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.

Revealed: Free Fusebox Festival events

Austin can make many claims to singularity. But there really isn’t anything anywhere else like the Fusebox Festival.

‘Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance’ is one of the marquee shows in the 2017 Fusebox Festival.

Each year, more than 100 events are presented at 19 venues in Central and East Austin. More than 40 artists and companies from six continents participate.

It’s a little bit like FronteraFest, only global.

And it’s all free. This year, the carnival runs April 12-16. Advance reservations are now available online. Tickets will be offered at the door as well.

Before the festival proper, one can attend a fundraising party known as Fusebox Eve on April 11.

There’s lots to relish this year, but at the top of our list is the Austin premiere of a chamber opera, “Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance,” from composer Graham Reynolds, Rude Mechs’ Shawn Sides and Mexico-based artists Lagartijas Tiradas del Sol.

Theater review: Zach Theatre’s “The Santaland Diaries” gets a cabaret makeover

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance writer Wes Eichenwald.)


Meredith McCall, Jason Connor and Martin Burke in “The Santaland Diaries.” Photo by Kirk Tuck.

When the Holidays with a capital ‘H’ come around, so do certain staples of the stage, as inevitable as bluebonnets and SXSW in spring. We speak of the “Nutcrackers” and “Christmas Carols,” those reliable cash cows purpose-built to herd well-padded bottoms of all ages into theater seats. In the past two decades a decidedly minor-key, adult-oriented, dyspeptic addition to the canon has joined them, a corrective comment on the American way of Christmas: “The Santaland Diaries.”

The inextricable bond between Christmas and shopping, as if true holiday spirit can only be found in a major department store, is at the heart of “Diaries,” which made David Sedaris a household name – in households tuned in to NPR, anyway – after he wrote the original essay in 1992. The story, a semi-true account of how he was driven by job-seeker desperation to don the cap and bells as Crumpet the elf at Macy’s Santaland, was first staged in 1996.

But who needs Sedaris when we’ve got Martin Burke, who first played Crumpet at the Zach in 1998 and continued it annually for some 15 years (in 2012 he swore he was retiring the role; happily, it didn’t stick).

Burke has the jaundiced, self-hating misfit-elf schtick down cold, but helping him in no small measure to spice up this season’s holiday punch is his longtime friend Meredith McCall, the veteran Austin actress and singer who’s trod the Zach’s boards at least as much as her co-conspirator. Accompanied by stoic but up-for-anything pianist/musical director Jason Connor and (sometimes) Burke, the elegant McCall, resplendent in several shimmering ‘50s style dresses and gowns, set the foundation of a warm and laughter-filled evening with 45 minutes of cabaret, ranging from traditional Christmas songs with Austin-specific lyrics written by director Abe Reybold (plenty of traffic jokes; anyone who crawled forever down Mopac and Lamar to get to the show could relate) and topical takes (“Text Me Merry Christmas”) to lesser-known numbers like the delicious Brecht-Weill parody “Surabaya Santa” where a sardonic Mrs. Claus takes center stage at last. There are also some very silly and very non-PC bits of business.

It’s clear to even casual observers that Burke was born to play the hapless elf subjected to one humiliation after another in Santaland. The actor is possessed of a huge head with swept-back pompadour, set on a compact torso that never stops moving, suggesting a living caricature of himself or an occasionally profane wind-up doll. The Whisenhunt Stage, an intimate round bandbox of a theater, almost ensures the audience is part of the show, proven by Burke’s frequent comic interactions with some of them (good sports, all); at one point, he had us all rise from our seats to do the Wave.

The interplay and physical comedy between Burke and McCall was priceless; as one bit of Burkian stage business led to another – this is likely the only show with spot-on impressions of Miley Cyrus and Billie Holiday – she played the role of tolerant but patronizing straight woman to perfection. (For those with long memories, she pretty much channeled Keely Smith during the Louis Prima era.) This held true during the “Diaries” itself, as McCall moved into the role of Santaland hostess/elf dominatrix, where her chemistry with Burke allowed for tons of looseness and ad-libbing. If the show makes it safe for us to laugh at what we do to ourselves every December, sanity peeks through at the end, hope and love triumphing (if briefly) over cynicism, echoing McCall’s standout rendition of David Friedman’s touching, wise “The Truth About Christmas” in the cabaret segment.

This edition of “Santaland” is something special: rather than a one-man show, it’s a real three-person effort. Burke, McCall and Connor have created something all too rare in this town, an Austin approximation of a New York-style piano-bar cabaret with a holiday slant. It’s all about kindred spirits having fun, showing off, and in doing a little soul-baring, getting under the audience’s collective skin. Those attending the festivities knew they were among friends – no, among family – and they were home.

“The Santaland Diaries” contains through Dec, 27 at the Whisenhunt Stage at Zach Theatre, $59

Theater review: Austin Shakepeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”

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


Old time country music twangs and a cool spring breeze blows across the Zilker hillside as the moon hangs low on the horizon. Our unseasonably pleasant spring weather this year is a lovely start to the Zilker Hillside Theater season and a compelling reason to bring out the picnic blankets and coolers for Austin Shakespeare’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” running through May 24. 11182286_10153799668523222_7020810462981748141_n

One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, “Taming” has inspired plenty of re-tellings over the years: from “Kiss Me Kate” to “10 Things I Hate About You,” we’ve watched countless men conspire to marry off a shrewish elder sister so that others may woo her demure younger sibling.

For those able to overlook the overt sexism and problematic currents of domestic violence in the play, this production is an entertaining foray into romantic comedy silliness.

In keeping with Austin Shakespeare’s tradition of late, director Anne Ciccolella has set the production far away in time and space from Shakespeare’s original imagining. Rather than the streets of Padua, characters ramble through the Texas hill country back in the 1890s, and to set the scene, the cast treats audiences to a rousing rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” at the top of the show.

Admittedly, it takes a while for our ears to get used to hearing “Austin” and “Fredericksburg” inserted into the verse, but the southern setting allows for some dramatic license that’ll get laughs.

Another feather in the production’s cap is the talented Marc Pouhé playing the romantic lead (Petruchio). Pouhé commands attention in his ankle length black duster and cowboy hat, which turns out to be a surprisingly fitting ensemble for the proud and blustery suitor.

With its thick layers of silliness, the production makes for a cute evening.

Bianca (Sara Cormier) walks onstage licking a lollypop the size of her head and the rodeo-style wrestling with her elder sister Kate (Gwedolyn Kelso) ends up remarkably well supported by the text. Tony Salinas also stands out for his clowning as Grumio, Petruchio’s hapless servant.

The quirky setting brings Texas charm to the Bard’s story at some inevitable cost to textual integrity. So while the production’s liberties will likely make Shakespeare purists cringe, the familiarity of the setting allows for some extra-textual fun that more laid-back audiences will certainly appreciate.

“The Taming of the Shrew” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays through May 24 at Zilker Hillside Theatre.

Free live music! Austin Classical Guitar concerts in May

Austin Classical Guitar once again teams up with Austin Public Libraries to present a series of free concert during May.

Thomas Echols
Thomas Echols

Concerts are at 2 p.m. each Sunday in May at the Faulk Central Library, 801 Guadalupe St.

For more info,

Thomas Echols
2 p.m. May 3

With a diverse repertoire, Austin guitarist Thomas Echols will play music ranging from Rodrigo to Takemitsu to Monk.

UT Guitar Quartet
2 p.m. May 10

The quartet  of Thales Smith, Tyler Rhodes, Kyle Comer and Carlos Martinez just won the prestigious UT System Regents’ Outstanding Student Award in Arts and Humanities.

Nicolas Emilfork
2 p.m. May 17

Chilean guitarist and UT doctoral student Nicolas Emilfork is an impressive and expressive performer.

ACG Community Guitarists
2 p.m. May 31

Serious classical guitarists in Austin play together in this ensemble.

Ballet Austin announces 2015-16

Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills and composer Graham Reynolds will continue their longstanding artistic collaboration when the pair team again next season for “The Graham Reynolds Project.”

The showcase of short ballets will reprise two previous Mills/Reynolds collaborations — “Bounce” and “Though the Earth Gives Way” — and premiere a new one. “The Graham Reynolds Project” will be March 25-27, 2016 at the Long Center.

Ballet Austin's "Carbon53." Photo by Tony Spielberg.
Ballet Austin’s “Carbon53.” Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Mills made the announcement at a reception Tuesday night when he unveiled Ballet Austin’s 2015-16 season.

Mills will also premiere a new yet to be titled short ballet as part of the “Director’s Choice” program of mixed repertoire next February that includes Mills’ riveting, edgy “Carbon53” and “Stream” by innovative Swedish choreographer and filmmaker Pontus Lidberg.

Ballet Austin will remount its previous productions of “Hamlet” — this time with live accompaniment by Austin Symphony Orchestra playing the Philip Glass score — as well as “Cinderella” and “The Nutcracker.”

The Ballet Austin 2015-16 season:

“Hamlet,” Sept. 4-6

“The Nutcracker,” Dec. 5-23

“Director’s Choice,” Feb. 12-14

“The Graham Reynolds Project,” April 1-3

“Cinderella,” May 6-8

For more information see

Laguna Gloria installations by Do Ho Suh, Lucky Dragons extended

Do Ho Suh’s “Net-Work” at Laguna Gloria.

Do Ho Suh’s poetic yet evocative installation “Net-Work” will remain on view at Laguna Gloria through May 31, the Contemporary Austin has announced.

A shimmering net of tiny gold and silver figures, “Net-Work” drapes over supports on the floating dock at the base of the Laguna Gloria’s amphitheater.

Inspired by traditional fishing nets in Japan, where the piece was first installed on a beach, the net cascades down to the marshy shoreline, forming an enticing open-air enclosure, its miniature figures framing a new view of the lagoon.

“Net-Work” can be viewed whenever the Laguna Gloria grounds are open: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

See for more info.

Do Ho Suh’s “Net-Work” at Laguna Gloria.

Also remaining on view through May 31 is “17,000 Observations” the intriguing sound-art installation by Los Angeles-based art collective Lucky Dragons.

A  sculptural mobile of circular mirrors is suspended between trees across one of the footpaths on the lakeside peninsula. Accompanying the mirrored natural views is a soundtrack of a field recording overlapped with an original musical composition.

“17,000 Observations” project takes its name the 17,000 observations  made by birders in the Laguna Gloria and adjacent Mayfield Park.

No excuses now not to see either “Net-Work” or “17,000 Observations.”

Detail of Do Ho Suh's "Net-Work" at Laguna Gloria.
Detail of Do Ho Suh’s “Net-Work” at Laguna Gloria.