Indie game developer Saam Pahlavan told the Twitterverse in early September he would post a video game idea for each like his tweet received. Last we checked he was up to 194 – and while there's impressive quality in the ranks, they're not all gold. The surprisingly broad scope includes everything from "a racing game where you have to find your car keys before you start driving" to "Mario but every time you die Peach thinks less of you and considers dating Luigi." Not into video games? His Twitter profile pic deserves an additional award.
In this pop-up world where things seem to change daily, the city of Austin has added a new wrinkle to the art landscape – short-term art installations in city parks that may stay a couple of months or as short as a few days. The sculptures are subtly political (large donkey piñatas), evocative (a cube puzzle), or unexpected (a podium surrounded by flagpoles). Catch the art at a park near you, because they won’t be there long.
Remember Yahoo Groups? If you thought those online discussion forums had gone the way of MySpace, GeoCities, or Wreckx-n-Effect, tell that to the current 10,426 members and counting of Austin Film Casting. Dan Eggleston, a retired middle school teacher whose cotton candy beard has since popped up in 50-plus Austin-made films, created the group in 2000 on the Miss Congeniality set by passing a notebook down the line of extras. The group kept growing from there and today it remains an essential haunt to get info on projects ranging from blockbusters to bare-bones student shorts.
By writing this blurb, we are violating one of the tenets of the mysterious Museum of Human Achievement: "Do not share this on print or web media, as it’s not something we desire to be public knowledge." Their social media presence may be practically nonexistent and their website doesn't waste much time in telling you what they are "about," but in a city of art lovers, a secretly wonderful artist-run multimedia exhibition space that regularly hosts experimental theatre and live music cannot remain hidden for long.
Springdale & Lyons
Before "curate" became a thing the in crowd did with party appetizers and Spotify playlists, it was what academics did in museums and galleries, often with a gimlet eye toward deciding what art had merit and what didn't. It could be – and still can be – dry, dusty, and insidery. Fortunately, Austin has Los Outsiders to put the "cure" in curate. This visual arts collective made up of Jaime Salvador Castillo, Michael Anthony García, Hector Hernandez, and Robert Jackson Harrington has assembled exhibits and projects that take on life in these times and our city with boldness, clarity, a political edge, and a devilish sense of humor. Whether it's their award-winning group exhibit "Gently Fried," an X-ray of gentrification; their Dada fashion show "Sew Wasted"; or their touching sociocultural tribute to Austin's District 1 in "Drawing Lines," Los Outsiders select art that connects with Austin. They're outside the art world and inside ours.
Our Lite Guv may be obsessed with which restroom people use to take a leak and our governor equally obsessed with suppressing gay rights, but there's still lots of folks left in Texas who we can all be proud of. Carina Magyar's sets bring the house down with her tales of dating as a trans lesbian, street harassment, and parenthood – making the political personal and providing an antidote to the toxic rhetoric around the discussion of LGBTQ lives. With apologies to Jacula Prudentum, laughing well is the best revenge.
Celebrating underdog filmmakers and voices, Indie Meme’s first festival was a successful passion project that opened Austin’s eyes to South Asia’s exploding cinematic scene. Repping every genre and age demographic, plus a solid cross section of more than 40 regional languages, the lineup was as expansive as the subcontinent. We can’t wait to see what year two has in store.
Originally a parking lot pop-up, owner/founder/visionary Josh Frank’s 24 frames per second dream child has since evolved to an honest to goodness drive-in, complete with Fifties-era speaker poles, a candy and popcorn filled refreshment stand, and one heck of a nifty view of the dusky Austin skyline. Frank’s mission has been so successful that satellite asphalt theatres in Miami and Denver have since opened. But we like our hometown haunt the most, where family fare, classics, and arthouse programming make Blue Starlite a must almost every night of the week.
1901 E. 51st
Barry Maxwell knows the power of the written word to transport people in need. Reading helped him get through his own stint of homelessness, providing connection to the greater world. Now a fiftysomething UT creative writing student, Maxwell has transformed an Austin Community College class project into a permanent source of community good – providing books to those most in need and conducting writing workshops at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless led by pros like Elizabeth McCracken.
What do you get when you mix a card-carrying Mopar Muscle Cars of Austin member with a poet? A red-bearded wordsmith growling with steel and smoke. The Austin Community College professor originally came from Michigan, but he quickly became an essential part of Austin as a Blue Plate Poets member and a Michener fellow. He still hosts a regular reading series at Malvern Books. And his poems still have their urgency, seeking beauty and truth in the ordinary: “stainless steel hex nuts/falling like raindrops/to a polished concrete floor.”
This August, the University of Texas erected a monument to memorialize the victims of Charles Whitman’s mass murder spree from on top of the UT clock tower 50 years ago. Documentarian Keith Maitland and his extraordinarily talented team of Austin creatives have erected a different kind of monument in memorial. Tower explores the events of Aug. 1, 1966 through animated dramatizations, archival footage, and survivor testimony. It’s both a heartfelt tribute to the heroes and fallen of the day and a harrowing reminder to never forget our nation’s first mass school shooting.
Whether created by some talented amateur that a company's lucky enough to have among its members, or by a longtime professional who's generous enough to work a pro bono gig, the visual components promoting shows in this town are almost as important as the show itself. To wit: Sarah Presson's stark, stunning design for Present Company's performed-with-flashlights-in-the-dark production of Hamlet. While capturing the spirit of the Bard, Presson managed to avoid 400-plus years of visual cliches used to illustrate one of his most famous works. We suggest that no poster was so powerfully evocative in 2016.
Eye Like Design:
The Out of Bounds Comedy Festival made a splash in September when Austin Stories stars including Laura House, Chip Pope, Howard Kremer, and Heather Kafka came together to remember MTV's odd 1997 experiment in slackerish sitcomfoolery that created such catchphrases as "neckfurters" and "diaps." Both reviled and admired during its 12-episode run, the show now seems a wry uncle to Portlandia and a wistful window into a more innocent Austin. After the reunion, cast members trekked into Ken's Donuts with cell phone cameras rolling, Kremer touting it as the long-awaited second season. If only.
The air just feels different around a work by Beili Liu, as anyone can tell you who recalls The Mending Project, her stunning installation at Women & Their Work with 1,500 pairs of iron scissors suspended overhead; or Amass at Texas State University, where 16 10-foot spears were held in space by floor-to-ceiling threads like gigantic webs that caught them in mid-flight. Liu's grand scale and meticulous placement of materials charge the atmosphere and raise the hairs on your neck – an effect she achieved even on Lady Bird Lake, with a ghostly white tree hovering above the water in THIRST, created with architects Norma Yancey and Emily Little, and landscape architect Cassie Bergstrom. More and more, Liu is asked to make work around the world, but we hope she'll keep generating power here for a long time.
Bravo to 11-year-old Nihar Janga from River Ridge Elementary School for becoming the youngest student to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It was a tense few moments last May as the ESPN cameras zoomed in on the final two competitors, Janga and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of New York. After the word warriors stumbled twice, they both correctly spelled their next words to be declared co-champions. “I’m speechless,” Nihar said of the win. “I’m only in the fifth grade.”
Netflix summer obsession Stranger Things may have launched a thousand internet odes to its ill-fated heroine Barb, but what’s stuck most with us is its doomy, retro score, courtesy of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin synth band Survive. It has a sound you can’t quite put your finger on – bar to bar recalling John Carpenter, Brian Eno, Éric Serra’s The Big Blue soundtrack, the stomach flutter of your first kiss, and the special dread of a monster under your bed. It’s the sound of the familiar reinvented into something bracing and brand-new. Hit repeat.
Sometimes they're staging wacky deconstructions of spiritual enlightenment and guru-merchandising as characters Dr. Louis-Apollo Childress and his main acolyte Joey in the fully improvised The Reason. Other times they're exploring roles of creativity and self-actualization under extremely rigorous circumstances in their brilliantly performed Subject to Control, a scripted show made delicious with flavors of Samuel Beckett, Jerry Seinfeld, and B. F. Skinner. Always, Luciani and Beeler of American Berserk Theatre illuminate just how intelligent comedy can get and how slapstick-funny postmodern knowledge can be.
When improv vet Tom Booker founded the Institution Theater in 2007, it didn't quite live up to its name. Heck, it didn't even have a dedicated performance space. But nine years later, not only does it still survive, it has become an indispensable part of Austin's comedy landscape – emerging as an incubator for the city's best performers to hone their craft.
Hard times in the Motor City couldn't do it. Tough crowds at the Velveeta Room couldn't do it. Even chronic kidney disease couldn't do it. Nothing could stop Lashonda Lester from building a career in comedy and making sure everybody knows she's as funny as funny gets. Lester's just too strong to stop – the kind of comic who doesn't have to win over a crowd; just taking the stage as her own hilarious, hustlin', mighty self, she owns it. Nowhere was that clearer than in her finals set for the 2016 Funniest Person in Austin contest: She powered through like a 400 hp muscle car from her hometown of Detroit and ended the night wearing the FPIA crown. Ever since, Lester's been working as hard as ever, and we couldn't be happier. Long may this comedy queen reign!
Not all warriors fight to hurt. Some fight to heal, and that's the kind Ebony Stewart is. A poet-performer of uncommon fire and fearlessness, she confronts the wrongs and pain in her life – suffered as a daughter, as a woman, as a black woman – and through her words and the voicing of them onstage, makes openings for perseverance, love, forgiveness. In the 10 years Stewart has been active in Central Texas, her skills as a writer and magnetic stage presence have earned this "Gully Princess" a shelf full of honors, from multiple Slam Champion wins to the B. Iden Payne Awards' Lead Actress in a Drama prize and the Austin Critics Table's David Mark Cohen New Play Award, both for her spellbinding solo theatre work Hunger. They're more evidence that when Stewart goes into battle, hearts mend.
We can only imagine the amount of Bikram yoga-honed control necessary to create the illusion that a dancer has actually ceded control of her fresh, still-living corpus to some otherworldly force that's now carefully testing the boundaries of potential human movement. But we can witness the results whenever Nasky performs her distinct kinetic miracles. She once told us that "Getting to see the anatomy is in and of itself interesting, if it's shown artistically." We couldn't agree more.
Rosalyn Nasky at PURE Bikram Yoga:
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Whether it's his actual wall-sized outdoor murals – as on East Seventh's Nasha or Drifter Jack's Hostel on Guadalupe – or his gallery-enhancing smaller works, the round-spectacled Hamilton's paintings radiate like the second coming of all that was good and colorful about them ol' hippies back in the day, making sure some lucky parts of Austin stay as bright as they are weird.