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June 21, 2018
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‘Empress of Gulf Coast Soul’ Barbara Lynn Wins NEA National Heritage Fellowship

Beaumont R&B legend Barbara Lynn — aka “the Empress of Gulf Coast Soul” — has received a NEA National Heritage Fellowship.

Lynn, who was born in 1942, is a trailblazer. She had a breakout hit in 1962 with “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” which went to number one on the R&B charts and number eight on the pop charts. An African American young woman fronting a band, as an instrumentalist and not only a singer (Lynn is left-handed guitarist) and as the author of her songs all made Lynn a pioneer. Lynn has had ten singles in the Top 100.

Fellowship recipients will receive a $25,000 award and be honored in Washington, DC at an Sept. 26 awards ceremony and a free concert on Sept. 28. The concert will be streamed live at arts.gov.

Lynn was nominated for the award by Austin aarts presenter and advocate, Sarah Rucker.

The 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows are:

 

Texas Book Festival Announces First Slate of Authors

Texas Book Festival authors Tommy Orange and Tayari Jones

The Texas Book Festival announced the first 15 authors who will appear at the October 27-28 festival.

Literary fiction writers include Tayari Jones whose thought-provoking novel, “An American Marriage,” tackles race, loyalty and resilience; Tommy Orange‘s  critically-acclaimed debut novel “There There” looks at the varieties of Native American identity in the contemporary United State; And Chloe Benjamin whose “The Immortalists” is a quirky but captivating family saga.

Nonfiction writers include Leslie Jamison, who will represent her buzzed-about memoir about addiction, “The Recovering,” and Alfredo Corchado, whose “Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration” is a mix of memoir and deep reporting.

The 15 authors announced are:

Alexander Chee, “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel”
Alfredo Corchado, “Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration”
Erin Entrada Kelly, “You Go First”
David Grann, “The White Darkness”
Sandra Cisneros, “Puro Amor”
Fatima Farheen Mirza, “A Place for Us”
V.E. Schwab, “Vengeful”
Tommy Orange, “There There”
Mary Pope Osborne, “Magic Tree House #30: Hurricane Heroes in Texas”
Tayari Jones, “An American Marriage”
Chloe Benjamin, “The Immortalists”
Sandhya Menon, “From Twinkle, With Love”
Leslie Jamison, “The Recovering”
Walter Mosley, “John Woman”
Joe Holley, “Hurricane Season: The Unforgettable Story of the 2017 Houston Astros and the Resilience of a City”

For more information: texasbookfestival.org

The Weekly Line-up: 6.17.18

"Hotel Dallas" screens June 20 at the Violet Crown Cinema.

The list of what’s good and what’s new for the week of June 17, 2018.

“Hotel Dallas”
Hybrid documentary meets conceptual video in the first feature by Sherng-Lee Huang and Livia Ungur. The American soap opera “Dallas” was a huge hit in 1980s Romania and “Hotel Dallas” loosely charts the real story of a 1990s Romanian oligarch who fashioned himself after the series’ lead, J.R. Ewing, complete with a replica of the show’s Texan ranch that doubles as an embezzlement scheme. “Hotel Dallas” is a surreal parable of communism, capitalism, and the power of art — and features a cameo by “Dallas” star Patrick Duffy. Presented by the Austin Asian American Film Festival.
7:30 p.m. June 20, Violet Crown Cinema

PechaKucha No. 31
The conceit of PechaKucha talks has each speaker giving six-minute while showing 20 images of their work, each for 20 seconds. This iteration features choreographer Jennifer Sherburn, artist Valerie Fowler, bike zoologist Jeremy Rosen, and others.
7:20 p.m. doors; 8:20 p.m. program start. Native Hostel, 807 E. 4th St., $10. artallianceaustin.org/pechakucha/pecha-kucha-nights

John Wilkes Booth’s “Richard III”
A promptbook for Shakespeare’s “Richard III” that belonged to John Wilkes Booth — the actor and presidential assassin — hints at how one of the most popular actors of his time performed his most popular role, a tyrannical leader. Austin’s Hidden Room Theatre performs Booth’s version in the historic Scottish Rite Theatre.
5 p.m. June 17 & 24, 8 pm June 22-23, 29-30. Scottish Rite Theatre, 207 W. 18th St. $15-$25  hiddenroomtheatre.com/

Read: A Promptbook of John Wilkes Booth Sheds Light on a Nation Divided

 

“This is a Test of the Internal Emergency Broadcast System” & “Locked-in”
Yuliya Lanina premieres another one of her whimsical yet enigmatic performances. In “This is a Test of the Internal Emergency Broadcast System” the artist, disguised in a bird-like costume, guides viewers through an immersive installation consisting of a video projection, diary sketches and interactive sculptures, with music by Vladimir Rannev, an award-winning Russian avant-garde composer.

Sharing the program is “Locked-in” choreographer Andrea Ariels exploration of  our relationship to our devices, and how they have changed, advanced and altered our world and our lives. Ariel’s “Soundpainting” technique combines choreographed dance and live compositions of directed improvisations. Original music composed by Andy Nolte.
8 p.m. June 22-23 (gallery opens at 6 p.m.), 5 p.m. June 24. Museum of Human Achievement, 916 Springdale Road, aadt.brownpapertickets.com
Note: At 8 p.m. June 21 and 7:30 p.m. June 29, “This is a Test” is performed for FREE.

Read: Studio visit with Yuliya Lanina
Density512: Nevertheless Persist, Volume 1
Austin-based music collective Density512 presents a series finale concert featuring music by women and queer composers. And in creating a politically motivated program, Density512 does what many major ensembles across the country still fail to accomplish: give music a real-life context.
8 p.m. June 22, Big Medium, 916 Springdale Road 
Read: “In a Political World, Density512 Persists”
Artist talk: Sydney Yeager with Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Sydney Yeager’s steadfast painting practice over several decades has led the Austin artist to find a kind of continuity in constant change. Join Yeager and Sightlines editor-in-chief Jeanne Claire van Ryzin in conversation.
3 p.m. Saturday, Gallery Shoal Creek, Flatbed building, 2832 E. MLK, Jr. Blvd. Free, galleryshoalcreek.com
Read: Sydney Yeager: A Willingness to Take What is Immediately Given
Austin African American Book Festival
Annual celebration of African American authors features a mix of national and local authors including Paul Coates, Victoria Christopher Murray, John Jennings, Evan Narcisse, Brooke Obie, Dexx Peay and Dr. Peniel Joseph.
9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 23, Carver Museum and Culture Center, 1165 Angelina St. aabookfest.com
Roundtop Music Festival
Well worth the drive: For four decades, in the lovely historic town of Round Top, the Festival Institute has been presenting an outstanding series of chamber music concerts.
Multiple afternoon and evening concerts on Saturdays through July 14. festivalhill.org

Ann Hamilton Installation at UT Nets Public Art Award

Ann Hamilton, O N E E V E R Y O N E, 2017. Photo by Paul Bardagjy.

A multi-pronged public art work by Ann Hamilton commissioned by the University of Texas’ Landmarks public art program, netted the 2018 Year in Review award from the Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network.

Commissioned for the Dell Medical School and debuted in 2017, “O N E E V E R Y O N E”  It is rooted in the primacy of touch and intimacy as the most essential expression of physical care.

The project began as a campaign to photograph members of the Austin community and expanded to assume multiple forms: 71 porcelain enamel portrait panels located at the Dell Medical School; a 900-page book designed by Hamilton that circulates freely; a newspaper with contributions by scientists, philosophers, poets, and essayists; and a website for the public to download her images.

The Ohio-based Hamilton photographed more than 500 participants at a dozen Austin locations for the project. Volunteers were photographed through a semi-transparent membrane that sharply focused parts of the body that made contact with the material and softly blurred the parts that moved away from it. The optical quality of the material renders touch — something felt, more than seen — visible.

 

Today’s Australian Aboriginal Artists Uproot Ancestral Stories

    Tommy Mitchell, "Walu," 2008. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. From the exhibit "Ancestral Modern." © Tommy Mitchell Courtesy American Federation of Art

    With new and easy access to DNA testing, finding out about one’s ancestry is all the rage right now. The work in “Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan and Levi Collection,” organized by the Seattle Art Museum and on view at the Blanton Museum, reflects not just a general curiosity about one’s family lineage, nor even an intense interest in genealogy. Instead it represents a deep reverence for a richly layered culture’s elders, its complex sacred stories, its relationship to nature and its artistic traditions.

    “Ancestral Modern” is on view at the Blanton Museum of Art through Sept. 9.

    Works in this exhibition are from the 20th and 21st centuries and continue a remarkably uninterrupted 50,000- year practice, although the earliest Aboriginal artwork was made within the context of ritual and ceremony and was not intended to be viewed by the public.

    Modern Australian Aboriginal artists, raised in indigenous communities and possessing an intimate knowledge of ancestral traditions, draw heavily on the culture’s visual vocabulary but use more modern media. They expose traces of something called Dreamtime, a term invented by early anthropologists to describe the worldview and beliefs of Australian Aboriginal people, to the a wider, yet often uninitiated, audience. They also shed light on the effects of British colonization on their people and culture.

    Maringka Baker “Minyma Kutjarra (Two Sisters Creation Story),” 2009. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Seattle Art Museum © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia Courtesy American Federation of Arts

    Visitors quickly realize label reading is pretty crucial to experiencing and understanding the work in this show. If you miss something though, rest assured there is an e-catalog available on the Blanton’s website.

    Well organized, the show is divided into geographical regions and themes like “Portraits that Cross Boundaries” or “Water,” and “Death,” with an education room with books, videos, a map of Australian territories and a timeline of Australian Aboriginal Rights and Art History.

    Entering the exhibition you are introduced to the section “Landscapes from the Western Deserts,” abstract paintings of tightly arranged linear arrangements of dots in geometric patterns and an earthy palette, which represent elements of Australian ancestral lands. As the wall text points out, “while many of the sacred symbols and stories in the paintings may be explained to audiences outside the community, some remain accessible only to the individuals, kinship groups, or peoples who share a particular Dreaming, an ancestral realm comprising spiritual beings, governing laws, and their narratives.”

    Symbols may vary from person to person and clan to clan, but basic ones include an arch shape (signifying windbreaking), caves, human steps or animal tracks and a U-shape meaning a person or ancestral being in human form. Concentric circles could indicate a watering hole, a camp or ceremonial ground. Soon these motifs may emerge more readily to exhibition goers.

    Emily Kam Kngwarray “Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming),” 1995. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Seattle Art Museum. © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia. Courtesy American Federation of Arts

    Opposite works from the Western Deserts are “Women Painters of Utopia.” These walls reveal some spectacular works that visually deviate due to their gestural strokes. One synthetic polymer painting on canvas, called “Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming)” from 1995 is by Emily Kam Kngwarray. Stunningly beautiful, it boasts brilliant pink, fuchsia and red string or vein-like forms tangled into a web against a dark background. The densely knitted rosy ribbons represent yams as they grow in the ground of the artist’s homeland in a visceral, more than optically truthful way.

    Visually as bold as anything I’ve seen in abstract painting, the artist was 84 when she painted it. She drew on decades of experience making similar designs, body painting womenfor certain ceremonies. Many of the forms seen in modern Australian Aboriginal art cross over into other media and into ritualistic practice.

    Another Utopian artist whose practice began doing batik painting, Gloria Petyarre, is inspired by nature. Her “Leaves” (2002) is a large monochromatic canvas full of relatively uniform in size yet curved white dashes on a dark background. The careful positioning of the marks creates a sense of movement and illusionistic depth reminiscent of Op Art, but overall the image shapes are more organic. Like scales on an undulating fish, or leaves rustling in unison on a bending branch, they come alive. Wall text recounts the artist’s “memory of sitting for hours under mulga bushes, helping elder women prepare seeds for small cakes while learning about the leaves’ medicinal properties, which are held in high regard.”

    Tommy Mitchell’s painting “Walu” (2008) contains many of the formal bells and whistles of Australian Aboriginal style. Cylindrical shapes loop around and inside of each other creating patterns made from colorful linear arrangements of dots. Much more than eye candy, Mitchell’s work tells the story of a boy who is guilty of stealing, and the misunderstandings and punishments that ensue. A tornado and the boy’s eventual shape shifting into the wind are reflected in the rhythmic circling of the painting, like his actions reverberating outwards into space and time.

     

    Yvonne Koolmatrie, “Pondi” (Murray River Cod), 2003. Native spiny sedge grass. Seattle Art Museum © Yvonne Koolmatrie, Aboriginal and Pacific Art Sydney Courtesy American Federation of Arts

    The last half of the exhibition moves into figuration, both human and animal, and painted and sculptural. For example, there’s a filament suspended three-dimensional fish made of native woven spiny sedge grass by Yvonne Koolmatrie. The Murray River cod, or Pondi, is thought to be a supernatural presence with great strength, that in myth, made the bends in Australia’s longest river by whipping his tail back and forth. After European colonization, Murray cod populations suffered due to factors like overfishing and habitat degradation. Today they are endangered.

     

    View of “Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection” at the Blanton Museum of Art, The
    University of Texas at Austin, June 3 – September 9, 2018. Photo: Blanton Museum

    Five standing painted eucalyptus hollow logs round out the exhibition. These are connected to “sorry business” a mourning process. In ancient funerary custom, logs are filled with bones of the deceased then decorated, buried and left to the elements. More recently, painted logs are displayed upright and used as educational tools for future generations and as memorials, especially for those who died defending their indigenous homeland.

    Next to the grouping of standing logs, a painting of bark by Narritjin Maymuru depicts “The Marawili Tree Rangga (The Possum String Story)” (1968). This sacred story involves very specific animal characters and images are built in layers. A Koel Cuckoo eats from a cashew tree, on which cicadas cling along with St. Andrew’s Cross spiders. Flanked by possums making garments, a large kingfish sits in the middle of the vertically oriented work. Like a ladder it bridges elements of the story, and different realms of life and death.

    These modern works reveal the intractable bonds between Aboriginal people and place. And sure, it’s incredibly easy to enjoy the graphic image qualities and exuberant use of color of the Australian Aboriginal moderns.

    But with a bit more effort, the real reward comes in deciphering their iconography. The Australian Aboriginal moderns do their ancestors a great service by reminding the world of their regional diversity, multi-faceted lives and their endurance.

    Texas Book Festival Names 2018 Poster Artist

    The Texas Book Festival today announced that Austin-based painter Valerie Fowler is the festival 2018 poster artist.

    Fowler’s oil painting “Spring, Everything Changes” is a luscious, surrealistic interpretation of Fredericksburg peach trees in bloom and evokes a sense of storybook wonder and the unique possibility of the Texas landscape.

    Fowler’s career spans more than 30 years and includes a wide variety of works, from oil on canvas to commissioned murals, that explore the wildly diverse natural world of Texas.

    “I hope my paintings bring recurring pleasure,” Fowler says. “Having a work of art you come back to is much like reading a favorite novel—every time you return to it, it takes you back to moments from earlier in your life: who you were before, who you’ve been since, and also gives you something new. When a painting keeps giving each time you come back to it, that’s part of what really makes it a successful painting.”

    The tradition of choosing a representative work by a Texas artist began in 1998, and the honor has been shared by acclaimed artists and photographers such as Lance Letscher, Julie Speed, Dan Winters, Kate Breakey, and Jack Unruh.

    “The Texas Book Festival is thrilled to feature Valerie Fowler’s work this year,” says Lois Kim, executive director of Texas Book Festival. “Her beautifully alive paintings convey the fantasy in our imaginations and the energy of what lies just beneath the surface. They perfectly capture the creative spirit of our Festival.”

    The 2018 Texas Book Festival happens Oct 27 and 28, texasbookfestival.org

    In a Political World, Density512 Persists

      Austin Women's March, Jan. 2017. Photo by Marshall Walker Lee, Creative Commons licensed

      When was the last time you gained a new political perspective without a screen eight inches from your face?

      Austin-based music collective Density512 intends to try in its second annual concert summer series, June 14 through 22.

      Density512 first began as a summer project of the University of Texas student-led Lab Orchestra. Now an independent group, Density512’s mission is to present contemporary programing in the vital spaces of Austin’s community — another addition to Austin’s growing chamber music scene.

      In creating a politically motivated program, Austin-based music collective Density512 does what many major ensembles across the country still fail to accomplish: give music a real-life context.

      The summer series will consist of three different performances, the third of which is “Nevertheless Persist, Volume 1” at Big Medium on June 22. This will be the inaugural entry of an annual program — a concert for each year that Donald Trump’s administration, in Density512’s words, continually “threatens marginalized and underrepresented communities.”

      With “Nevertheless Persist,” Density512 aims to create a show that will excite politically active audiences. Each volume of “Nevertheless Persist” will feature music from diverse composers that correspond with an underlying theme, with this year’s entry focusing on the concept of human need.

      The concert has been “a long time coming,” says Density512’s co-artistic director Nicholas Perry Clark. Clark, who curated and will be conducting “Nevertheless Persist,” first began constructing the idea for the series when looking for ways to react to the current presidential administration.

      “I get so upset that I’m in the arts sometimes, because I can’t directly help people,” he says.,

      But in creating a politically motivated program, Density512 does what many major ensembles across the country still fail to accomplish: give music a real-life context.

      “Programming is a tricky art that we often ignore in the classical music world,” says Clark, “[Others] just kind of throw stuff on a program, but we will not allow ourselves to do that.”

      The four composers featured in “Nevertheless Persist, Volume 1” come from varied backgrounds and all represent the idea of human need through their works or their practices.

      The first piece of the concert is from Canadian composer Claude Vivier. “Zipangu” is part of his opera fleur (or, tableaux) on the historical figure Marco Polo. Vivier, who is now considered to have been one of Canada’s premiere composers, was murdered in Paris on March 7, 1983. Vivier, who was homosexual, was stabbed and robbed in his own home by a man he’d met at a bar earlier that evening.

      Musically, “Zipangu” is an experiment of color using various bow techniques. Clark hints that “Half the string players do some things they might not be comfortable with.” The sporadic and anxiety inducing tone of the piece is interpreted by Density512 as call for human companionship.

      Next in the program, “Rest These Hands” is one of six pieces London-born composer Anna Clyne wrote in the six days leading up to her mother’s death. Clyne is currently the composer-in-residence for the New Music venue National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York.

      The piece opens with a reading of the titular poem that was written by Clyne’s mother, Colleen Clyne. Though dripped in sorrow, this composition for solo violin both croons and kicks, exemplifying life as much as it does death. “Rest These Hands” will be performed by violinist Sara Sasaki.

      In the third piece of the night, “Teen Murti,” first-generation American composer Reena Esmail takes Western music practices and bases them around three large musical figures — each rooted in different hindustani raags. “Teen Murti” is translated in Hindi as meaning three figures or representations, sharing the name of the famous sculpture that resides in the home of former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

      Esmail is the composer-in-residence for Street Symphony Los Angeles, an organization dedicated to providing high-caliber musical performances and discussion for individuals that have been affected by homelessness, poverty, and incarceration.

      “Teen Murti” is divided into three musical pillars that correspond to the raags of Malkauns, Bassant and Jog. In between these sections are interluding segments from Bihag and Bhairav pakads (pakads being characteristic slices of those respective raags). This variety of harmonic material in “Teen Murti” creates receding and encroaching waves of musical intrigue throughout the entire work.

      For the show’s last piece, Julia Wolfe’s “Fuel” focuses on the mystery of economy and how things run, commenting on the global consumption around one of humanity’s most precious resources. “Fuel” was originally composed for a short film by Bill Morrison of the same name, and will be presented alongside Density512’s performance. Wolfe is an associate professor of music composition at the NYU Steinhardt School and is a co-founder and co-artistic director for Bang on a Can.

      “Fuel” with its thrashing bows and crashing tempo is sure to be an endurance test for the ensemble as well as an exciting finale to the evening.

      Although political discourse isn’t the first subject that comes to mind when considering the classical music concert experience, Clark believes that even listeners unfamiliar with classical will be “pleasantly surprised,” with the context Density512 will provide in “Nevertheless, Persist Volume 1.”

      After all, if the most important political declarations in our country can be made via Twitter, than why not with a chamber orchestra?

      Other performances of Density512’s summer series include “Stack Overflow” at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op on June 14, and the “UT Composers Showcase” at Imagine Art on June 17. The series is presented in partnership with KMFA 89.5, 4th Tap Brewing Co-op, Imagine Art, Big Medium, The Hispanic Alliance, and Austin Soundwaves.

      The Weekly Line-up: 6.10.2018

      Margaux Crump, "Mount" (detail), 2017. Antlers, sex-safe silicone, makeup pigments.

      “Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach”
      It’s been called “the strangest and most uncompromising of all musician biopics,” Jean-Marie Straub and Dannièle Huillet’s 1968 “Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach” is nevertheless a classic of European art cinema admired as much for its period-accurate Baroque performances as its ascetic filmmaking.
      Sightlines is sponsoring the 7 p.m. June 10 screening at Austin Film Society. Meet us in the lobby at 6 p.m. for drinks.
      7 p.m. June 10, Austin Film Society, austinfilm.org/screening/chronicle-of-anna-magdalena-bach/

      Read: An Uncompromising Classic Restored: ‘Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach’

      New Music Mixer: Nathan Felix
      For this month’s New Music Mixer — co-sponsored by Sightlines and KMFA, 89.5 — composer Nathan Felix whose practice spans punk, leading a street choir and writing symphonies.
      5 to 7 p.m. June 12, Friends & Allies Brewing, 979 Springdale Road. Free.

      Rodney McMillian in Conversation
      The inaugural winner of the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize, Rodney McMillian discuss his trenchant solo exhibition “Against a Civic Death” with curator Heather Pesanti.
      6:00 p.m. June 13, Contemporary Austin-Jones Center, 700 Congress Ave. Free, RSVP required. thecontemporaryaustin.org/event/rodney-mcmillian-in-conversation/

      Read: History as artistic medium: Rodney McMillian’s “Against a Civic Death” at The Contemporary Austin

      “The Legend of Big Bend” Workshop
      Composer Justin Sherburn is this close to finishing his major opus, a sweeping piece for chamber orchestra — pedal steel guitar, string trio, horns, and a rhythm section — accompanied by stunning footage of Big Bend by filmmaker David Barrow. Sherburn and Barrow wrap up the last bit of work with a live audience.
      8 p.m. June 13, Spiderhouse Ballroom, 2906 Fruth St. $10 montopolismusic.com

      “For A Limited Time”
      Heloise Gold and Natalie George collaborate again in dance concert about finding freedom in limitation through dance, music, and film.
      8 p.m. June 14-17, 3 p.m. June 17, Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Road. nataliegeorgeproductions.com/tickets

      Read: Dance Fever? June has a Plentitude of Dance Concerts

      “11:11:2018: Drive-In”
      Micro-cinema and modern dance merge choreographer Jennifer Sherburn takes up car movies and their cultural underpinnings “Drive-In” in an exploration of grit, film noir, and immersive momentum. An outcome of Sherburn’s year-long “11:11” program of site-specific dance, “Drive-In’ features 10 dancers — and their vehicles — on an expanse of open land. Original score by William West.
      7:30 p.m. June 13-16, 3506 Rogge Lane, 1111austin.com

      “YLA 23: Beyond Walls, Between Gates, Under Bridges”
      Mexic-Arte’s annual showcase of emerging Latinx artists is this curated by Rocha Rochelli, and brings together the works of 11 talents who explore the complexities of the U.S./Mexico border region.
      Opening 6 to 9 p.m. June 15. Exhibit continues through Aug. 26. Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress Ave. mexic-artemuseum.org/exhibitions

      “Margaux Crump: The Lure”
      Sparkling salt licks, golden fishhooks, sex-safe silicone and fluorescent minerals are just some of the materials Margaux Crump uses in a body of new art work that explores gender and the natural world.
      Opening: 7 to 9 p.m. June 16. Exhibit continues through July 26. Women & Their Work, 1710 Lavaca St. womenandtheirwork.org

      “Juneteenth Chronicles”
      Spectrum Theatre Company presents a staged reading of Juneteenth Chronicles by Abena Edwards who based her new play on written passages from over 250 interviews with former slaves who survived to recount heir stories for the 1937 Federal Works Projects Administration Program.
      7:30 p.m. June 16, 3 p.m. 17, AISD Performing Arts Center, 1500 Barbara Jordan Blvd. $10 donation suggested. nowplayingaustin.com/event/juneteenth-chronicles/

       

       

      A Promptbook of John Wilkes Booth Sheds Light on a Nation Divided

      John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook for Richard III, ca. 1861–1864. Manuscripts Collection, Harry Ransom Center. The entire promptbook is digitized and available online.

      A promptbook for Shakespeare’s “Richard III” that belonged to John Wilkes Booth — the actor and presidential assassin — hints at how one of the most popular actors of his time performed his most popular role, a tyrannical leader.

      And if the promptbook doesn’t entirely illuminate how a veritable celebrity such as Booth became one of the most detested villains in American history, it does hint at why Shakespeare’s dark history play about power-mad leader so popular in mid 19th-century America.

      For two years, theater director Beth Burns and Ransom Center theater curator Eric Colleary, have studied Booth’s “Richard III” promptbook.

      Says Burns: “Art often tells us who we are, and I think the question for me is, what were we doing with our art when our country was at its most divided?”

      Burns’ Hidden Room Theatre will stage “Booth’s ‘Richard III’” June 15 to 30 at the historic Austin Scottish Rite Theater.

      Hidden Room specializes in recreating historical theatrical practices and plays. In 2015, the company production of a rare 17th-century puppet version of “Hamlet” traveled to Shakespeare’s Globe in London. In 2016, Burns and Colleary partnered up on “Houdini Speaks to the Living,” a dramatization of the debate between Houdini, who exposed spiritualism as a hoax, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a devoted believer in spiritualism.

      Colleary came across Booth’s promptbook soon after he came to work at the University of Texas center’s archive three years ago.

      “Sometime promptbooks are just dismissed as just marked up books. But they’re really the best records of historical performance practices, and therefore incredibly important” he says.

      A promptbook captures all a production’s technical notes — curtain cues, music cues, scenery changes — as well as acting notes for all the actors. At the time, theaters operated on the star system in which star actors — like Booth — traveled from town to town performing their most famous roles supported by a local stock theater company. Star actors traveled with their own props and costumes — and their own promptbooks.

      “Very little has survived from John Wilkes Booth theater career, and yet he was absolutely one of the most popular performers of his day,” says Colleary. “After Booth’s assassination of Lincoln, most of the Booth’s professional theatrical materials were destroyed, either intentionally or accidentally. The fact that this promptbook survived is remarkable.”

      The Ransom Center has digitized Booth’s “Richard III” promptbook. It is available here.

      Legend has it most of John’s belongings were burned by his brother Edwin, also a highly-praised actor who after Lincoln’s assassination, reportedly refused to have John’s name spoken in his presence.

      The Booths were a thespian family. Edwin, John and Junius Jr. were sons of Junius Brutus Booth, an English actor who immigrated to America. John T. Ford, who owned a theater in Washington D.C., was a Booth family friend.  John Wilkes Booth made his stage debut in 1855 at age 17, playing the supporting role of the Earl of Richmond in “Richard III.”  By the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, Booth was tremendously popular, touring to theaters in New York, Boston, St. Louis and Chicago. But he was publicly outspoken about his support of the South’s secession, beliefs that cost him status with Northern audiences.

      This program is from Booth’s first performance of Richard III at the historic Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia on March 2, 1863. Ransom Center Collections.

      Heavily annotated in Booth’s florid handwriting, the promptbook is not wholly Shakespeare’s original play, but a 1699 adaptation by Colley Cibber, abridged by almost a third in length and with a few more onstage fight scenes than the Bard originally wrote. Cibber’s Shakespeare adaptations were the only Shakespeare audiences saw well into 19th-century.

      “Cibber’s version is nicknamed the ‘blood and thunder Richard III’,” says Burns. “It’s fast-paced, the plot is very clear and there’s lot drama and melodrama — absolute good versus absolute evil. It’s very audience friendly.”

      It also had enormous appeal to a 19th-century America fascinated by moral riotousness.  “Booth was performing in an era obsessed with the notion that there is clear good and clear evil in the world,” says Colleary. “And in Cibber’s version, Richard III is a very clear tyrant, and yet he’s a leader who gets things. John Wilkes Booth clearly found that tension interesting, and Richard III was his signature role, it’s how he showed off his chops.”

      Critics were impressed. One writing for Washington Intelligencer in April 1863 proclaimed that “(Booth) played not from the stage rule, but from the soul, and his soul is inspired with genius.”

      Booth’s particular acting style emerges in his annotations. “It’s somewhat like contemporary soap opera acting,” says Burns, who also studied 19th-century acting books to gain an understanding acting methods. “It’s passionate, it’s emotional and maybe a little melodramatic by our standards today, but there is some realism and naturalism to it. Acting is right at the tipping point in Booth’s era.”

      Other historical records — reviews of Booth’s performance, memoirs of his contemporaries — reveal more about Booth’s character.

      “He was considered a very nice person to work with apparently,” says Colleary. “His peers write that he gave kind and constructive feedback to other actors.”

      Built in 1871, the Scottish Rite Theatre is a working relic, its 19th-centurary hand-painted scenic backdrops intact, its manual sound effect contraptions still working. And just off stage right? An actual prompter’s station, a podium where the prompter would have stood, promptbook in hand, directing the action of the production.

      “Theater doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” says Burns. “(This production) allows us to really dig deep into this particular moment of history and what was its popular entertainment. It’s a bridge to the 19th-century and to a time when our country was ripped in two.”

      ‘For La Raza’ Mural Restored in East Austin

      Detail of the mural "For La Raza," Austin. Photo: Sightlines.

      The city of Austin has finished restoration work on an iconic mural celebrating the Chicano heritage in East Austin.

      Originally created in 1992 muralists Robert Herrera and Oscar Cortez, “For La Raza,” is one of several murals sited on the exterior wall of the decommissioned Holly Street Power Plant near the Holly Shores and Festival Beach area in east Austin.

      Over the years, the mural fell into disrepair, with much of its vibrant imagery — including Aztec gods and symbols of Mexican history and identity — having faded or been tagged by other artists.

      The mural was recently restored as part of the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s Holly Shores Master Plan, Phase 1 implementation. The city’s Art in Public Places Program commissioned Arte Texas — a community organization working to save historic murals in east Austin as well execute new ones, which includes Herrera and Cortez —  to restore the mural.

      Herrara and Cortez introduced a new generation to the mural painting tradition. In addition to meeting with neighborhood groups and associations, Arte Texas worked with students from the eastside community.

      The project will be celebrated at a free, public event on 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 21 at 2215 Riverview St.

      “For La Raza” mural in Austin. Photo: Sightlines.