Behold: The 2017 Austin Critics Table Awards nominees

More than two decades ago, a half dozen ink-stained wretches sat down over obligatory martinis at a 24-hour deli to honor Austin artists. Thus was born the Austin Critics Table Awards, which return to Cap City Comedy Club on Monday, June 5.


During the intervening years, artists, critics and award categories have come and gone. One constant: Robert Faires. The Austin Chronicle arts editor has shaped the awards in his image: generous, omnivorous and witty.  He’s always been as well the diligent note taker and records keeper for the disparate group of staff and freelance critics.

I retired from the Table — named after our usual meeting spot at Katz’s on West Sixth Street — many years ago when my wider wanderings led me to write about Austin’s people, places, culture and history.

I remained, however, passionately loyal to the arts. And more recently, I’ve written quite a few arts news and features stories. It’s important to emphasize, however, that I am no longer a critic. To be sure, opinion informs my reporting, but you won’t find any recent reviews under my byline in our archives.

It gives me considerable pleasure, then, to share with our readers the work of those staff and freelance reviewers which today culminates in the 2017 nominations for the Austin Critics Table Awards:
Buyer and Cellar, Zach Theatre
Clybourne Park, Penfold Theatre
The Drowning Girls, Theatre en Bloc
The Great Society, Zach Theatre
Hand to God, Capital T Theatre
The Hotel Vanya, or A Metaphysical-Paradigm at the End of Everythingness, Natalie George Productions
Lungs, Hyde Park Theatre
Nevermore, the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, Doctuh Mistuh Productions
Song About Himself, Capital T Theatre
The Totalitarians, Theatre en Bloc

Ann Ciccolella, Old Times
Lindsay Doleshal, Dead Man’s Cell Phone
Katie Green, The Shift
Nathan Jerkins, Clybourne Park
Jenny Larson, With Great Difficulty Alice Sits
Jenny Lavery, The Drowning Girls
Mark Pickell, Song About Himself
Rudy Ramirez, A Perfect Robot
Dave Steakley, The Great Society
Lily Wolff, Lungs

David Mark Cohen New Play Award
Dust, Nicole Oglesby
A Girl Named Sue, Christine Hoang
The Hotel Vanya, or A Metaphysical-Paradigm at the End of Everythingness, Timothy Braun
A Perfect Robot, Sarah Saltwick
The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Allen Robertson & Damon Brown
Underground, Lisa Thompson
With Great Difficulty Alice Sits, Hannah Kenah
Wraith Radio, Chris Fontanes

Atlantis, A Puppet Opera, Ethos, with the Vortex
Clybourne Park, Penfold Theatre
The Drowning Girls, Theatre en Bloc
The Great Society, Zach Theatre
Neva, Theatre en Bloc
Nevermore, the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, Doctuh Mistuh Productions
Old Times, Austin Shakespeare
The World According to Snoopy, Texas State University Department of Theatre and Dance

Liz Beckham, Lungs/Neva/Clybourne Park
Chase Brewer, Hand to God
Jay Byrd, Hir
Barbara Chisholm, The Totalitarians
Jacqui Cross, For the Love of Mahalia
Sarah Danko, A Perfect Robot
Lana Dieterich, John
Bridget Farr, Dead Man’s Cell Phone
Judd Farris, Trevor
Joey Hood, W.
Michael Joplin, Lungs
J. Robert Moore, Buyer & Cellar
Marc Pouhé, Death of a Salesman/Underground
Amber Quick, One Man, Two Guv’nors/Charlotte’s Web/The Herd
Cecil Washington, Jr., The Great Society
Theada Bellenger, The Addams Family
Chris Conard, The Totalitarians/The Drowning Girls
Ia Ensterä, Dead Man’s Cell Phone
Lisa Laratta, Poor Herman
Mark Pickell, Hir/Hand to God/John
Desiderio Roybal, Clybourne Park/The Price/The Herd
Court Watson, One Man, Two Guv’nors

Susan Branche Towne, One Man, Two Guv’nors/The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
Jennifer Davis, Wolf Hall/Pride and Prejudice
E. L. Hohn, In the Red and Brown Water
Barry Doss, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Jason Amato, Atlantis: A Puppet Opera
Patrick Anthony, A Perfect Robot/Old Times
Don Day, John
Kate Ducey, The Drowning Girls
Kathryn Eader, The Manchurian Candidate
Natalie George, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui/11:11/Potential
Natalie George & Sadie Langenkamp, Riverside
Stephen Pruitt, More or Less/One Step at a Time/”panning_memory”
Alex Soto, Radiance
Scott Vandenberg, Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees

Lowell Bartholomee, Clybourne Park/Fahrenheit 451
David DeMaris, A Perfect Robot
Robert Fisher, The Hotel Vanya
William Meadows, Radiance
Bill Mester, The Manchurian Candidate

Ana Baer, Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees
Lowell Bartholomee, Fahrenheit 451
Greg Emetaz, The Manchurian Candidate
Eliot Gray Fisher, A Perfect Robot
4×3, Performa/Dance
2016 Fall Dance Festival, Chaddick Dance Theater
Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees, Sharon Marroquin, produced by Latino Art
Residency Project, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center
More or Less, Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Co.
One Step at a Time: A Journey Toward Present Grace, Tapestry Dance
Radiance, Blue Lapis Light

Short Work
“Black is the New Black,” Oluwaseun Samuel Olayiwola
“Camille: A Story of Art and Love,” Jennifer Hart
“Dear Johnny, in Response to Your Last Letter,” Lisa Nicks
“panning_memory,” Jennifer Sherburn
“Planets,” Michelle Thompson Ulerich
“Slowness,” Jun Shen
“Tikling(bird),” Alexa Capareda

Acia Gray, “Jazz Voices”/“Hourglass”/“Time”/“Listen”
Kathy Dunn Hamrick, More or Less/The Four (Three) Seasons/“Salud”
Sally Jacques, Radiance
Jennifer Hart, Camille: A Story of Art and Love
Sharon Marroquin, Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees
Lisa Nicks, “Dear Johnny, in Response to Your Last Letter”
Kate Warren, Change Without Change

Jeremy Arnold, Listen – With Ears Wide Open
Ellen Bartel, “Ocean”/Potential
Alexa Capareda, “Tikling(bird)”/Loose Gravel
Alyson Dolan, Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees/The Four (3) Seasons/The Bowie Project/Potential
Lisa Anne Kobdish, More or Less/Potential/“Salud”
Sharon Marroquin, Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees
Amy Morrow, Hiraeth/“We’ve Been Here Before”/Save Our Spaces Second Line March
Oren Porterfield, Camille: A Story of Art and Love/To China with Love
Andrea Torres, Listen – With Ears Wide Open

Ballet Austin, To China with Love/Belle Redux
Cast of Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees
Dance Repertory Theatre, Momentum
Frank Wo/Men Collective, Loose Gravel
Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company,  More or Less
Autumn Song, Conspirare
The Flying Dutchman, Austin Opera
Mahler: Symphony No. 6, Austin Symphony Orchestra
The Manchurian Candidate, Austin Opera
Rule of Three, Austin Symphony Orchestra
Symphonic Follies, Austin Symphony Orchestra

Chamber Performance
Drumming, line upon line percussion, for Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company’s More or Less
I, Too: The Voices of Langston Hughes, Living Paper Song Project
Sacred Shadows, Ensemble VIII
Schumann Chamber Players, Austin Chamber Music Festival

Original Composition/Score
Have a Good Day, Kathryn Mishell
Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance, Graham Reynolds & Lagaritas Tiradas al Sol
The Passive-Aggressive’s Guide to Mother Goose, Ross Crean
Problems, Rain Nox
String Quartet No. 4, Yevgeniy Sharlat
Potential, line upon line percussion

Donnie Ray Albert, The Manchurian Candidate/I, Too: The Voices of Langston Hughes
Liz Cass, Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance
Julia di Fiore, The Passive-Aggressive’s Guide to Mother Goose
Brenda Harris, The Manchurian Candidate
David Adam Moore, The Manchurian Candidate
Stefanie Moore, Autumn Song
Tim O’Brien, LOLA@4th Tap: January
Kathlene Ritch, Autumn Song
Paul Sanchez, Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance/A Christmas Carol

Ensemble VIII
line upon line percussion
Schumann Chamber Players
Solo Gallery Exhibition
“Ana Esteve Lloren: Studies for Future Objects,” Women & Their Work Gallery
“Lauren Moya Ford: New Hands on Old World Flowers,” Big Medium
“Liz Rodda: Heat Loss,” Women & Their Work Gallery
“Low Down: New Works On Paper by Ricardo Vicente Jose Ruiz,” Not Gallery
“Scorch and Drag: Prints and Sculptures by John Robert Craft,” Flatbed Gallery
“Tammie Rubin: Before I Knew You, I Missed You,” de stijl | PODIUM FOR ART
“Tania Mouraud: Everyday Ogres,” UT Visual Arts Center

Group Gallery Exhibition
“ANTHROPOCENE: Jonas Hart, Dameon Lester & Melissa Loop,” grayDUCK Gallery
“Femme National(e): Audrey Brown, Christina Coleman, Kasumi Chow / Desiree Michelle Espada, Emmy Laursen, Juliana Isabel Ramirez,” Pump Project
“Figure/Heads: David Bae and Erin Cunningham,” ICOSA Collective Gallery
“The First Horizons of Juno: Christina Coleman, Jane Hugentober, Candice Lin, Karen Lofgren, Christine Rebet, Alice Wang and Chantal Wnuk,” MASS Gallery
“March ON!” Christian-Greene Gallery at the Warfield Center
“One/Sixth,” de stijl | PODIUM FOR ART
“Textscape,” Co-Lab Projects DEMO Gallery,

Independent Project
“FinalCon,” Museum of Human Achievement, Ink Tank, Dys/Mem, Drew Paryzer, and Gwar
Spam’s, The Internet Diner, Museum of Human Achievement, Rachel Stuckey, curator
This is Hardcore, Sean Ripple
Workout With Erica Nix, Erica Nix
XYZ Atlas, Jennifer Chenoweth

Gallery, Body of Work
Co-Lab Projects DEMO Gallery
Flatbed Complex
Museum of Human Achievement
Not Gallery
Pump Project

Cliona Gunter
Amy Hauft
Beili Liu
Sean Ripple
Deborah Roberts

UPDATE: Four people will be inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame: Zell Miller III (theater, spoken word); Katherine Brimberry and Mark L. Smith of Flatbed Press (visual arts); and Kate Warren (dance).

WATCH: Get a sneak peek inside Ballet Austin’s production of ‘Alice (in Wonderland)’

“Alice (in Wonderland)” makes its Ballet Austin premiere in time for Mother’s Day. Contributed by Media4artists/Theo Kossenas

This Mother’s Day weekend, Ballet Austin premieres the colorful, kooky, kid-friendly “Alice (in Wonderland),” choreographed by former Ballet Austin dancer and University of Texas alumnus Septime Webre.

The ballet, which Webre created while artistic director of the Washington Ballet, will be performed at the Long Center by both Ballet Austin’s professionals and more than 40 student performers from the Ballet Austin Academy.



Webre enjoyed bringing all those weird Lewis Carroll characters to life.

“I’ve always found the story compelling — this little girl’s finding herself by encountering so many outrageous characters. It’s so trippy, and the characters so outsized and exaggerated. But Alice describes them in a kind of droll way. I’ve had a marvelous time with the physicality of the characters.”

RELATED: UT alum brings his fantastical ballet to Austin

Such colorful characters deserve colorful costumes. Webre has worked with costumer designer Liz Vandal for nearly 20 years.

“She’s brilliant, and the costumes she designed are astonishing,” he said. “They accomplish so much storytelling but are also chic, surprising and so very wearable. She makes the dancers look so damn sexy.”

8 p.m. May 12-13, 2 p.m. May 13 and 3 p.m. May 14
Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive
Cost: $21.30-$89

I want to see virtually every show in Texas Performing Arts’ next season

Nine years ago, I told Kathy Panoff, then incoming director of Texas Performing Arts, that she was a “firecracker.” Well, she’s still lighting up the sky.

Tonight on the Bass Concert Hall stage at the University of Texas, she sent up blazing bottle rockets for her group’s 2017-2018 season, and I want to see virtually ever show on the bill.


Start off, as almost everybody does, with its Broadway in Austin partnership. I’ll sign up right now for “Rent,” “The King and I,” “Finding Neverland,” “School of Rock,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” “The Book of Mormon” and “An American in Paris.”

Yes, even “Rent,” which I’ve grown to love over the past 20 years, mostly because of a Texas State University version with — thank you! — age-appropriate actors. Hello!

And guess what? If you don’t sign up for the 2017-2018 season, forget getting tickets to “Hamilton” the next season. The Broadway series already has added 3,000 new subscribers in anticipation.

RELATED: Broadway smash “Hamilton” coming to Austin in 2018-2019 season.

At the top of my list from the non-Broadway season are three cabaret shows: Storm Large & Le Bonheur, Ute Lemper’s “Last Tango in Berlin” and Seth Rudetsky‘s “Deconstructing Broadway.” It’s like Broadway, too, but refined to the nth degree.


I was also very much attracted to the dance groups: Che Malambo (“Machismo in a jar”), Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Ezralow Dance’s “Open” and Abraham.In.Motion‘s “Live! The Realest MC.” Two I’ve seen before, the other two sizzled in projected videos.

Of the musical selections, I am jazzed to see the Philip Glass Ensemble play “Koyaanisqatsi” live — my first Glass back in 1982 — and Chanticleer doing “Soldier.”

Playing to my jazz affections are Kurt Elling with the SwinglesMonty Alexander Harlem-Kinston Express. 


Also on the bill are Spanish BrassDover Quartet, Sergei Babayan, Sergio & Odair, guitars and Avi Avital, mandolin, the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra and University of Texas Jazz Orchestra with Conrad Herwig — along some hybrid shows, such as Fifth House Ensemble performing music from the game “Journey” live as it is played and “Musical Thrones: A Parody.”

Straight theater has not been forgotten: “The Crucible” and “Sancho: An Act of Remembrance.”

How am I going to see all this? I’ll worry about that tomorrow.

Austin names Rehab El Sadek artist in residence

A native of Egypt now based in Austin will spend nine months embedded within the city’s Watershed Protection Department.

Artist Rehab Al Sadek, the city of Austin’s new artist-in-residence. Contributed

A painter, photographer, printmaker and all-around creative sparkplug, Rehab El Sadek is also a social connector who has initiated workshops around women’s rights and children with disabilities among other causes. She has created art in Africa and Pakistan and has been exhibited in multiple European cities.

‘HomeNightTopography’ by Rehab El Sadek. Contributed

She will not be required to make art, but rather to help city staff “resolve problems, provide innovative or new improvements, and help engage residents around community issues in creative ways,” according to a statement.

The University of Texas College of Fine Arts has put together a somewhat similar program with the Design Institute for Health at the Dell Medical School.

RELATED: After 135 years, a medical school is about to open its doors at UT.

Also, artists have already been embedded successfully with city workers, as witnessed recently at the Lift a Fork benefit for Forklift Danceworks at Springdale Station. Allison Orr and her company have famously created unique dance projects for sanitation workers, firefighters, electrical linemen and technicians and urban foresters.

Lift a Fort for Forklife Danceworks. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Along the way, Danceworks has attracted international attention to Austin. They recently returned from Europe where they collaborated with sanitation workers and revisited gondoliers. The testimonials flowed as easily as the craft cocktails at the magical evening event and a half dozen of the diners engaged me in strikingly memorable conversations.

Leslie Briggs and Kassandra Hendrix at Lift a Fork for Forklift Danceworks. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

RELATED: “Dance explores art of everyday movement.”

Coming up from Danceworks: “My Park, My Pool, My City.” The Parks and Recreation Department actually approached Danceworks to help find out more about what could be done with three East Austin pools.

Look who won the Austin high school musical awards

The Long Center was packed and loud. The show was long and cool. If anyone kept track of the shows tunes performed during the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards last night, they surely got dizzy by 11 p.m.

Select Ensemble performs at the Greater Austin High School Musical Awards. Contributed by Monica Peraza

Among the most charming elements of the ceremony was a video tribute from the Broadway cast of “Hamilton.” We’ll see if we can post it here.

RELATED: All rise for Austin high school musicalsAll rise for Austin high school musicals!

Without further ado, here are the winners. We might have missed one in the Twitter crush, but we’ll update.

RELATED: Here’s why Austin theater teens love the stage and their awards show.

(Note: The adult participants are not listed in the program or announced. Their students pick up the awards.)

Best Production: “In the Heights” – Hendrickson High School.

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Matthew Kennedy for “Pippin” – Leander High School.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Sophie Niles for “Barnum” – McNeil High School.

Best Ensemble: “Oliver” – Vandegrift High School.

Best Direction: “Curtains” – Anderson High School.

Best Featured Performer: Halle Hill for “Oliver!” Vandergrift High School

Best Lighting Design: “In the Heights” – Hendrickson High School

Best Orchestration: “Cinderella” – Marble Falls High School

Best Technical Execution: “Me and My Girl” – McCallum Fine Arts Academy

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Kiara Thomas for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” – Cedar Park High School

Best Actor in Supporting Role: Logan Caraway – Vista Ridge High School

Best Choreography: “Cats” – Cedar Ridge High School

Best Scenic Design: “In the Heights” – Rouse High School

Best Orchestra:  “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” – LBJ/LASA

Best Costume Design: “Cats” – Cedar Ridge High School

Best Student Design: Niko Bermea for choreography of “In the Heights” at Rouse High School,

Here’s why Austin theater teens love the stage and their awards show

Come April 13, the Long Center will rumble with singing and dancing during the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards.

RELATED: All rise for Austin high school musicals!

Finale of the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards show in 2016. Contributed by James Goulden

So why do Austin theater teens love the stage and this singular awards ceremony? We asked.

Mary Chae Lancaster pic 1.png.jpeg
Mary Shae Lancaster. Contributed

Mary Shae Lancaster:  I love the high school musical theater awards for many reasons. Number 1 being the community that I’ve found with other high schoolers who appreciate and love the art form of musical theatre as much as I do. It has also nurtured and given me goals to strive for. I love watching talented student performers do this thing we love and do it phenomenally. Most of them can be found in the Select Ensemble over previous years. This is my first year as a part of the ensemble and it has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have met some of my closest friends through the process and progressed so much in my performance ability by simply being around incredibly talented peers.

Terin Dailey pic 2
Terin Dailey. Contributed

Terin Dailey: This completely is a different world that I have the privilege of living every day. It means happiness for me in my life and having the chance to perform for another audience again is amazing. We put so much into this show, wanting it to look it’s very best in every aspect. (It) is a way for us to celebrate all the hard work and dedication that we all give to each other every year and how it has affected us immensely.

Lola Rios. Contributed

Lola Rios: (It is) more than a night of celebration. It is hard work, dedication and passion on one stage with 31 schools all singing and dancing for a common love. They have built hope for students to know that they have the support of their schools, other schools and the Long Center. Each school is honored on the night of the awards no matter if they walk away with an award or not. This is because of the magic that the night brings.

Matthew Kennedy pic 1
Matthew Kennedy. Contributed

Matthew Kennedy: The high school musical theater awards provide outreach and recognition for talent and ability across the Austin area. It gives Austin schools a chance to connect on a greater level and be recognized for their hard work and artistry they bring to the table. It reminds me that I should try to do my best in whatever I attempt or pursue, and however the outcome may be, the reward is in knowing that I did my best.

Maddie Brimmer pic 1
Maddie Brimmer. Contributed

Maddie Brimmer: Each school gets to showcase their abilities and be rewarded for their achievements and the schools nominated for best musical even get a chance to perform a small part of their show on the Long Center stage. It’s a magical night filled with teenagers dressed up in their nicest dresses, fantastic performances, and some celebrity appearances!

Samathna Dickerson pic 2
Samantha Dickerson. Contributed

Samantha Dickerson: It’s an amazing opportunity to bring people of all different schools and backgrounds to all share our talents and a love of musical theatre and build relationships we wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s given me the opportunity to express my passion of musical theatre to an even further extent by participating in these amazing awards and being in the select ensemble; getting to do what I love.

Step right up to the Fusebox Festival

The Fusebox Festival tackles big ideas like the border and health care through the arts. And it starts April 12.

RELATED: Lighting a creative fire through the Fusebox Festival.

House of Kenzo
San Antonio art collective House of Kenzo will perform at Al Volta’s Midnight Bar on April 12 as part of the Fusebox Festival. Contributed

To get you started, here’s a teaser from our preview of the fest.

“There really isn’t anything else quite like the Fusebox Festival.

First, admission is free. You could stop right there. How do they do that?

(Answer: A combination of gifts, grants and elbow grease.)

Further, the hybrid Austin gathering, which returns April 12-16 to multiple locations, doesn’t just present vanguard artists from here and around the world. It urges them to engage with their audiences around the big ideas of the day.

For instance, this year multiple acts will dig into border concerns, and others will explore the state of community health. That’s the kind of thoughtful strategy you would expect from something like the Texas Tribune Festival, but it might surprise some to see it at an offbeat arts fest.

PHOTOS: Hybrid Austin event Fusebox Festival tackles big ideas through art

“We’re very aware that other organizations are much better equipped in this moment to tackle different parts of the border issue,” says Fusebox founder and captain Ron Berry. “This is true of any issue. We do think the arts are uniquely positioned to foster cultural exchange and collaboration; to engage our imaginations and create out-of-the-box thinking and possibilities; and to hold multiple viewpoints simultaneously.”

It should be noted that Fusebox is not just about big-brain ideas.

“For me, one of the things I’ve always loved about festivals is that they are — or can be — places for discovery,” Berry says. “Sometimes that’s simply hearing a new band that you didn’t know anything about. … I get such a jolt when I learn about a new artist that excites me.”

Watch new Austin Symphony and Ballet Austin videos

Austin arts groups are getting better at promoting their fare through videos. We not only approve, we hope to spread the good news.

Ballet Austin’s “The Magic Flute” plays the Long Center March 31-April 2.

Ballet Austin’s “The Magic Flute.” Contributed by Tony Spielberg

Here’s Austin Symphony’s video on Mahler’s Sixth Symphony.

Peter Bay and the orchestra play the long, tragic Sixth March 24-26. Watch this space for an interview we conducted with the maestro.

The Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. Photograph by Moriz Nähr. 1907.

Texas Medal of Arts honorees testify

You’ve read the statistics.

The arts have grown into a $5.5 billion industry in Texas, according to a 2017 State of the Arts Report released recently by the Texas Cultural Trust, an advocacy group. The industry generates, too, nearly $343.7 million in state sales tax revenue annually.


Additionally, you know by now how the arts affect education, tourism and the economy, especially in this town, where all varieties of creative efforts thrive from the grassroots up.

Those kinds of arguments make reasonably persuasive cases when lobbying the Texas Legislature for support. Yet much more can be said directly — from one Texan to another — about the value of the arts.

Before the Texas Medal of Arts awards — given to Texans by the Texas Cultural Trust — arrive with parties and grand ceremonies Tuesday and Wednesday, we asked the honorees what the arts have meant to them personally.

We’re updating the Austin Arts blog with recent and relevant material from other Statesman and Austin360 pages. See the rest of this story on Texas Medal of Arts here.

Big Data makes the Austin dance scene

Turns out that the same charitable foundation that backed Austin Opera‘s general manager Annie Burridge when she supervised a segmented audience study earlier at Opera Philadelphia is underwriting a similar look at Ballet Austin.

RELATED: Austin Opera leader turns to Big Data to engage audiences.

The Wallace Foundation’s $52 million “Building Audiences for Sustainability” initiative intends to expand and deepen each arts group’s audience engagement by asking layered questions about why people are motivated to attend.

On Thursday, the foundation released an article and a video that upend long-held assumptions about how audiences behave. Ballet Austin is two years into the rigorous study, which so far shows that the assumed evolutionary continuum of audience tastes from story ballets to more abstract works is not supported by the data, but rather that people need more information on ballet altogether to feel more assured that they will fell comfortable with the experience.

They also found that people respond to videos that they discover digitally and that they also want to make social, intellectual and emotional connections. (Hey, that’s what we do, too!)


Here’s a snippet from the fascinating article:

“Every December, Ballet Austin puts on “The Nutcracker,” choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Stephen Mills. Virtually all of the 14 performances at the 2,442-seat Long Center for the Performing Arts are filled to capacity. “We could sell out more shows,” says Cookie Ruiz, executive director of the Texas company, “but it would wear our dancers out.”

“Packed houses are the case for other classics, too. But a different picture emerges for more abstract works, which don’t attract the crowds that flock to “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and the like. That reality is frustrating for the dance company – and not just because unsold tickets mean unrealized revenue.

It also runs counter to Ballet Austin’s mission: to create new work and develop talent, thereby extending the ballet repertoire and advancing the art form. Ruiz sums up the problem with a simple question:

“How do we go about developing larger audiences for entirely new work?”