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December 15, 2018
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High Line Public Art Project Coming to Austin, Houston

Austin is one of five cities to participate in a new public art initiative coming from the High Line Network Joint Art Initiative, a new collaboration between infrastructure reuse projects in North America.

From March through May 2019, the Waller Creek Conservancy will host “New Monuments for New Cities,” an exhibition of 25 poster artworks with five artists from each the five participating cities.

The Austin/Central Texas artists are Regina Agu; Nicole Awai; Teruko Nimura and Rachel Alex Crist; Denise Prince, and Vincent Valdez.

“New Monuments for New Cities” launches first at Houston’s Bayou Bend and will also go display at Chicago and Toronto before it finishes up in fall 2019 at New York’s High Line, the 1.5-mile stretch of elevated train tracks on Manhattan’s West side transformed into a destination, art-filled park.

The “New Monuments” commission called for artists to create poster-proportioned images that can be reproduced in any size and quantity, and displayed differently in each location. The posters represent proposals for monuments that could replace the Confederate statues and other objectionable symbols removed from public places around the country.

“As memorials to the deeply imbalanced history of the Western world are being torn down, the current moment demands critical thought and creativity about the monuments that adorn our cities,” said Cecilia Alemani, director and chief curator of High Line Art.

Awai’s “Re-claimed Water-CC’d” shows a City of Austin street drain in the shape of a  torso and face, a common image of Christopher Columbus, with the explorer’s name below. The ground-level plaque is a reference to the Columbus statue in New York that Mayor Bill de Blasio chose to keep in situ earlier this year. The artist’s feet — clad in Italian sneakers —  peek into the frame. Instead of completely removing monuments to the colonizers of the Americas, Awai suggests a way to maintain an awareness of history and its complexities, literally at our feet.

Valdez’s “TWOTHOUSANDANDSEVENTEEN” features a U.S. flag hanging limply, mournful, but facing history with humility.

Houston area artists include Jamal Cyrus; Sin Huellas: Delilah Montoya and Jimmy Castillo; Phillip Pyle, II; Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin.

Other artists are: Judith Bernstein, Susan Blight, Daniela Cavazos Madrigal, Eric J. García, Guerrilla Girls, Coco Guzman, Hans Haacke, Tonika Johnson, Life of a Craphead, An Te Liu, Chris Pappan, Paul Ramírez Jonas, Richard Santiago (TIAGO), Xaviera Simmons,  Zissou Tasseff-Elenkoff, and Quentin VerCetty.

 

Jamal Cyrus, “It’s All in Me”

Amy Gentry: Being Awake in Paranoid World

Amy Gentry is a novelist and critic whose debut novel “Good as Gone” was a New York Times Notable Book and Entertainment Weekly “Must List” Pick in 2016. Her essays have appeared in numerous outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, Salon, Te Paris Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Austin Chronicle. She is also the author of “Tori Amos’s Boys For Pele, a 33 1/3 book published by Bloomsbury in 2018. Amy has a doctorate in English and lives in Austin. “Last Woman Standing” will be available for purchase January 15 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I caught up with Gentry over lunch at Hopfields earlier this month, where we discussed the art of crafting feminist thrillers, living in a paranoid world, and the importance of structure.

Amanda Faraone: Both of your books are listed as “novels of suspense.” I know that elsewhere, you’ve talked about noir/thrillers going hand in hand with feminism. In an interview to the Statesman, you said that, “I think there’s a lot more awareness now of how women are already living in this parallel world where there is always the potential for violence.” I described your most recent book to my writer friends as “thriller-meets-literary fiction / feminist revenge fiction.” At what point did you realize your work was falling into that category? Did you start out intending to write suspense novels or was it something that happened naturally?

Amy Gentry: It happened naturally, actually. It was when I was writing “Good as Gone.” I started writing “Good as Gone” thinking it was a family drama, and I knew there was going to be a psychological component because of how the central characters were playing mind games with each other, but eventually as I kept writing it, I realized that even the premise — which involved a kidnapping — is a crime premise. I began to realize that it was in fact a domestic thriller and not just a family drama. It seemed really obvious once I realized that. I remember talking to my writing group about it and one of my friends kept saying, over and over again, “This is a mystery” and I kept saying, “I don’t read mysteries. I don’t know anything about them.”

But it was great for me to fall into that category. Frankly, it’s why the book sold really quickly, why I got an agent really quickly, and moreover, once I was in that genre, I realized that almost everything that interests me has some crime or suspense component to it. So even when I was in high school, I was really into Dostoevsky. A lot of the things that I love are psychological melodramas, which, if you crank up the stakes just one notch, they’re basically just that far away from being a crime novel anyway. There’s always some kind of psychological crime and then if you add one murder, now it’s a crime novel.

AF: I noticed in both of your novels the importance of setting. One is set in Houston and your most recent novel is set in Austin (with some cameos of Los Angeles and Amarillo). What was the greatest challenge in writing about places you’ve lived in for quite some time? And how did the setting itself inform the direction of the narrative, if it did?

AG: I think it was kind of the opposite way. For “Good as Gone,” I didn’t know at first that it was going to be set in Houston. I had this whole story written and I kept trying and trying to get the setting to work, and it didn’t work until I set it in Houston. And it’s not just set in Houston, it’s almost in the neighborhood I grew up in, in West Houston. That was very personal for me. And some of the places I talk about in the book are very personal places for me.

Strangely, for the second book, set in Austin, it is a lot less (personal). I think my choice to set it in Austin was partly expedience. I needed a place for a performer to be from. Or at least, I needed a medium pond. Like LA is the big pond that she’s trying to get back to. Amarillo is the small pond that she comes from. And Austin is the medium pond — which she thought would just be a stepping stone on the way, but now it seems like it might become where she lives forever. I had to write this book relatively quickly, so I knew I needed a setting that was relatively familiar to me, so I tried Austin on for size. But it quickly became apparent to me pretty that it wasn’t really my Austin.

I think the way setting influenced the book was about new Austin vs. old Austin. She’s just coming back from LA, and while she was in LA, Austin changed. And she came back to find a place that was having growing pains and trying to be LA itself but not really succeeding. So, there’s a little bit of conflict between new and old Austin embedded in the book — and which one Dana chooses at the end. 

AF: So, you’re writing about an Austin that’s not really your Austin, and then you’re also writing about this stand-up comedy community, and you’re writing from a perspective of a woman whose different from you, and I was wondering if those choices were intentional as a way to give yourself more distance. How did you land on writing this character and this story?

AG: There are several big questions in there. But just to start with the comedy thing. I love writing about performers and performances. I’m a performer myself and have done some comedy. Stepped a toe into that community a little bit. It’s been a while — four or five years at least since I really did anything at all.

AF: I saw you sing at a literary karaoke event. You were amazing. You were definitely the best literary singer there.

AG: Thank you — that’s quite a compliment. I strive to entertain. I’m a shameless performer. If there’s one thing that’s my downfall it’s that I always take it to an eleven when sometimes it needs to be an eight. I don’t have an eight in my vocabulary.

My husband is a really great performer and writer of comedy, and plays as well, and has done improv and sketch in Austin for a really long time. I really got to sit in on a lot of different slices of the community. And even after I was out of the community, I was still on these message boards for women in comedy. These private groups that were specifically for women to make connections, jokes, and to bitch about the scene. So, I started seeing the same posts come up again and again. Something would happen to someone — some guy in town. And they would post anonymously about it, like “I had this happen to me this weekend, and I don’t ever want to see him again. What do I do?” And people would say, “Who is it? Please tell us. Please warn us.” Those posts really affected me really strongly. People would come out of the woodwork to talk about their own experiences. These posts would end up having threads that were 100 comments long.

When I was thinking about a milieu for talking about a particular kind of abuse and harassment that is thoroughly unremarkable, that women face in their friend circles, their professional circles, and their creative circles, this “social scene” harassment, that ends up dictating a lot of where women spend time and energy, that really popped to mind.

In terms of Dana, the main character, I assume you’re talking about her ethnicity. She identifies as Latina. Her mother is Mexican-American. Her father is Jewish — he’s long out the picture. She grew up with her mother in Amarillo. And doesn’t speak Spanish.

AF: I loved that detail.

AG: It’s an easy way out for me, I guess. I don’t speak Spanish — or any more than any other white person in Texas who incidentally picks up some. But I’ve also spoken to women who have this experience, who felt like they didn’t necessarily have that immersive identity to draw from. And so, for Dana, she has a strong relationship with her mother, but she also feels distant from her — for a lot of reasons, including her mother’s personality. And the fact that she can’t speak her mother’s language is just one facet of that.

In terms of choosing that character, it came out of a couple of things. There was a Latinx character in “Good as Gone,” who I really loved — he was one of my favorite characters in the book. The private investigator Alex Mercado. He popped into my head fully-formed. I didn’t question it. His name was there. I knew exactly what he looked like. But I did have an interview with a woman about that book, a Latina journalist who was very into that character and asked me some questions about his role in the story, and whether it could have been bigger. She was happy to see him, but also sounded disappointment that in a book written by a white woman he was always going to have a walk-on part.

And I took that to heart. I thought about it a lot. And when I was writing this character, who feels like an outsider wherever she is. I just started thinking about where in Texas she was from. I wanted her to be from a particular place and have a particular back story, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, I think she’s Latina. I felt a little hesitant about it. But then I thought, it’s either that or I’m just going to be writing white protagonists with people of color in secondary or tertiary roles forever.

I liked (Dana) so much. And I liked that she had to cultivate this thick skin because she was so unusual in that scene. It was also an experience that was not so unusual that I couldn’t find Latina comics, and go to their shows, and talk to them about their experience was like, both in Austin and LA. It felt like an accessible norm of difference. I tried to do my homework on it.

AF: I was just recently talking to another writer about this essay that Kaitlyn Greenidge, a writer in New, wrote as an Op-Ed for The New York Time called “Who Gets to Write What?” and it’s about her friendship with Bill Cheng, who wrote this book about lynchings in the South, and she writes about in her workshop, where people — including people of color —were saying, “You can’t write that. You can’t write about Black people being lynched in the South because that’s not your experience,” and she was just so angry, and she said that’s the whole point of writing, to inhabit someone else’s world, and maybe if you don’t do it right, you’re going to get feedback and criticism.

AG: I think there are really issues there. We tend to focus on how the representation comes out — like, is it good or bad? Is it nuanced or stereotypical? But the bigger issue is structural access to publishing. And that’s what #ownvoices is about. A lot of the irritation about white authors writing these types of protagonists is that if a Latina writer were to write this book maybe it wouldn’t be “Latina enough” or it would “too Latina” or it wouldn’t get published. My take is to help as much as I can in terms of gatekeeping. I also think, it may not be my place to write the character. I really don’t know. I think, though, as a writer, you try things.

AF: You take risks.

AG: It’s vulnerable. You’re always vulnerable to messing up. Not vulnerable in the way of being attacked but vulnerable in that I could do something really bad and embarrassing and be called out on it. I also write a lot about sexual abuse and domestic violence. And these are things that I have not personally experienced but had secondary experience when I was volunteering and just through talking to humans my whole life and there are issues that are really important to me to depict in a particular way. And I often worry about that, too. That’s a set of marginalized voices, as well. We do our homework, we do the best we can, and when people have criticism we don’t shut down or get defensive.

AF: I’m assuming that the nugget of this story for your new novel was developing for quite some time, but I was reading it during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and after everything that has been happening with the #MeToo movement, and it felt so timely but it also felt very risky to me. You’re playing with a lot of those lines and conversations about how far is too far. I was wondering if you were writing this during that political movement or if you were writing about something that’s been there for a long time.

AG: I think there’s a lot of books coming out right now that are #MeToo-themed. And they were all written before the hashtag became mainstream on Twitter. I started writing this book after the presidential election, but before the first big case, the Louis C.K. story had broken. And that was the first one and the Weinstein story broke a week later. But you know, the Cosby story had already broken, and I certainly thought when I was writing about that. I had chosen comedy and was naturally, like we have this one really high-profile example of a serial abuser. I took a lot of care to invoke that person without copying the details directly, but ultimately, I was trying really, really hard to nail this wide-scale pervasive pattern of abuse that I think we had just all been seeing all around us.

After the Weinstein stuff, people started getting held accountable in small ways. And for a minute, it seemed like this was going to cause a tidal wave. It’s interesting to read this during the Kavanaugh hearings, because to me, that almost is a bracket —an end bracket. I know that the movement is still going on, but I think we have our answer. When the question is, “Are things going to change?”, the answer is, “Up to a point and in certain arenas where it doesn’t matter as much.” So that’s grim. But it does want you to pick up something blunt and heavy and swing it at someone.

AF: Around the same time as I read your book, I was reading Rebecca Traister’s book, “Good and Mad.” And she talks a lot about the energizing power of anger and rage. She writes about when “Thelma & Louise” first came out and the transformative power that had on feminists who were growing up at the time. And that was one of the things I loved about this novel. I’m not going to say too much — I don’t want to give any spoilers — but it starts out and it seems like it’s maybe going to be a love story, and it ends up being a love story between two frenemies, who are in this destructive world together, but they’re each other’s best allies in the end.

AG: I’m really interested to see how people read that. I’ve already had people read the book and say this is anti-feminist because the relationship between the two women is not an uncomplicated ally-ship. In fact, it’s this really fraught relationship that has these moments of intense bonding but in the second-half it becomes different. Without spoiling it, the way the book ends is unambiguous. But even so, it’s not a happy ending. It’s not at all. And the main character is not really a good person at the end of the book. 

AF: She’s implicated in everything that’s happened.

AG: Strongly implicated. Yes. And part of the ending of the book, which I rewrote a bunch of times, was her sorting out where she stands and how she feels about what happened. What she feels guilty for and what she doesn’t feel guilty for. Part of that is when I set up the dyad of Amanda and Dana, the antagonist and protagonist, I wanted them to be, like in “Strangers on a Train,” doppelgänger figures — I wanted Amanda to represent everything that Dana has to repress to move forward with her life. She thinks she’s figured out how to function in the world as a woman, especially in this comedy world. It’s basically: you suck it up, you move on, you do it better than the boys, you lean in. And you don’t make a fuss, because we know that nothing will get better it, it will only get worse if you make a fuss.

Amanda is the polar opposite. She sees everything. She has this Cassandra-like quality. All rage. And the idea was to engage with the fear women have if they step a toe over the line. That if they start acknowledging everything that’s happened to them, they will lose control and become this monster. And the question throughout the book is if Amanda is really a monster or is she right? I’m just fascinated to hear what readers think. What’s the answer to that question for them. I think people are going to have very different opinions on it.

AF: My last question for you was about structure in your novels, because for me that is the most genius part of your writing. I don’t know if that partially comes out of using some tools from the genre and combining that with more literary characters. In your first novel, there’s a huge structural undergirding that results in a big reveal, and there’s a similar reveal and pacing in this book, although they function very differently. I think structure is one of the most undervalued things in writing. We have Alice Munro and some of these amazing writers who are the gods of structure, but in general, people think that a pretty sentence can forgive all kinds of flaws.

AG: I think I started caring about (structure) when I was a book reviewer, because a pretty sentence, when you’re reading books and you don’t have the luxury of putting them down if you don’t like them, doesn’t do anything. Almost no sentence is pretty enough. I became really interested in why some books kept me turning pages and others I wanted to throw at the wall.

When I was writing “Good as Gone,” I didn’t sit down to write it until I had the structure. There’s a backwards chronology and alternating characters. That solved a huge story problem for me. Plot had always been my Achilles’ heel. So, when I figured out that structure, I thought, now I can write the book because I know where it’s going and what it has to look like. For a first time, it was a lot, it felt really ambitious, and I’m not sure I would do it again, but it taught me a lot.

And after I had written it and it was already out, I started reading screenwriting books. I thought, surely that will help when I have to write this next book in a year. I wrote “Good as Gone” in three or four years and there was so much re-writing and cutting and arranging: it was like a quilt that you kept having to unstitch and re-stitch to make it fit. I also wanted the second one to be more straightforward in structure: a forward-moving chronology with one narrator. The biggest influence that helped unlock it for me was watching “Clouds of Sils Maria.” I noticed that the structure was a four-act structure, not a three-act. I could see that the duality of these doppelgängers was being represented structurally by this four-act structure, where there’s a real hinge in the middle. For me, when I started thinking about the theme of doppelgängers and doubles, which appear throughout the book, not just between Amanda and Dana, that gave me the sense I needed a strong mid-book reversal, and that the second-half had to be the mirror-image of the first.

I think that theme is really suited to a paranoid novel. There’s an idea that once Dana allows herself to see what Amanda is telling her, she starts seeing the world in this completely different way. It’s the same world but everything means something different to her. And I really wanted to capture that through the structure as well. I wanted not just her feelings about this or that person to change, but her entire worldview to feel like she’d gone through the looking glass.

AF: The quote from “Thelma & Louise” that Rebecca Traister talks about perfectly mirrors what you’re saying: “I can’t go back…I feel awake. I don’t remember feeling this awake. Everything looks different.” And that’s a turning point in the film.

AG: It’s also really frightening. “Thelma & Louise” has this exhilarating feeling to it. It’s a road trip movie, and that famous last scene is exhilarating even though they’re crashing to their death. This is not an exhilarating book. There’s a moment of feeling of free, but ultimately, it’s a paranoid thriller about what it’s like to realize that that’s the world we’re living in. And if that’s the world, what do you have to be to live in this world? You can be willfully blind to it, but you’re still being affected by it. What does it mean to be awake in that world? What are the things that you would do in this new world that you wouldn’t do in the old world?

The Weekly Line-up: 12.9.18

Streetcar on its side at Congress and 3rd, September 25, 1913 C00598 Chalberg Collection of Prints and Negatives, Austin History Center

A select list of what’s good and what’s new for the week of Dec. 8, 2018.

“Off the Rails: The Rise and Fall of Austin’s Streetcars”
The 1913 photograph of a tumped over streetcar says it all: Transportation has been issue for Austin long before contemporary controversies over motorized scooters, rideshare companies and $160 million transportation bond funds. Culled from the collections of the Austin History Center, “Off the Rails” gathers photographs and documents that chart the history of streetcars in Austin from 1875 to 1940.
Opening: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 11. Exhibit continues through May 26. Austin History Center 810 Guadalupe St. Event info

Graham Reynolds Ruins the Holidays Part Deux
Graham Reynolds is a really nice guy. And he’s not really out to be Scrooge so much as he’s found a way to musically mess with holiday songs in most entertaining way.
7:30 p.m. Dec. 11, Rollins Studio Theater, Long Center, thelongcenter.org

“WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915″
Street Corner Arts presents Jackie Sibblies Drury’s critically-acclaimed, potent play about a play in which an idealistic young theatre collective of three Black actors and three White actors sets out to create theatrical piece  about the little-known yet first recorded genocide of the 20th century.
Through Dec. 15, Hyde Park Theatre, W. 43rd St. streetcornerarts.org

Handel’s Complete Messiah
A dozen singers and an ensemble of 14 musicians playing period Baroque instruments perform the complete and original version of Handel’s Messiah with vibrancy and detailed clarity that composer would have expected.
7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at St. Louis Catholic Church, ensembleviii.org

“Fun Home”
Ground Floor Theatre stages the Tony Award-winning musical version of Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir about her eccentric, dysfunctional family.
Through Dec. 21. Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Road. groundfloortheatre

Nic Nicosia — “The Twins”
Known for staged photographs, Dallas-based artist Nic Nicosia has lately been exploring sculpture. A new sculptural commission in stainless steel from the Contemporary Austin, “the twins,” is an exploration and celebration of the fragility of the human psyche. Nicosia discusses the shift in his artistic practice and leads a walk on the Laguna Gloria grounds where “the twins” is sited.
12 noon Dec. 15, Contemporary Austin-Laguna Gloria, 3809 W. 35th St. Free. thecontemporaryaustin.org/event/

Nic Nicosia, the twins, 2018. Stainless steel. 79 x 59 x 53 inches. Edition 1 of 3. Commissioned by The Contemporary Austin with funds provided by the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation. Installation view, The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria, Austin, Texas, 2018. Artwork © Nic Nicosia. Courtesy the artist and Erin Cluley Gallery, Dallas. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

 

A Mad Leader Sings — And Shrieks Like a Bird

    A page from Peter Maxwell Davies’ score for “Eight Songs for a Mad King.”

    Most Americans are probably familiar with King George III as a figure from childhood history textbooks. As the ruler of Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, he’s typically portrayed as a menacing presence across the Atlantic, threatening the American colonies with hefty taxes and the Redcoat army.

    What many Americans might not know is that King George struggled with bouts of mental illness for much of his adult life. In his final years, after losing his eyesight and hearing, he began a slow, grueling descent into dementia. Removed from his throne and locked away from public view in Windsor Castle, he suffered from manic episodes where he would babble nonsense for hours on end. The king lingered on like this for nine years before his death in 1820 at the age of 81.

    “Mad King,” 4 p.m. Dec. 16, Big Medium, 916 Springdale Road, density512.org

    Nearly 150 years later, British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies resurrected the tragic character of King George III in his “Eight Songs for a Mad King.” Composed for baritone and six-member chamber ensemble, the work centers on an elderly George III, stripped of his crown and plagued by episodes of dementia, as he reflects on events from his life.

    Austin-based chamber music collective Density512 puts “Eight Songs for a Mad King” at the center of its Dec. 16 concert at Big Medium Gallery.

    Even for Davies, who had developed a reputation for dark avant-garde compositions, “Eight Songs” represented a new level of sensationalism when it premiered in 1969. In its full staging, the score calls for the musicians to perform from giant birdcages placed onstage. The character of King George III interacts directly with the musicians during the performance, including a climactic moment when he grabs the violinist’s instrument and smashes it onstage.

    The 30-minute, one-man opera is notorious for the demands it places on the baritone soloist who plays the ailing King George III. The part is riddled with extended techniques — sounds outside the typical repertoire of vocal music — including screeches, muttering, and outright shrieks. There’s even a section where the king and the flautist carry on a conversation through “birdsong.”

    “Davies captures (the king’s) torment perfectly,” says tenor Alex Bumpas. “It is deeply tragic, yet at the same time, wonderfully played.”

    Bumpas is in the midst of rehearsals, preparing to sing the role of King George III in the upcoming production. And though Bumpas acknowledges the musical challenges in the role, he’s eager to tackle some of the extended techniques.

    “I have always been the kind of singer that enjoys making noise. Most of the wilder sounds I get to make are almost second nature to me.”

    In addition to the vocal gymnastics, reading and interpreting the score itself presents another challenge. Davies’ composition is full of unconventional markings, including written directions, flowcharts, and diagrams. There’s even a page where the musical staves are arranged in the shape of a birdcage.

    A page from Peter Maxwell Davies’ score for “Eight Songs for a Mad King.” The composer’s inspiration was a music box King George III reportedly used to teach his birds to sing.

    “This piece requires a great deal of concentration and commitment to Davies’ intentions,” says Bumpas. “I am determined to decipher this piece with respect to (these) intentions, and find myself quietly studying the score like an explorer might do so with a map before an expedition.”

    Jacob Schnitzer, Density512 founder and co-artistic director, echoes this sentiment. As the conductor of the chamber orchestra, he’s pored over the score as well.

    “If you were to look at the score (for “Eight Songs for a Mad King”) and try to figure it all out, you’d have to constantly stop to read all the words and follow all the arrows,” he explains. “It’s going to be challenging for the musicians to keep track of how the intricacies line up, since they’re not in time or tempo in any way.” 

    Alex Bumpas, teno

    For Schnitzer, conducting “Eight Songs” is akin to directing a theatrical performance. “The big challenge is how we’re going to pace the whole thing so we get really clear moments of tension, and then we get really clear moments where we relax, take a breather, and set the scene for the next song. It’s all about creating a sense of drama throughout the whole thing.”

    Schnitzer decided to balance out the spectacle of “Eight Songs for a Mad King,” which occupies half of the concert’s program, with a medley of more introspective works. Two shorter chamber pieces by Davies are accompanied by 16th-century vocal works.

    A devotee of Renaissance music, Davies drew inspiration from 16th and 17th century musical forms, often combining them with avant-garde techniques. His “Tenebrae Super Gesualdo,” written for soprano and chamber ensemble, intersperses direct quotes from motetes by Gesualdo with smatterings of sound and brief musical fragments. The overall effect is akin to observing a simultaneous dialogue between vocalist and instrumentalists, as well as between old and new. 

    Density512

    While researching the motets referenced in Tenebrae Super Gesualdo, Schnitzer stumbled upon a striking collection of motets written by an anonymous 16th-century Italian composer. Curious to learn more, he followed a trail of research which led to the work of Laurie Stras, a professor at the University of Southampton. Stras concludes that the mysterious motets were likely composed by Lenore d’Este, the daughter of infamous courtesan Lucrezia Borgia. For much of her life, Lenore lived as a nun, circumstances which likely forced her to publish her music anonymously.

    “I thought (the motets) would be a really beautiful parallel with the Gesualdo (excerpts) from (Davies’) Tenebrae Super Gesualdo,” says Schnitzer. “They’re highly chromatic, highly expressive, and there’s just a lot of depth in both of them. I thought they would complement each other really nicely in the middle of the program.”

    For this performance, Density512 returns to Big Medium Gallery in the Canopy arts complex in East Austin. Schnitzer is excited to present an intense work like “Eight Songs for a Mad King” in the intimate gallery space.

    “The people at Big Medium are really kind and supportive. It’s neat to be doing something like this in a space where there are lot of other artists working on different projects. And to perform in a space that’s at the center of the city’s art scene — I think that’s a positive thing for everybody.”

    Just as Davies drew inspiration from older musical forms when composing, Schnitzer hopes that the tragic tale of King George III will resonate with today’s audiences and feel relevant.

    “I’m hoping that the whole theater of this (performance) feels immersive in some way. Hoping that people not only get to experience the music but also the stories behind it, and think about how the past informs the present.”

     

    Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Donates Prints, and $25,000, to Blanton Museum

    Helen Frankenthaler, Untitled , 1967, screenprint, 25 3/4 x 17 7/8 inches (65.4 x 45.4 cm). © 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Chiron Press, New York. Photograph by Steven Sloman, courtesy of Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

    The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation has donated 16 artworks and $25,000 to the Blanton Museum of Art, part of a larger initiative of the foundation of the late artist to support university-level art and art history programs and university art museums.

    The Blanton will receive ten prints and six related trial proofs, drawn from the foundation’s extensive collection of prints by Frankenthaler (1928-2011).  The ten university museums chosen all have significant print collections. The Blanton holds more than 14,000 prints and drawings in its collection.

    The Blanton will also receive $25,000 from the Frankenthaler Foundation to fund a project or program for the study, presentation or interpretation of the donated artworks.

    “Helen Frankenthaler was eminent among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters, and widely known as one of the most significant printmakers of her time,”Elizabeth Smith, executive director of the foundation, said in a statement. “Through gifts and grants to university art museums, the Frankenthaler Prints Initiative will enrich their collections and make possible the study of her many innovative contributions to the printmaking field.”

    The Blanton has several paintings by Frankenthaler in its collection.

    Helen Frankenthaler, “Over the Circle,” 1961, oil on canvas, 84 1/8 x 87 7/6 in., Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991. © 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The foundation also announced the Frankenthaler Scholarships initiative that will support outstanding MFA students concentrating in painting. The foundation will make one-‐time endowment gifts of $500,000 to each of four MFA programs to create annual scholarships for selected students at Columbia University, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, UCLA and Yale University.

    More Than One Thing: Lise Ragbir

    Lise Ragbir. Photo: Riley Blanks

    Lise Ragbir is a writer, curator and Director of the Art Galleries at Black Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2017, she was Jack Jones Literary Art’s Tiphanie Yanique Fellow. In 2015, she was an invited participant in Callaloo’s Creative Writing Workshop, in Barbados. Her essays about arts and culture, race, and immigration have appeared in The Guardian, Hyperallergic, Time Magazine, and USA Today, among other outlets. She was born and raised in Montreal, and now makes her home in Austin, Texas.

    Thao Votang caught up with Lise recently over email.

    Thao Votang: The first time we met was at the French Legation Museum in … was that 2008? I was a volunteer updating object descriptions in a database, and you were the new director. What brought you to Texas?

    Lise Ragbir: Wow, was it 2008? It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Austin for so long. In many ways, I still feel like a newcomer, even if my time at the Legation is so far removed from how I now experience this city. Truthfully, I wasn’t one of those who had an eye on Austin, from afar. I understand that people are moving here in droves — for the booming-economy, outdoor-lifestyle, craft beer, etc, but, truth be told I followed a boy from New Jersey, to Austin. (It all worked out. We now have a child together, and we’re married.) My parents are from Trinidad, and I grew up in Montreal, Canada. So while I knew that Austin was in Texas, and Texas was near Mexico, I still remember studying a map to see where, exactly, we were headed. The booming economy part of Austin was a natural lure for my partner, who is an architect. But as a cultural practitioner, I wasn’t convinced that leaving the Northeast for Texas was the best idea. Admittedly, it took some time (longer than I’d hoped) for me to find my footing in Austin.

    TV: I started with Texas (and the Legation too) because I often think about your experience in Big Bend in 2015. Did you write that op-ed for the Guardian right after that happened? What compelled you to publish your experience and put yourself in the public eye?

    LR: Big Bend, sigh. Please, bear with me while I provide a few behind-the-scenes details before directly answering your questions. Days before taking up my new post in Black Studies at the University of Texas, the sudden and violent death of a family member re-shaped the world I knew. My new colleagues were incredibly patient and understanding while I simultaneously went through the motions of stepping into a new job, and processing a tragic loss — a weird balance to strike. Three weeks in, my supervisor encouraged me to make a studio visit in Marfa, “to get away.” By then, my husband’s 40th birthday had been buried in family drama. And my father had come to Austin, from Montreal, so that we could travel together to the funeral in the Caribbean. That’s how we all ended up in a car, after a birthday hike, just outside of Big Bend National Park.

    A week after I was detained in West Texas, I wrote the first draft of my experience on the plane on the way back from the funeral. But the version that made its way to publication was the result of work I did with the Op-Ed Project —a program supported by the University of Texas whereby journalist-facilitators work with faculty and staff to bring a range of voices to the opinion pages. While there was a public-good factor — the piece did stand to shed light on growing xenophobia — as cheesy at it may seem, I wrote the essay to bring a degree of closure to what had been a month of misery. I wrote as a way to heal, I guess. But I’d underestimated the public-eye factor. I was surprised that the essay garnered as much notice as it did. And equally surprised at the amount of people with enough time on their hands to give me any attention — kind, or otherwise. I don’t like to admit this, but angry reactions stopped me from writing. It took months before I found the courage to put myself back out there.

    TV: Our paths (thankfully!) crossed more frequently after you began your role at the Black Studies at the University of Texas. What appealed to you about the position and what’s coming up that we should keep an eye out for?

    LR:  Yes! I’m glad that you and I found each other again at UT, where my role with the Art Galleries at Black Studies (AGBS) has become such a significant part of my life in Austin. Prior to officially taking up the position, I curated two shows for the Warfield Center — the first, a selection of Haitian paintings from Rudy Green and Joyce Christian’s private collection; the second, an exhibition of work by Austin-based artist, Christina Coleman.

    In 2015, I jumped at the opportunity to formalize my relationship with Black Studies — a community which, in many ways, feels like family. I was hired, in part, to help Black Studies transition into a brand new state-of-the-art gallery — a project led by the Chair of Black Studies and Associate Professor of Art History, Dr. Cherise Smith. The new gallery would eventually be named after the Christian-Greens — a family who holds a special place in my life, professionally and personally. Every day, I am proud to do work in their name. Not to mention all the cool stuff that I actually get to do! It’s a dream job.

    Currently, in the Christian-Green Gallery, visitors can explore the work of iconic photographer, Dawoud Bey, while in AGBS’s more intimate Idea Lab space, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok’s large-format photographs prompt viewers to reconsider notions of the colonial gaze. On January 31, in the Christian-Green gallery, AGBS will celebrate work of Los Angeles-based artist, Genevieve Gaignard, who explores themes of race, gender, and class through installations and photographic self-portraiture. Meanwhile, in the Idea Lab, UT’s Black Diaspora Archivist, Rachel Winston, will showcase a selection of artwork from UT’s Brandywine Collection of prints, featuring prominent artists such as Howardena Pindell and Betye Saar.

    TV: In the past, you’ve worked for the Smithsonian and, in contrast, a corporate Swiss collection. What advice would you give to emerging art historians or curators unsure of what would be the best fit for them between public/private or foundation/nonprofit?

    LR: I’m a Virgo, so please forgive the list.

    • Leave room to change your mind. Don’t get stuck in the idea that there is one path to success, or that success even looks like one thing. I’d planned to be an art-conservator, suffered through chemistry, and earned a spot in conservation-school before declining my acceptance to pursue museum studies.
    • Ask questions. Find people you admire, and ask them for advice. People don’t succeed in a bubble. Very early in my career, I cold-called a large private foundation and naively asked, “Can I please speak to someone who could tell me what it takes to be a grant-maker?” Within a month, I’d accepted a position with one of the largest arts-funders in the country — a position which gave me the tools to assess the programmatic and fiscal health of arts organizations. Tools that set me up for success as an arts-administrator
    • Be driven by what you like, instead of by the career you think you might like. As a kid, I couldn’t select my future career from those lists—you know the ones with occupations listed in alpha order: architect, doctor, florist, lumberjack…zookeeper. With a love of art, those lists told me I should be an artist. However, in art-school, I learned that there are those far more suited to making art, than me. Yet I (finally) also saw the range of roles, within the arts, that never made it onto those lists. Millennials are great at carving-out niche roles— a trend fueled by people doing what they love. Let’s hope the trend doesn’t slow.
    • Trust that you can be more than one thing. BONUS: The art-world is small.

    TV: At some point you mentioned — rather it felt like you were telling me a secret you weren’t sure about saying, and now I’m spilling the beans — that you also wrote fiction. Would you describe your writing “journey” so to speak? Have you always written fiction and what does it mean to you?

    LR: Ohh, boy. That’s a big question. (Gulp.) This feels a bit like a guilty admission, but: I am a relatively new writer. Not because I never cared about writing. But because I cared about it SO much — I feared failing at something that I truly gave a sh*t about. So I ignored what made me happy.

    However, fear is challenged in new ways when you have a child to protect. I understand that I run the risk of cliché when I declare that motherhood changed the course of my life, but I can’t claim my role as a writer without honoring how I got to this place. Truth be told, I’d remained ambivalent about motherhood most of my life — almost until the very instant I met my daughter. (There’s a funny story about the moments before she was born, but I’ll save that for another time.) When she was born, everything changed — not in a good way. In the dark hours of new-motherhood, immeasurable time was devoted to worrying about the future (mine, hers) and I became determined to raise a person who could be whatever they wanted to be.

    But how could I hold those expectations for someone else, if I didn’t believe that I, too, could make what I wanted of my life? So, as a sleep-deprived mum whose logical-thinking had been whittled at while I developed my maternal instincts, I began to share my stories. My daughter was less than a year old when Glimmer Train Magazine awarded me a third-place prize in a competition of over a thousand submissions. It was the first time I believed that my written-word could matter.

    TV: I’m reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft and she starts with a chapter on how writing sounds and cultivating your inner ear. I’m in absolute awe in how eloquent you are. Who do you look to when you’re thinking about your voice (written or spoken)?

    LR: Awww, shucks. (Big smile.) Thank you! And such tough question. I wish I could reference some obscure writers to make me appear smart than I am, but I really am inspired by the greats. I love the rhythm, or pacing, if you will, of both Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith — two authors whose writing deal so beautifully, and lyrically, with the complexities of identity. As a person who has been asked, “No really, what are you?” for the majority of my life, I’m naturally drawn to explorations of identity. And I believe that the most authentic voices, the ones that break-away from tropes, produce the sorts of writing-sounds referred to by Le Guin.

    In art school, and maybe throughout my career in the arts, I used visual arts — the manipulation of material objects — to unpack dense questions about what I am. But as the question (and answer) became more complicated, I have found comfort in the ability words have to conjure a range of visuals, and even sounds — personal, private reactions that present themselves differently for each reader, depending on what the reader brings to the equation. When we realize that one set of words can conjure infinite images, we move closer to accepting the notion that there is no one truth. And I can say, “I am more than one thing.”

    TV: What are you reading, watching, listening to these days?

    LR: I love this question. (I ask it of everyone.) I just finished Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ hilarious and astute Heads of the Colored People, and Shani Mootoo’s (fellow Trini-Canadian!) lush Cereus Blooms at Night. Two must-reads. I stopped watching the Handmaid’s Tale because it didn’t feel like fiction, and I think I should return to Riverdale.

    Since I have a day job, am working on a new novel, have a kid, and a dog, I don’t have time to hunt for new music. So I listen to a playlist my friend Jenna sent me nearly a year ago, daily. It has everything from Alice Coltrane and Kamasi Washington, to SZA, Fatima Al Qadiri, Minnie Ripperton, Jorja Smith and Erykah Badu. When I’m writing, I switch between 90s dancehall reggae, and Mozart.

    TV: If I may, I’d like to end with an excerpt from another one of your articles (“No really, where are you from?”), one with a sentiment that I wish I would do a better job embodying:

    Who you are is more important than what you are: with a strong sense of self, the labels attached by others, will carry less weight. When my daughter understands she is the beautiful and proud of culmination of the hopes and defeats of enslaved Africans, indentured laborers from India, French and Portuguese colonialists, native peoples the Caribbean and Italian immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, she can stand firm in whom she is as she develops the other parts that make her uniquely her.

    LR: Did I say that? Wow — I guess I do have some things to say.

    The Urgency of Making New Dance

    "Piece de Resistance, a short dance work by Kathy Dunn Hamrick. Lighting design by Stephen Pruitt. Costumes by Laura Noose. Ground Floor Theatre, Austin, Texas, June 2018. Photo by Andrew Bennett.

    Kathy Dunn Hamrick’s favorite phrase of late is “let’s go.”

    “I feel like my desire to make new work is really urgent right now,” says the award-winning choreographer, who next season will see her company, Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance, hit its 20th season. “I want to go forward, not back.”

    Forward is “Be Still, My Heart” Hamrick’s newest dancework, a 55-minute piece performed, in the round, in Long Center’s intimate Rollins Studio Theater.

    Creating dance to be performed with the audience surrounding, leaves no room, literally, for choreographic hiding.

    “I’m trying my best to get people to see, really see, dance,” says Hamrick. “Creating movement that’s seen in the round means the movement becomes very dense and multi-faceted. You can hear small movements, you can hear the dancers breathing.”

    For years Hamrick has been collaborating with lighting and production designer Stephen Pruitt, and for “Be Still, My Heart,” the two devised a strategy for the dancers to carry handheld lights. Unlikely body angles will be illuminated, surprising spots of the stage awash in light. Momentary stories will emerge, briefly, in the dance.

    If there is never an explicit narrative to Hamrick’s work, there is always a trajectory with a beginning and an ending, and a sense that you have been somewhere in between. And that trajectory has an origin for the choreographer, an inspirational starting point. For “Be Still, My Heart” Hamrick tapped into her love of movies and films — the arresting visuals of a well-composed shot, the subtleties of an artfully paced-out scene.

    Hamrick’s dance is filmic, rather than directly about film.

    Hamrick is comfortable with creative ideas running parallel or in tandem, or in any case not in a straight line. Ditto the work of her collaborators. Pruitt’s designs are created concurrently of Hamrick’s choreography. Likewise the score and soundscape created by Drew Silverman, which includes conventional music and aural affects like the sounds of sticks breaking, the dancers each given a sonic stamp their own.

    Hamrick says it’s a bit like Google Maps when it offers you multiple routes to the same destination.

    “I’m comfortable with them going their way, and me going my way, and us layering it together as we meet in the same place,” she says.

    Certainly it’s an artistic strategy that’s proved successful. Hamrick’s fresh, smart yet sometimes poignant choreography has netted a slew of accolades and Hamrick a spot in the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.

    Not that she’s looking back on all that.

    “I like wide open possibilities,” she says.

    The Weekly Line-up: 12.2.18

    Marsian De Lellis' "Object of Her Affection." Photo by Rafael Hernandez.

    A short list of what’s good and what’s new for the week of Dec. 2, 2018

    Austin Puppet Incident: Marsian De Lellis
    A showcase of new, short puppet performance art features Los Angeles-based Marsian De Lellis, an interdisciplinary artist who combines sculpture, objects, installation and handmade spectacles to memorialize obsessional lives. De Lellis performs “Object of Her Affection,” an unconventional love story that explores the synesthetic relationship between objects and personalities.
    8 p.m. Dec. 7-8, Doughtery Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road. austinpuppetincident.brownpapertickets.com/

    “The Films of Ed Ruscha”
    Yes, Ed Ruscha made a few short films. And in tandem with its enormous survey exhibit of Ruscha’s archive, the Ransom Center screens a trio of films. Salad meets seduction in “Premium,” starring artist Larry Bell and model Léon Bing; an auto mechanic spends a very strange day working on a Ford Mustang in “Miracle,” with artist Jim Ganzer and actress Michelle Phillips; and musician Mason Williams reads Ruscha artist’s book in the deadpan “The Books of Ed Ruscha.”
    7 p.m. Dec. 6. Doors open 30 minutes in advance. Free. Harry Ransom Center, UT campus.

    Read: Parking Lots, Pools, and Palm Trees: From Ed Ruscha’s Archive a Sweeping, and Revealing, Exhibition

    “Rohit Records”
    Rohitash Rao’s “Rohit Records” is a record store for bands that don’t exist, filled with hand-made and one-of-a-kind album covers, concert posters and T-shirts for bands you’ve never heard of like Wolfdick, Fish N Chips and The Sackstreet Boys.
    Opening 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 6. Through Dec. 23, Link & Pin Gallery, 2235 E. Sixth St. linkpinart.com

    Be Still, My Heart: KDH Dance Company
    Kathy Dunn Hamrick creates a new dancework, performed in the round, inspired (somewhat) by old movies and dancers carrying hand-held lighting devices. An original score by Drew Silverman wraps the piece in sound.
    Dec. 6-9, Rollins Studio Theater, Long Center, thelongcenter.org/event

    Read: The Urgency of Making New Dance

    The Matter at Hand: Darcie Book & Sarah Hirneisen
    Darcie Book and Sarah Hirneisen push the boundaries of traditional art making techniques. Book stretches the possibilities of painting by navigating the realms between the two- and three-dimensional, while Hirneisen uses the processes of mold-making and casting to remake everyday objects into unexpected new forms.
    Through Jan. 5 Icosa Gallery, Canopy, 916 Springdale Road. icosacollective.com

    Phonography Austin: 2018 Annual Report
    Don’t let the name of this event fool you. Phonography Austin is group of sound artists and field recordists who explore phonography — field recordings as art objects — and acoustic ecology — the study of the effects of the acoustic environment on those living within it. Their first “annual report” is a listening event and album release party of the group’s second compilation of field recordings.
    7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 8, Cloud Tree Studios & Gallery, 3411 E. Fifth St. Free. phonographyaustin.org

    Humanities Texas: Holiday Book Fair
    Head to the historic Byrne-Reed House where 26 noteworthy authors — including Lawrence Wright, Sarah Bird, H. W. Brands, Elizabeth Crook, Joe Holley, Bill Wittliff, Carrie Fountain, Mimi Swartz, Chris Barton, Don Graham,  Xelena González, Virginia A. Cumberbatch, Leslie A. Blair, Bill Wright, Barbara Morgan and Jennifer Ziegler — will visit with the public and sign copies of their latest books.
    10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 8. Humanities Texas, Byrne-Reed House, 1410 Rio Grande St. humanitiestexas.org/news/events

    Steve Reynolds, “Equinox Porcelain 1,” 1998. Texas Arthouse

    Unconstraint: Caroline Wright and Steve Reynolds
    Austin artist Caroline Wright shows her new minimalist paintings alongside the work of the late Steve Reynolds, longtime faculty at UT-San Antonio who experimented with combining ceramics with mixed-media.
    Through Jan, 20. Texas Arhouse Gallery, 105 N. Nugent Ave., Johnson City, texasarthouse.com

     

    Grageriart Goes Shopping

    In 2016, Austin composer Peter Stopschinski headed to Melbourne, Australia, where his arrangement of Verdi’s opera ‘Macbeth,’ aka ‘The Scottish Opera,’ was premiered.

    Stopschinski’s partner, Lana Lesley, who is a founding member of Austin’s much-lauded theater collective Rude Mechs, went along on the trip. Also, Stopschinski grabbed an IKEA catalog to bring because, as he told me, “I thought it would be fun to have Lana read from it.”

    Lesley is just the kind of inimitably compelling performer to give even a tax form a brilliant, droll, comedic reading. But the duo made their task even more interesting by redacting the catalog’s hyper-friendly marketing text, and in places adding to it.

    A page from the altered IKEA catalog by Peter Stopschinski and Lana Lesley. Courtesy the artists.

    That morphed into Grageriart, a performance project that Stopschinski and Lesley have been trying out in different formats for the last year, sometimes playing clubs, but always slipping somewhere between fictive, contrived theater and a set by two-member band. Essentially, though, Grageriart is the duo musically performing their much altered marketing text as an “aural catalog.” (On its Facebook page, Grageriart is listed as a band.)

    On Black Friday, in white blond wigs and white outfits, Stopschinski and Lesley launched the latest iteration of their show, a trippy, clever 55-minute synthesizer-laden sardonic musical comment on what might be called late-stage global capitalist consumerism.

    “Grageriart is lifestyle,” the couple sing-talk through voice-altering software mimicing robots or Siri and other computer-generated voices. “Grageriart is living someone else’s best life. Grageriart is wanting what they have.”

    For this Grageriart performance — called “Garage Art” — the couple is performing in the garage of their Austin home, the audience limited to 15 people. Halfway through the show, we all stop for a coffee and snack break, served on tidy cup-and-saucer ware.

    Outside there is a table selling Grageriart clothing — used shirts that have been silkscreened with the “Grageriart: We Want What You Have” logo. Pre-show, we are served gluten-free, vegan treats that are listed on the Cafeteriart Menu which is handed out to each audience member.

    There’s little about any lifestyle brand’s all-consuming consumerist worldview that Stopschinski and Lesley do not skewer wickedly in their compact, charmingly weird and wholly entertaining show. A cutely-named line of knives made just for children? Why sure, we’d buy that from the Grageriart catalog.

    The duo is working toward a stage production, tentatively titled “Design for Everyone” that will be workshopped in the spring.

    Let’s all hope the Cafeteriart will be open.

    Grageriart Garage Art continues Dec. 2, 9 and 15. It is technically sold out but spots may become available and a waitlist is taken for each show. rudemechs.com/upcomingevents

    Austin Playhouse Receives $1 Million Donation to Build a New Theater

    Austin Playhouse in its current location, within Austin Community College's Highland Campus, a redeveloped 1970s shopping mall.

    Call it a deus ex machina within the drawn-out and convoluted saga of Austin’s arts venue crisis, but an anonymous donor has given $1 million to an Austin theater company to build itself a theater.

    Austin Playhouse announced today that it has received a $1 million contribution toward the purchase of property and the building of a two-theater venue.

    Playhouse Artistic Director Lara Toner Haddock said the private donor wishes to remain anonymous. “We are thrilled with their generosity, but absolutely respect their wishes to remain anonymous.”

    Haddock said that the non-profit organization anticipates having to raise an additional $500,000 to complete the project, but the meantime, it has also secured a $1.8 million loan to cover the majority of the building costs.

    Haddock added that with Austin’s theater community in crisis over the lack of affordable venues, Austin Playhouse is committed to making its planned facility available to other arts organizations.

    “The venue crisis is enormous for Austin’s theater community,” Haddock said. “(A new building) puts us in a position to help fill the gap and that’s what we intend to do.”

    Austin Playhouse knows that from experience. In fact, it already has architectural plans in hand and paid for — designs completed in 2011 when the organization intended to build within the Mueller development northeast of downtown, once the site of Austin’s airport. Haddock said those building designs, by Scott Ginder now of Forge Craft Architecture, would be used on a new parcel of land. The designs outline a 17,000-square-foot two-venue building with a 227-seat main stage and a 99-seat second stage.

    For its first decade, Austin Playhouse, founded in 2000, rented a 6,000-square-foot space in the Penn Field development on South Congress Avenue, one of the first conversions of warehouse-type buildings into mixed use office-retail-restaurant space. Austin Playhouse was one of the first tenants at Penn Field, and for years had affordable rent. Until it didn’t. By 2010, the theater’s monthly rent at Penn Field went from $5,000 to $12,000.

    Austin Playhouse spent about three years trying to get its Mueller plans underway, even pitching a temporary tent-like building out of which it performed for a season. But after larger problems with developers’ own plans, Austin Playhouse abandon building on the Mueller site.

    Since 2014, Austin Playhouse has operated in a space on the site of the former Highland Mall, a sprawling 1970s behemoth now repurposed to be the Austin Community College Highland campus. The theater occupies what was once a sporting goods store on the mall’s lower level and shares its stage with ACC theater productions. Austin Playhouse has two-and-a-half years remaining on its lease with ACC.

    Haddock said Austin Playhouse plans to announce the purchase of a site within the first half of 2019, and building on a facility could start shorty thereafter.