
The National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Texas Commission on the Arts to assess the situation. NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu: “As the current situation stabilizes, the NEA is prepared to direct additional funds to these state arts agencies for re-granting to affected organizations, as we have done in the past.”
The Texas Library Association and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working to coordinate a response for the affected library community.
While some smaller arts facilities have been devastated on the coast (see image from Rockport), the massive Houston Theatre District has sustained enormous damage, as it has in previous storms (much of it was built underground not far from Buffalo Bayou).
At the Alley Theatre, the small Neuhaus Theatre and its lobby were flooded. The same spaces were severely beat up during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.
The Wortham Theatre Center, where Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet perform, took water on the Brown Theatre stage and out front of the house. The basement with its costume and prop storage, however, was totally flooded.
On the other hand, the Hobby Center and Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, came off relatively unscathed, although the parking garages were inundated.
Two barnlike stone structures once stood abandoned in South Austin. One rested on a hill with a view of the city; the other, located farther south, spread out on lush flats near a creek and railroad tracks.
Separately in the 1950s, these old buildings were transformed into residences and studios by important Austin artists who were friends — until they were not.
Miraculously, both these partially modernist but stubbornly rustic retreats have been preserved, one in private hands, the other in public. While their separate histories have been told, their connections are still being made.
The onetime friends were sculptor Charles Umlauf and muralist Seymour Fogel.
Umlauf, who died in 1994, was a longtime University of Texas teacher and a prolific maker of flowing figures, many of which can be spotted all over town. He is best known these days as the namesake of and chief artistic contributor to the city-owned Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, just east of Zilker Park. Others remember him as the artistic mentor of late actress Farrah Fawcett while she studied at UT.
Fogel, who left Austin in 1959 and died in 1984, is less well remembered locally, despite his cultlike status among fans of midcentury modern Texas art. Perhaps his most visible legacy in Austin is the gorgeously preserved large mural inside the Starr Building, originally home to the American National Bank, now smartly occupied by the McGarrah Jesse marketing agency at 121 W. Sixth St. …