Arts & Culture
2011 Readers Poll
2011 Critics Picks
Best Comedy Strong Enough for a (Wo)Man

Five years strong and staffed by a collective of the wittiest women in ATX, Ladies Are Funny Festival has proven true to its name. Packed with a diverse local and national lineup of improv, sketch, and stand-up performers, it's turned out programming that showcases the very best of the best. LAFF has rightfully earned the accolades of Austin’s comedy community, and we can’t wait to see what hilarity it comes up with next.

Ladies Are Funny Festival

Best Developing Photography Gallery

Stepping in almost seamlessly once the L. Nowlin Gallery closed at the same West Sixth Street location, B. Hollyman is one of the few places in town solely focused on photography. Curating well-balanced shows from artists both local and from across the country, B. Hollyman's exhibits span a range of photographic techniques, from documentary realism to surreal digitally manipulated works. Plus its opening fetes, in tandem with the adjoining Wally Workman Gallery, make for a great start to a Saturday evening.

B. Hollyman Gallery
1202-A W. Sixth

Best Grand Reopening

Oh ND, apparently we hardly knew ye. All this time, we thought we were going into you, adorable, dark, cozy, cavernous you, for our magical, glitter-dusted nights of near-Eastside cray-cray. Wasn't that you we've been going to since 2009 for the Texas Burlesque Fest? For QueerBomb? For the Funk Freak Halloween Ball? For Azz Everywhere? For Cher Chez La Femme? We swear we saw DJ Orion there. Agent Ribbons. Mad Classy. Sixteen Deluxe. And then your Grand Opening. Last month? Oh! That was the grand opening for the North Door? Your supersecret spy door in the alley? The door that leads to that awesome li'l intimate bar in the back? The door close to the yummy goodness of Tamale Molly serving some of the best late-night tamales and mother-truckin' queso we've had the pleasure of getting all over ourselves after a night of sheer mayhem in your club? Well, it's about time.

ND Austin
501 N. I-35

Best Improv Instructor

John Ratliff is more than just an improviser and improv instructor – he’s a true teacher. He pushes his students to find the most organic, most grounded, most real approach to their play. He pulls at them to be greater than. This mental cultivation is taken with such seriousness and brevity, it’s easy to forget the result is comedy. With the humble heart and fidelity to form befitting his trademark tutelage, the “yes, and” transcends the funny and makes sacred the LOLs.

ColdTowne Theater
1700 E. Second

Best Lens Crafters

If there's one thing we like better than excellent individual artists, it's excellent individual artists working together. (See the Rude Mechanicals, Okay Mountain, Austin Video Bee.) With Lakes Were Rivers, 11 of Austin's sharpest, most industrious artists working in photography and video formed a collective so they could support and critique one another's work – and that wasn't just code for warm baths of unqualified praise. They pushed one another to make better art. And their focus on mutual betterment appears to have succeeded: Five of the 11 were selected to exhibit in this year's Austin Museum of Art "New Art in Austin: 15 To Watch" show, four had photos chosen for the 2011 Texas Biennial, and three were nominated for the Austin Visual Arts Association's Artist of the Year award for photography. And the first book from Lakes Were Rivers? Sold out. Well, with photographers of this caliber, it's not surprising that something clicked.

Lakes Were Rivers

Best Pas de Deux

Few duets are as delicate as the one danced by an arts company's artistic director and executive director. In the effort to balance aesthetic ambitions and commercial needs, partners too often step all over each other's toes. That's not a problem at Ballet Austin, where Executive Director Cookie Ruiz and Artistic Director Stephen Mills duet with the grace of Nureyev and Fonteyn. The mutual support they provide is striking, and in their decade together, Ballet Austin has built a $10.3 million headquarters Downtown; established a national choreographic competition; toured to the nation's capital, New York City, and Europe; and enjoyed its highest-grossing season ever. Small wonder, then, that the board has extended the pair's contracts through 2021. It also paid tribute to their expert pas de deux by naming a rehearsal space in the company's home the Mills/Ruiz Legacy Studio.

Ballet Austin
501 W. Third

Best Sculptures From Yesterday's Future

"Don't call him Steampunk" is the usual caution. That's because, while Steve Brudniak's eerie objects of technology from some mad past may radiate a whiff of that largely cosplay-based genre of expression, they're more firmly based in the fine art milieu. Several of the man's obsessively crafted sculptures are also based in lucky venues around town – the East Side Show Room, the Green Muse Cafe – where their brass, glass, metal, and wood provide more dark delight and scientific mystery than a Klein bottle full of Higgs bosons.

Best Wit With a Stitch

Any actor armed with a sufficiently snarky wisecrack or a spit take can get a laugh onstage, but a frock? It's the rare garment that can garner a guffaw. But when Edna Turnblad emerged from the plus-sized can of Aqua Net in Zach Theatre's production of Hairspray, her over-the-top, Technicolor, early Sixties gown was what gave folks the giggles. That's because it was crafted by Susan Branch Towne, a costume designer who can do for stagewear what Oscar Wilde did for epigrams: make ’em sharp, witty, and memorable. Her unerring sense of style, color, and texture ensures that her outfits are never less than gorgeous, but when the work calls for comedy – say, The Drowsy Chaperone at Zach, The Bat for Austin Lyric Opera, or Ballet Austin's The Magic Flute – Branch Towne twists those qualities to make fashion funny. She sews the joke right into the clothes and makes the line between style and satire seamless.

Critics: Architecture & Lodging
Critics: Entertainment

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