Review: “The King of Texas” at Frontera Fest

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)

Beth Webster wants us to get to know Sam Houston in a way that reading about him just can’t accomplish. She’s waited more than a decade to get his story told, and although it didn’t make it onto the big screen, her two-man play, “The King of Texas,” offers a charming glimpse into the character of a Texas legend.

 Kenneth Wayne Bradley and Zac Thomas in "The King of Texas." Photo by Melissa Livingston-Weaver
Kenneth Wayne Bradley and Zac Thomas in “The King of Texas.” Photo by Melissa Livingston-Weaver

Playing as part of this year’s Frontera Festival Long Fringe through Feb. 1, “The King of Texas” introduces us to Houston (Kenneth Wayne Bradley) via a lesser known figure in the story of the Lonestar State: Alphonse de Saligny (Zac Thomas).

A quirky character in real life, de Saligny was a French diplomat sent to the Republic of Texas in 1840 to negotiate the Franco-Texian Bill. Pompous, punctilious, and prey to a never-ending stream of culture shock, de Saligny is a hilarious counterpoint to the stoic Houston.

We meet de Saligny in his salon as he reflects on his Texas experiences in a letter to the French king. Under the direction of Ken Webster, Zac Thomas’ rendition of the mincing French ambassador is admirably accented and entirely hilarious. Funny from his very first lines, Thomas’ performance becomes increasingly charming as the hapless diplomat gets himself into all sorts of trouble with the Texas natives.

As the hyper-masculine and unceremonious Houston, Kenneth Wayne Bradley is clearly in his element and offsets de Saligny’s superciliousness by just being himself.

“The King of Texas” (along with all of the Long Fringe shows) is being performed in Austin’s newest theater space: Ground Floor Theater, just up the street from the old Blue Theater location and even trickier to find. (Tip: you have to drive around to the back of the building complex to find the space).

Ground Floor opened its doors just this week, in fact, after a Kickstarter campaign to help it get it, well, off the ground. The space is a bit cavernous and echo-y at present, but it has a lot of promise, and it’s exciting to see a new space for Austin artists to put on their work.

“The King Of Texas” continues 9:15 p.m. Jan. 30, 6 p.m. Feb. 1 Ground Floor Theater. 979 Springdale Road. www.fronterafest.org

Bob Schneider celebrates his visual art side

The way Austin-based singer-songwriter Bob Schneider describes it, he had always intended to be a visual artist.

He got inspired while an art student at the University of Texas-El Paso.

"I've Been Holding Onto This Long Enough," collage by Bob Schneider.
“I’ve Been Holding Onto This Long Enough,” collage by Bob Schneider.

And that multi-album music career of his? It’s just something that sidetracked him along the way.

Music still might be his main gig (he’s working on a new album and prepping for a tour), but art-making has never completely left Schneider’s orbit.

Schneider’s collages take the stage in an exhibit he shares at Flatbed Press & Gallery with the work of fellow musician/visual artist, Terry Allen. The exhibit, “Outside the Lines,” opens with a reception Friday.

And the two will also pair up for a Jan. 24 concert at the Texas Union ballroom, a 25th anniversary celebration for Flatbed, the nationally recognized fine art print workshop.

Both the exhibit and concert are part of Print Austin 2015, the annual monthlong, citywide celebration of fine art printmaking.

Soon after Schneider landed in Austin in the late 1980s in pursuit of a music career, he found his way to the then-newly established Flatbed, where he began helping out in exchange for time with the master printmakers and printing process.

While at UTEP, Schneider had become intrigued by the labor-intensive printmaking process.

“You make multiples of one drawing, but they’re all done individually by hand,” he said recently. “I like how tactile prints are. I like the amount of work that goes into (printmaking).”

An irrepressible sketcher as a child, Schneider filled up notebook after notebook with drawings.

“Drawing was an escape,” he said. “Art was my sanctuary when I was a kid.”

Classic comic book art and fantasy art proved his biggest early aesthetic influences. “When I’d buy comic books as kid, I was always more interested in who the artist was, not the actual story.”

But having grown up in Germany, the son of an American opera singer, Schneider admits that it’s likely some early museum exposure to the centuries-old schools of European printmaking art seeped in as well.

And even now, despite a hectic travel schedule, he’ll always squeeze in exhibit-going time.

“When I’m on tour, anywhere I’m at, I always go to museums and galleries,” he said.

About 15 years ago, he began making etchings at Flatbed, creating highly detailed, wildly imaginative, almost surreal images in simple black and white. Schneider put that body of work aside for a while. But then a few years ago, while painting watercolors with his then-4-year-old son, the two started toying with collage technique, adding images to the watercolors or drawing on top of the painted image.

Schneider continued, sourcing images from old books he bought in secondhand shops or off bookstore sale racks. His criteria? “I wanted any image that had a nonimportant feel to it,” he said.

Brimming with more free-associated imagery than his etchings, Schneider’s collages often take the form of a classic portrait bust, its features defined in a kinetic hodge-podge of small pictures.

The Happiest Moment of My Life, " collage by Bob Schneider.
The Happiest Moment of My Life, ” collage by Bob Schneider.

Like with his previous art work, Schneider offers enigmatic and sometimes complex titles for each piece, but leaves off explaining any thematic back story for any of them. (“I’ve Been Holding Onto This Long Enough” is the title of one collage, “3155” another.)

“The more space you leave in a piece of art or a poem or song, the more people will create a story of their own about it,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, the more space you give people to fill in on their own, the better.”

“Bob Schneider and Terry Allen: Outside the Lines.”  Gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Through Feb. 10. Flatbed Press & Gallery, 2832 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. flatbedpress.com

Bob Schneider & Terry Allen: Flatbed 25th Anniversary Concert. 7 p.m. Jan. 24. UT Ballroom, Texas Union, 2247 Guadalupe St. $25 ($35 table seats) 512-475-6515, cactuscafe.org.

 

 

“Mamma Mia!” fun but loud

Mamma MiaFox Theater

The musical "Mamma Mia!" is coming to Bass Concert Hall for a limited run.
The musical “Mamma Mia!” is coming to Bass Concert Hall for a limited run.

“Mamma Mia!”, the musical based on ABBA music, dances on Bass Concert Hall’s stage this week. It’s part of the Broadway Across America tour.

A young girl, who grew up on a Greek island, is about to get married. She invites three men from her mother’s past who could be her father. Her mother’s gal pals from the past also invade for the weekend. It’s a high energy comedy with many laughs and music that has the audience tapping their feet and sometimes singing along.

It is delightful, bringing together an audience of mostly women of all ages and occasional dates.

But at Tuesday night’s performance, the solo vocals were mostly strong, but drown out by the way-too-loud backing band and the way-way-way too loud Greek choir. At one point, audience members had their hands covering their ears as the band came in way too loud to start the second act.

There were also problems with diction. If you knew the music, you could understand the lyrics. If you didn’t grow up with ABBA or weren’t too familiar with the songs, some of the lyrics were muddled. At several points, my daughter turned to me and whispered “I have no idea what they are saying?” or “What did she just say?”

It’s a shame, too. You want to enjoy all the innuendo that makes ABBA music fun.

Bass has had sound problems in the past and even underwent a renovation to improve the sound among other things. Perhaps, after last night’s struggles, producers will rethink the sound mix for this stage to make it more understandable and more enjoyable.

The cast, though, makes this a fun show. The groom’s guy pals were especially phenomenal dancers and the mother’s two side kicks delivered laughs in both witty remarks and physical comedy.

Mamma Mia!” continues at Bass Concert Hall. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday. $30-$100. 2300 Robert Dedman Drive. texasperformingarts.org.

 

Review: Line Upon Line Percussion

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance critic Luke Quinton.)

It felt like Line Upon Line’s concert series at Big Medium Gallery at Canopy in East Austin hit its stride this weekend.

Line Upon Line Percussion. Photo by Rino Pizzi.
Line Upon Line Percussion. Photo by Rino Pizzi.

Not that the ambitious percussion trio’s programming was less thoughtful in their earlier concerts, just that a critical mass of music lovers finally seems to know this smart series exists.

This weekend’s show in the Big Medium gallery at Canopy was standing room only (they ran out of chairs), and maybe in part because this show was not just Line Upon Line (LUL), but two New Yorkers: composer Sam Pluta and art jazz/improv trumpeter Peter Evans.

LUL opened things up with Pluta’s 2009 piece “Matrices,” a piece that tried, as the composer later explained, to make “the most digital noise with the dumbest instruments possible,” a list including hand-held battery powered fans, a plastic bag and a balloon. It was a piece in which everything gets interrupted. A childlike soundscape of quirky balloon chirps is cut by an ominous deep bass tone.

Next, trumpeter Peter Evans took the center of the gallery in a buttoned-down shirt, then quickly burst any expectations that what followed would be straight-laced. Working with Pluta, who operated a board of digital processors and effects, Evans half-swallowed the microphone with the bell of his trumpet and improvised a series of breath experiments, whistles and white noise.

Pluta’s side of this duet brought waves of harsh or shimmering digital signals, but all eyes were on Evans who literally zeroed his eyes on the mic and seemed to turn inward as his music went spastic. It was technically impressive, though really loud in the small gallery space as Evans barked out phrases that put my teeth on edge and then had me laughing at their inventiveness.

One couple walked out, but most people here knew what they were here for. The full-temper digital squalls and wails that sound like a jazz band that lost the plot came from the kind of intense, grating performance that you admire, but from a distance.

And too bad those people bailed, because the showpiece came last: Pluta’s wonderful “Machine Language,” a 2012 work or a very mixed ensemble: bass clarinets, violin, accordion — yes, accordion — electronics and, of course percussion trio.

The result of these odd timbres was an inspired pairing of a percussive jungle romp, blended with the nervous breakdowns, mood shifts and switches of a 20th Century string quartet. It was very loud, very satisfying, and whip smart.

These concerts usually offer a reliable variety, the musician’s equivalent of a gallery show. Free beer, a mixed group of works, a few good chats in a comfortable environment, and you’re on your way.

Print Austin celebrates nationally known scene

Print Austin — the month-long celebration of all things fine art printmaking — kicks off this weekend with a host of openings and happenings.

And we’ve got you covered with coverage:

Jules Buck Jones, "I Saw a Crow Orca Was I (V)," from the exhibit "Ink & Print" at Link & Pin Gallery
Jules Buck Jones, “I Saw a Crow Orca Was I (V),” from the exhibit “Ink & Print” at Link & Pin Gallery

Check out an interactive map of Print Austin exhibit venues.

Read the story: Print Austin expands in year two, celebrates nationally known scene. 

Preview a gallery of art included in Print Austin.

 

Print Austin 2015

When: Today through Feb. 15.

Where: Various locations.

Cost: Free (some classes have fees).

Information and complete schedule: printaustin.org

 

2015 Texas Medal of the Arts honorees announced

Houston artist and MacArthur “genius” grant winner Rick Lowe, playwright Robert Schenkkan, actor Jamie Foxx, musician T. Bone Burnett and architect Charles Renfro are among those who will receive a 2015 Texas Medal of Arts Awards from the Texas Cultural Trust.

And taking the medal in the dance category? The Kilgore Rangerettes, the legacy drill team at Kilgore College.

Kilgore Rangerettes
Kilgore Rangerettes
  • Music: T Bone Burnett, Fort Worth
  • Film: Jamie Foxx, Terrell
  • Dance: Kilgore Rangerettes, Kilgore,
  • Visual Arts: Rick Lowe, Houston
  • Literary Arts: Lawrence Wright, Austin
  • Theatre: Robert Schenkkan, Austin
  • Architecture: Charles Renfro, Houston
  • Television: Dan Rather, Wharton; Chandra Wilson, Houston
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: The Gatlin Brothers, Seminole
  • Corporate Arts Patron: Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Plano
  • Individual Arts Patron: Margaret McDermott, Dallas
  • Multi-Media: Emilio Nicolas, San Antonio,
  • Arts Education: Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas
  • Standing Ovation Award: Ruth Altshuler, Dallas

Awarded biennially, the awards recognized lifetime achievement. Some 83 people have been honored with a Texas Medal of the Arts including Willie Nelson, Steve Miller, Tommy Lee Jones, Eva Longoria, Betty Buckley, Debbie Allen and Robert Rodriguez.

The 2015 awards ceremony will take place Feb. 25 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Texas Cultural Trust is a nonprofit organization that supports the programs of the Texas Commission on the Arts and other state agencies.

www.txculturaltrust.org 

Review: Austin Symphony Orchestra with Alison Balsom

(This review was written by American-Statesman freelance critic Luke Quinton.)

On a cool Friday night, the Austin Symphony rang in its first concert of the new year, in lieu of bells, with a trumpet. AlisonBalsom2

The instrument in question belonged to British trumpeter Alison Balsom, “Gramophone” magazine’s 2013 artist of the year.

Solo piano and violin so dominate this arena these days, that you’d think watching a soloist take the stage near the podium with a trumpet in hand is almost the orchestral equivalent of a linebacker filling it at quarterback.

It’s not, of course. Balsom, glittering on stage in a long champagne dress, cast a warm presence on stage, and proceeded with generous playing that showed the full landscape of what a master of the instrument can accomplish.

Playing Hummel’s “Trumpet Concerto in E Major,” Balsom took all the trumpet’s edges and rendered them round and warm. Her tone held through an array of dynamics, even gentle sections sounded beautiful. Conductor Peter Bay and the ASO were sensitive partners — even a touch too sensitive, falling too quietly into the background at times.

The audience heard an encore with full orchestra, a Piazzolla work that smartly cleansed the palate and shifted the mood to a swaying work by the tango master. Balsom dazzled once again.

This vibrant performance was preceeded a little sleepily out the gate, with Hadyn’s “Symphony No. 102 in E flat Major” which plodded along in uncertainty until its vigorous finale.

After intermission Bay and the ASO played Ravel’s “Pavane Pour un Enfant Defunte” and kept the mystery of that work afresh. Avoiding the cliches and finding a silvern tone that felt appropriately sombre and serious.

A work by Manuel de Falla rounded things out. His “El Amor Brujo” (The Bewitched Love) began innocently, then reveled in bouncing from pretty bits of romantic longing to something much more strange. Liz Cass’s mezzo soprano was buried below the orchestra, but there were some nice moments in this interesting, textured piece.

Extra performance added for “The Lodger”

Due to popular demand, an extra performance for “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,” Austin Classic Guitar’s premiere of an original score Alfred Hitchcock’s early 1927 silent thriller. vlcsnap-2011-04-10-23h02m11s16

Austin composer Joseph V. Williams penned a new score which will be performed by cellist Bion Tsang and the Texas Guitar Quartet.

The 7 p.m. shows on Jan. 16 and 17 are sold out.

A 3:45 matinee has been added on Jan. 17.

Screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, 1120 S. Lamar Blvd.

Tickets are $20.

www.austinclassicalguitar.org

Free screening of woodcut animated film, “The Jackleg Testament Part I”

bolotin-web-blog-event-460pxJay Bolotin won Best Animation at the 2007 Santa Fe Film Festival for “The Jackleg Testament Part I: The Story of Jack & Eve,” a beguiling and quirky 60-minute animated film made from 40 handmade woodcut prints and set to an original score.

The elaborately created film started with Bolotin creating intricate colored woodcut prints that he then digitally photographed, scanned and animated them with motion graphics software. He spent five years working on “Jackleg.”

A reinterpretation of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, “Jackleg Testament” fuses a Southern Gothic sensibility with some American folk art style and with a little traditional Renaissance imagery.

Bolotin composed the score, an operatic soundtrack with a folk music twang.

Now, the film comes to Austin for a free screening Jan. 15, presented by Landmarks, the University of Texas public art program as part of Print Austin, the month-long festival of fine art printing.

Bolotin will be on hand for a question-and-answer session after the screening.

5:30 p.m. Thursday. Off Center, 2211 Hidalgo St. https://landmarks.utexas.edu/blog/bolotin-event

 

Celebrating African-American composers

Austin Chamber Music Center presents a free concert Jan. 11 celebrating the contributions of African-American composers and musicians to the chamber music repertoire.

Featured will be music by Florence B. Price;  HT Burleigh; Hal Johnson; Coleridge Taylor-Perkinson; David Wilborn; Tom Dossett, Marcus Wilcher and Margaret Bonds whose song cycle “Three Dream Portraits,” which is set to poems by Langston Hughes, will be performed.

See the complete program below.

Featured musicians include Austin Critics’ Table Award-winning vocalist Icy Simpson-Monroe, pianist Artina McCain and the Minor Fourth Trombone Quartet led by Martin McCain.

When: 4 p.m. Jan. 11

Free: Carver Museum and Cultural Center, 1165 Angelina St. www.austinchambermusic.org

Black History Concert

Night | Florence B. Price (1887-1953)

Three Dream Portraits | Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

  1. Minstrel Man
  2. Dream Variations
  3. I, Too

Give me Jesus | arr. Boyd Bacon

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child | HT Burleigh (1866-1949)

Ride on King Jesus | Hal Johnson (1888-1970)

Troubled Waters | Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

Scherzo | Coleridge Taylor-Perkinson (1932-2004)

Tango Nuevo | David Wilborn (1961-)

Little Innocent Lamb | Arr. Marshall Bartholomew

Hey Reb, Pass the Biscuits! | David Wilborn (1961-)

My What a Wonderful Day

Yesterday | arr. Javier Stuppard

Road to Topaz | Tom Dossett (1961-)

Fighting Fate | Marcus Wilcher (1986-)

  • The Grind
  • Thursday at 4pm