Carnival Ah!

A midway for the mind

Jane Adolph in <i>In 2 the West</i>, 2006
Jane Adolph in In 2 the West, 2006

Most carnivals don't offer you anything more intellectually stimulating than a corn dog. But this weekend's carnival at Austin Community College is all about tickling the cerebrum. Step right up to Carnival ah!, and learn why Latin is important! Hear Shakespearean sonnets read aloud! See original dances by student choreographers! Discuss poetry and philosophy! Participate in a Japanese tea ceremony! It's a bounty of brainstem stimulation more fun – and possibly more dizzying – than a Tilt-a-Whirl.

And that's just the entrance to the midway of this cultural extravaganza created by ACC's Division of Arts & Humanities. (Arts ... humanities – ah! I get it!) Thursday through Saturday, the college's Rio Grande Campus will overflow with live musical, theatrical, cinematic, and literary offerings. Guest authors Stephen Kuusisto (Planet of the Blind, Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening) and Elva Maxine Beach (Neurotica), a former ACC department chair, will read from their works (Thursday, 7pm, Mainstage Theater), as will ACC faculty and students present and past – the latter to mark the 10th anniversary of ACC's student literary journal, The Rio Review (Thursday, noon, ah! Platform). Leslie Jill Patterson of Texas Tech University's Iron Horse Literary Review will lead a workshop on editing literary journals (Friday, 9am, Room 129). Films by ACC students, faculty, and staff, including "Philip's Shadow" and Welldigger by Radio Television Film adjunct assistant professor Philip Fagan will be screened. The Creative Writing and Drama departments continue their expansion of the pioneering Austin theatre work In the West with a third installment of In 2 the West, monologues about the lives of Westerners developed in ACC classes by students working with local writers, actors, and directors (Friday and Saturday, 8pm, Gallery Theatre).

Arguably the highlight of Carnival ah!'s debut (while created as part of the festivities marking ACC's 35th anniversary, the fair will become an annual event) will be Austin in the 1950s: The Political and Literary Landscapes of Billy Lee Brammer (Friday, 5pm, Mainstage Theater). Co-sponsored by ACC's Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, the event explores the life and work of the man who wrote The Gay Place, still the best novel of Texas politics and right up there with Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men as one of the best novels of American politics ever. It's a book that captures the character of Lyndon Johnson better than many biographies and the life and spirit of the capital city in the early Sixties.

The program starts with an excerpt from The Flea Circus, a new film based on The Gay Place by none other than two of the author's daughters: ACC Drama Department Chair Shelby Brammer, who wrote and directed the film, and ACC creative writing instructor Sidney Brammer, who produced and edited it. That will be followed by a panel discussion about Brammer, including his ex-wife Nadine Eckhardt, former Texas Sen. A.R. "Babe" Schwartz, and writers Gary Cartwright, Don Graham, Kay Northcott, and Jan Reid. ACC professor and Austin Chronicle columnist Joe O'Connell moderates. After the panel will be a birthday reception – Billy Lee Brammer would have been 80 years old this year – and booksignings by panelists in the theatre lobby.

Carnival ah! runs April 2-4, Thursday-Saturday, 9am-10pm, at the ACC Rio Grande Campus, 1212 Rio Grande. For a full schedule of events, visit

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Carnival ah!, Austin Community College, Billy Lee Brammer, Sidney Brammer, Shelby Brammer, In 2 the West, Stephen Kuusisto, Elva Maxine Beach, Philip Fagan

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