The Year in Austin Culture
Arts Critics Poll
ARTS STORY OF THE YEARAda Calhoun: Flatbed Press opening.
Robert Faires: The Blanton Museum design war. A couple of tunnel-visioned regents derail a carefully plotted museum design process, leading to the design firm's resignation, the dean of Architecture's resignation, indignant campus rallies, and repercussions for universities and architectural projects around the world.
Sarah Hepola: The Blanton Museum of Art -- everyone understands the import of that mess. Oops, not quite everyone.
Robi Polgar: The good story is the$20 million arts gift from the Longs. Pour it on, all over! The bad story is the UT Regents/Blanton Museum shenanigans, surely. Another aspect of the boring, build-to-hide architectural strategy obliterating historical Austin.
MOST INTERESTING TREND OF 1999
Calhoun: Everyone deciding it's time to revive a bunch of Harold Pinter plays.
Faires: Time travel. An unusual number of productions commented on the present by shooting us ingeniously forward into the past (Lipstick Traces, Rocky Horror, Jesus Christ Superstar) or back to the future (Junior Blues, Dirty Money, Sexotheque). Fascinating, Captain.
Hepola: Once known as fledgling theatre troupes, Salvage Vanguard and Rude Mechanicals really hit their stride, producing daring pieces they poured their hearts into. They have become examples for the newest crop of young theatre companies and joined the established companies as leaders in the theatre community.
Polgar: Turnover in executive leadership of many salient arts organizations: ALAA, AVAA, ACOT, Ballet Austin, State Theater Company, Zach Scott (adding Ann Ciccolella), among others. Must be the millennium approaching, or something in the water.
ARTIST/COMPANY YOU ALWAYS LOOKED FORWARD TO SEEING
Calhoun: Rude Mechanicals, Ballet Austin, Little Death Productions.
Faires: Martin Burke, for his many comedic gifts, his outrageousness, and the intensity of his playing.
Hepola: Joe York. I plan for days in advance.
Polgar: Physical Plant Theater.
BIGGEST LOSS TO THE ARTS SCENE
Calhoun: Well, I'm sure dignity was cast aside a few times, but I'm not sure that's always necessarily a loss ...
Faires: Spaces with history and heart. When we lose a Black Mountain College or a Public Domain Theatre, we don't just lose someplace to stage plays, we lose the spirit of creativity that was cultivated there and an irreplaceable link to our cultural past.
Hepola: The debacle with the Blanton resulted in a general loss of confidence about the future of the arts in this city.
Polgar: Lyons Matrix Gallery closing. Camille Lyons supported the local arts community with all manner of events in her sophisticated, unique gallery.
BIGGEST HOPE FOR THE ARTS SCENE IN THE NEXT YEAR AND NEXT CENTURY
Calhoun: In theatre, more small-scale troupes staging interesting little shows in weird places. In art, more vaguely menacing eccentrics. In general, glamour.
Robert Faires: In the next year, even more fans locally who will put their butts in the seats and throw money at our artists.
In the next century, the reputation across the country that our arts scene deserves for generating innovative new work in an open, supportive community.
Hepola: I don't just want more people going to the theatre -- I want more people talking about theatre. We are so bombarded with media and entertainment and apathy is so easy that theatre needs to be asking how it can incite people to feel and talk. Some companies are doing just that, but more artists should follow their example.
Polgar: (Hey! This reads a lot like last year!) Better managerial skills among arts organizations (the behind-the-scenes stuff) and institutional security -- successful fundraising and fiscal management to go along with the (already) wondrous artistic vision, especially among smaller groups. Hey, donors: Think what one-10th of one percent of the Long contribution would do for your favorite small- to medium-sized arts organization ...
MOST MEMORABLE SHOW YOU'VE EVER SEEN IN AUSTIN
Calhoun: Desire -- the clever O'Neill update staged on a freezing cold, windy hilltop outside of town.
Faires: Big State Productions' In the West (1985). A groundbreaking collection of monologues about Westerners written and performed with such spirit and skill that I was compelled to write about it. So many details of it -- actors, scenes, gestures -- are so fresh in my mind, I might have seen it last weekend.
Hepola: Salvage Vanguard's Stranger Desire was my introduction to the kind of original, literate theatre being done in Austin. And Dreamgirls remains an all-time favorite because of the divine Jacqui Cross.
Polgar: The House of Yes, by Frontera Productions (way back when, at Mexic-Arte).
MOST MEMORABLE SHOW YOU'VE EVER SEEN
Calhoun: A Matisse retrospective a few years ago. I don't even know if I liked it, but for hours afterward the whole world shimmered.
Faires: The original production of Dancing at Lughnasa at the National Theatre. The performances were so rich, capturing all the lyricism and poignance of this extraordinary memory piece. And the sisters' sudden dance was such an explosion of joy ... It was an epiphany.
Hepola: When I was 12, my brother appeared in the high school production of West Side Story. The guy who played Tony was a football captain and so tone-deaf that his solos should have been prohibited by law. And the rumble scenes were just laughable, with leaky blood bags and bad retractable knives. But I was absolutely obsessed with it; I went back as many times as I could.
Polgar: Hamlet at the Glasgow Citizen's Theatre. Fifty pence buys your (excellent) seat at one of Europe's groundbreaking theatres. Ask me about it.