The Austin Chronicle


By Robert Faires, February 19, 1999, Arts

A Planet of Their Own

The way Bonnie Cullum gave me the news about her performance venue Planet Theatre, my heart about quit. When she came on the line, all she said was, "We're closing tomorrow." Now, even though I was expecting a call from the VORTEX Repertory Company artistic director and Queen of Planet Theatre and knew the call would be good news, all I could think when I heard those words was, "Something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. The Planet is being shut down." And suddenly, all the great Austin arts spaces that have had to shut their doors because the space wasn't theirs -- Capitol City Playhouse, Synergy Studio, Center Stage, Chicago House, the old Live Oak Theatre, not to mention the company's previous home on Ben White Boulevard, the VORTEX Performance Cafe -- flashed before my eyes. When I didn't say anything, I guess Bonnie thought it best to repeat herself. "We're closing ... on the Planet," she said, and then it sunk in: closing, as in signing papers of ownership. Ri-i-ight! That's the news I was expecting. After a few weeks of rumors to that effect, Cullum was making it official: VORTEX would no longer have to lease its space on Manor Road; it was going to own it lock, stock, and back yard. A group of generous VORTEX patrons -- most of whom remain anonymous but include Cullum's celebrated father, Dixieland musician Jim Cullum -- had worked out the financing that would allow the purchase of the property, and the transaction was going ahead. The move will give the edgy, often experimental group an unusually settled quality. After all, it was booted from its first home back in the early Nineties and its five-year tenure at the current space has been less than secure, marked as it has been with plenty of, shall we say, wrangling with the property owner. Now, that's all laid to rest, and VORTEX can, as Bonnie says, "shape the Austin theatre scene well into the next century." As you can imagine, the company wants to celebrate, so it's hosting a "We Bought the Fuckin' Planet!" party this Friday, February 19, 11pm-2am, at ... well, guess (2307 Manor Rd). Admission is by donation, 'cause even though enough money is there to do the deal, VORTEX still needs funds. Ask any homeowner; it's when the place finally belongs to you that you see how much work it needs. So slip the gang a bill and congratulate them on realizing a rare goal among arts groups: their own home. Call 478-LAVA for more info.

Cupid 3, Fear of Commitment 0

That's the score tallied by Ballet Austin after the run of its recent production Kisses. As you may recall, the company held a romance-themed contest along with its Valentine's weekend shows, inviting lovestruck Romeos and Juliet to tell it -- in 50 words or less -- why they were ready and willing to propose marriage to their best beloveds. The authors of the three most compelling submissions were given the chance to pop the question in a big way: from the stage of the Bass Concert Hall, in front of the hundreds of balletgoers attending a Kisses performance. And pop they did: John Muchiri on Friday, Brandon Pittman on Saturday, and Jeff Kaplan on Sunday. And all three gents were told, "Yes." I was at the last show and saw Kaplan's touching proposal. Flowers in one hand, book of poetry in the other, the BA Academy student looked out at his choreographer sweetheart Laurie Sanda in the house and quoted Percy Bysshe Shelley before asking her for her hand. It was, well, dramatic. Something to see ... as was the rest of the show, by the way.

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