The Women & Their Work gallery attracts deeply talented and accomplished women (and the men who worship them) from all over Austin. Despite dazzling and incredibly successful exhibitions, panels, tours, and other fundraisers, this annual Spring Gala offers a bit of an edge. Held at the homes of its board members and supporters (all of whom have fabulous art collections of their own), the gala truly defines the perfect high-glam fundraiser, bringing together artists, art lovers, and fashionistas.
The husband-and-wife team of Ben Schave and Caitlin Reilly are like a living piece of vaudeville in the midst of Twitter times, plying their baggy-pants trade – stilt-walking, juggling, fire-eating, and (above all) slapstick comedy – with the clown college-educated professional poise that's earned them multiple awards and fans all over the globe. As their website asks, "Have you ever seen a rubber chicken duel that you didn't like?"
It takes not only great, original material to be a comedian in the making but also some serious cojones to brave a stage and wear your dementia on your sleeve. It also takes the loving embrace of a community and a club that is Austin's funny bone to coddle and encourage those who just want to make the masses laugh. That place is Cap City Comedy Club.
Knowledge of Space12 spreads predominantly by word of mouth. This Eastside compound houses many organizations and nonprofits, such as Inside Books Project and Skillshare Austin, and hosts numerous events, including the Round, a 360-degree immersion in local musical, visual, and spoken-word performance. Comfy couches, clean work surfaces, foosball, ping-pong tables, free wi-fi, and more appoint the "co-working space" that is open to anyone in need.
Just 10 miles from Downtown in deep South Austin (aka Manchaca) sits Hummingbird House, a spacious indoor/outdoor venue for weddings, fundraisers, birthdays, and more. These beautifully manicured 5 1/2 acres beckon with lush greenery, flowers constantly in bloom, and hummingbirds, of course, in season. There is a 40-by-80-foot covered pavilion fed by lovely walkways and a secret vine-covered arbor for the bride to make her appearance. Overlooking Onion Creek, the complex features a very green, grassy outdoor amphitheatre and a sparkling pool accented with rock and verdant plantings. Owner Tom Tinguely – also of South Congress' Great Outdoors – apparently has the Midas touch: He turns green into gold.
The thespians who share this year's acting honor are used to sharing the stage with each other, having trod the boards together in Angels in America, House of Several Stories, The Laramie Project, and, over numerous yuletides, The Santaland Diaries. Most recently, they served up a one-two punch in Zach Theatre's production of The Drowsy Chaperone, which showcased both actors' mastery of characterization, bravura comedic chops, and killer sense of timing in intoxicating fashion. As the sozzled chaperone, the effortlessly versatile McCall dialed her already potent stage presence to 11 and brassily mined laughs from every line, using her enchanting voice to blast out a riotously funny anthem to the joys of booze. Burke's Man in Chair anchored the show, the actor's uncanny fusion of razor-edged snark and pure, unfettered joy giving us the merriest misanthrope this side of his own Macy's elf in Santaland – and an unexpectedly tender one, too. After seeing these two actors in the limelight, you can't wait for them to play, play again.
Just as the collective of visual artists that runs this funky Eastside space continues to develop its national profile – its Corner Store installation winning the 2009 Pulse Prize at the Miami art fair last winter, its Benefit Plate installation at Chelsea gallery Freight + Volume earning a favorable review in The New York Times this summer – Okay Mountain keeps building its rep as a showplace for contemporary art that's both provocative and engaging. Whether the exhibits are locally generated, as with the Austin Critics Table Award-winning group show "Polymict," or drawn from outside Austin, as with the music-themed "Sonny Smith: 100 Records," the work is so consistently fresh that you'll find yourself, like the bear in the old song, going over the Mountain again and again to see what you can see.
If New York City transplant Linda Asaf's gray-and-white alençon lace bikini with its silk chiffon cover-up screams bridal, it should. Known for her exquisite cut and use of lace, Asaf is fluent in both vintage bridal looks and contemporary gowns. Turn the corner and find Chia Guillory, a longtime readers' favorite best known for her enchanting, eco-friendly winter Chia hats, arm warmers, and bags. We're not surprised that her genius is available now not only in Austin but in Utah, Oregon, Colorado, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Pop-culture savants John Erler and Joe Parsons (and their many talented guests) are the Alamo Drafthouse's lords of misrule, doing to classic big-screen turkeys or contemporary Hollywood bombast what the Ginsu is famous for doing to hapless foodstuffs, slicing and dicing cinematic spectacles with wit and wackiness that's sorta kinda like the old MST3K done live, with drinking games, audience participation, and a halftime sketch show in which the lanky, baldpated Erler frequently winds up in only his tighty-whities.
You've herded up 136 groundhogs and have them barking in key. Now you need the perfect musical matte, arrangement, strings – the whole nine yards. Call Graham Reynolds. Austin's DIY Philip Glass rose from the Clinton era crunk of the local indie music scene as the drummer/pianist of his Golden Arm Trio and crossed over with silent-film scores at the Alamo. He's since scored nearly every local art medium, from Ballet Austin to Richard Linklater's animated blade runner A Scanner Darkly. No one said you could substitute musicians for groundhogs!
Graham Reynolds, www.grahamreynolds.com
No strangers to pages of adoration from Chronicle staff, perennial winners Ballet Austin along with new-to-the-Readers-Poll indie upstarts Little Stolen Moments may pause from their plié-ing and prancing to catch respective breaths and revel! Not only are they critics' darlings, but the readers love them – they really, really love them. And it's no wonder: The artistry and heart that moves them – whether in Stephen Mills' take on Stravinsky's Firebird at the Long Center or LSM's Charlie Brown dance at a local rock club – moves audiences as well.
By the time this sees print, the term "emergent" may be historical as regards filmmaker Raval, so swift is the man's trajectory. From stunning music videos for locals Mistress Stephanie & Her Melodic Cat and Little Stolen Moments to a series of subversive shorts with drag star Christeene to showcases at Cannes and Sundance and the feature doc Trinidad (co-directed with Jay Hodges) running on Showtime to his current cinematography for Kyle Henry's Fourplay, the award-winning movie man is more than ready for his close-up.
PJ Raval, 507-8158, www.unraval.com
While we're happy to give the University of Texas' art museum points for size – at 180,000 square feet, it's the largest university art museum in the country – what we really prize is what the Blanton does with all that space: showcasing the best of the 18,000 works in its collections of prints, European Renaissance and baroque art, 20th century North American art, and contemporary Latin American art; regularly commissioning new art in its free-form WorkSpace; presenting brilliant one-of-a-kind exhibitions such as the reconstruction of Veronese's long-lost Petrobelli Altarpiece and the heartfelt, personal group show "Desire"; offering lively, interesting public programs and literally throwing a party for art every month of the year. (You go, B Scene!) The Blanton makes art active.
What do you want in a performing arts center? An expansive concert hall with pristine acoustics? An intimate studio theatre with the flexibility to present stage plays, dance, and chamber music? An exterior space to which patrons are drawn as a gathering place during performance breaks, maybe one with a sweeping view of the city skyline? How about staff, both paid and volunteer, that make every visitor – tuxedoed swell and jeans-clad joe alike – feel welcome and valued? The Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts has it all, bringing it together in an elegant package that has the style, eclecticism, and inclusive feel of Austin itself. And every visit gives us another reason to believe that our city truly has the performing arts center that it dreamed of for so, pardon the pun, long.
The numbers alone might be enough to earn the East Austin Studio Tour this award; after all, where else in town can you see work by some 300 area artists and artisans over a couple of weekends? But EAST is also remarkable for its openness and diversity and a unique form of intimacy in its viewing experience. You aren't seeing these paintings and sculptures and ceramics and such in some antiseptic gallery or stately museum; you're seeing them where they were made – in studios, those vibrant, messy, deeply personal pits of creation. Plus, you're able to make direct connections to the artists there in ways that are rarely possible in more traditional exhibition venues. And that these scores of studios are spread across the Eastside means that as you roam from one to another, you pass through some of the city's most vital neighborhoods and gain a deeper appreciation of these areas as home to Austin's creative drive. And all for free.
Not content to be one of the best actors in town, not satisfied with tracking down the rarer gems of contemporary theatre for showcasing at his longtime venue, no, Hyde Park Theatre's Webster also has to work his directorial craft so relentlessly well, with such an enviable company of talented performers, that Chronicle readers shower him with accolades until this poll shouts: "’Best of Austin,' Kenneth Wayne Webster! Take a goddamn bow!"
Who says graffiti doesn't last? The only trace of the old Tower Records on the Drag is the history of rock & roll caught in the murals of Federico Archuleta, aka Fe De Rico. His Tex-Mex-sexy spray-can Virgins and stencil Lady Godivas – part street art, part folk art – are Austin's new icons.
Federico Archuleta, www.graffitiwestern.com