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March 25, 2019
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Ballet Austin dances a vivid, unsettled version of Grimms’ Fairy Tales

Natalie Frank, drawing for "The Frog King" for Ballet Austin's "Grimm Tales." Mixed media on watercolor paper.

Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills first saw Natalie Frank’s lurid, subversively feminist drawings of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales in 2015. The exhibition “Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm” had traveled to the Blanton Museum of Art, after generating buzz in New York on its debut at the Drawing Center which had organized the show.

“I was drawn most to the color, to how each drawing had so much narrative in it,” said Mills recently. “Here were these very old, very dark and often violent stories and yet they were presented with empowered female figures. That juxtaposition really fascinated me.”

(Mills and his partner, Brent Hasty, purchased a set of Frank’s “Grimm” drawings as a promised gift for the Blanton.)

In her Grimm’s tales drawings Frank, who is originally from Austin and is now based in New York, tackles the moments that represent the darkest underside of the traditional tales, which were collected and published in the early 19th-century by the German brothers who were linguists and folklorists. In her decidedly feminist take, Frank the visually interprets the now lesser known aspects of incest, rape, physical violence, and other taboo themes that were phased out as the folktales were translated into English, and certainly by the time they were picked up Disney and the American entertainment industry.

“It seemed like there were whole worlds (in the stories) that needed be told, needed to reconsidered,” said Frank.

Mills and Frank were in discussion recently at the Blanton in what amounted to a live introduction to “Grimm Tales,” Ballet Austin’s new production that Mills has choreographed based on Frank’s artworks. Mills choose three tales — “Snow White,” “The Frog King,” and “The Juniper Tree” — to tell in the 80-minute ballet which premieres March 29-31 at the Long Center.

Natalie Frank, “Frog King Castle,” drawing for scenic backdrop for Ballet Austin’s “Grimm Tales”

Frank created over 30 new drawings, as well as animations, which will serve as enormous projected backdrops for the ballet. She and costume designer Constance Ho­ffman exchanged rounds of drawings for the imaginative outfits, with Frank completing the painting on some of the elaborate headdresses herself.

“All three (of the tales used in the ballet) focus thematically on the idea of hunger,” Frank said. “Hunger for power, hunger for youth, hunger for sex and then physical hunger to. Those were realities of life for 19th century women.”

“I’m recasting (these women) as villainesses, as powerful princesses.”

Before the public conversation between Mills and Frank, in the Blanton’s atrium, composer Graham Reynolds gave a preview of the lush original score he’s written, an intriguing mix of recorded sounds to which a strings-heavy chamber orchestra will add a live layer.

“I used layers and layers of sound effects, overdubs, and a mix of acoustic, electric, sampled, and synthesized instruments,” said Reynolds. “All of the score is rooted in Natalie’s paintings, trying to capture her raw, visceral, vibrant style and the dark world of Grimm brothers’ stories.”

“Grimm Tales” is the first new production to arrive the auspicious of Ballet Austin’s Butler New Choreography Endowment, a fund based on a $3 million gift from Austin philanthropists Sarah and Ernst Butler that provides support for the company to commission a new ballet every three years.

This is the second full-length ballet Mills has created based on and in collaboration with a contemporary artist. “Cult of Color: Call to Color” in 2008 made a buzzed-about production from the strange, fictive world of Trenton Doyle Hancock, and was remounted in 2014.  And “Cult,” too, had a score by Reynolds, who has composed for Mills several times.
For Mills, with “Grimm Tales,” the unsettled tone of the ages-old folktales compelled.
“These stories are still here because they are relevant.”
Natalie Frank, drawing for “The Juniper Tree” for Ballet Austin’s “Grimm Tales.” Mixed media on watercolor paper.
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The Weekly Line-up: 3.24.19

“Repellent Fence” by Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martinez and Kade L. Twist. Photo: Michael Lundgren/Postcommodity
“New Monuments New Cities”

Waller Creek Conservancy launches a slate of free film screenings and programs this week that complement  “New Monuments New Cities” the public art project that asked 25 artists to imagine new kinds of civic monuments.

Programs are free; RSVP requested. Everything happens at Waller Creek Conservancy headquarters at Symphony Square, 1111 Red River St. wallercreek.org/events/

  • “Through the Repellent Fence.” Directed by Austin filmmaker Sam Wainwright Douglas, the documentary follows the art collective Postcommodity — comprising three artists of indigenous heritage, Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez and Kade L. Twist — as they construct a massive installation made up of 28 large, color balloons that stretch two-mile-long span across the border between Douglas, Arizona, and Aguas Prietas, Sonora.
    7 p.m. March 24 with a discussion with director Sam Wainwright Douglas at 7:30 followed by the screening at 8 p.m.
  • Artists’ Talk. Join three Central Texas artists —Daniela Cavazos Madrigal, Teruko Nimura, and Denise Prince — who are featured in “New Monuments New Cities.” Moderated by Sightlines editor-in-chief Jeanne Claire van Ryzin.
    6 p.m. March 27.
“Strong as an Acre of Garlic”

Bryony Roberts interviewed four women ranchers — Missy Bonds, Linda Galayda, Kimberly Ratcliff, and Kelley Sullivan — to understand how they are creating complex articulations of femininity and transforming existing conventions related to riding, animal husbandry, and land management. Roberts transforms it all into an immersive installation of visuals and sound recordings.
Opening: 5 to 7 p.m. March 25. Exhibit continues through April 19 and is open seven days a week. Texas State University Galleries, Mitte Building, San Marcos txstgalleries.org

“A Thousand Thoughts”

Read:  ‘Kronos Quartet searches for utopia in “A Thousand Thoughts.” The live-cinema concert not only details the history of the world-renowned ensemble, but also the fleeting nature of music. 8 p.m. March 27, Bass Concert Hall

Short Short Fiction Festival

Some 15 local authors read stories 1,000 words or less. Hosted by writer Mary Helen Sprecht.
12 noon to 3 p.m. March 30, Elisabet Ney Museum, 304 E 44th St. Free. 

Blanton Block Party

Twelve hours of free fun, food, music — and art.
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 30. Blanton Museum of Art

Mass Gallery: “Into the Dirt”

New work by Katie Broyles, Jenelle Esparza, Haley Hill, Gabriela Muñoz, and Aziza Murray, who are all addressing landscape in a contemporary fashion.
Opening: 7 to 10 p.m. March 29. Mass Gallery, 705 Gunter St.  

“Grounded In Culver: Anika Cartterfield”

Partial Shade and Co-Lab Projects continue their “Platform” series of heavily conceptual outdoor installations at the East Austin site of the future Co-Lab facility.
Opening: 5 to 9 p.m. March 30. 5419 Glissman Road

Cambia Gallery: Gallery Warming Party

The gallery celebrates its new streamlined space with an open house from 1 to 9 p.m. March 30.  La Costa Business Park, 6448 Hwy 290 East, Suite A102

“Abraham Cruzvillagas: Hi, how are you, Gonzo?”

World-recognized Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillagas exhibits his autoconstruccións, highly improvised and always-changing sculptures of ordinary building and construction materials. For his Austin presentation at the Contemporary, Cruzvillagas has planned an eclectic series of activations — from music to cooking to skateboarding — every Tuesday and Saturday throughout the three-month exhibit. For the opening weekend, Cruzvillagas has invited Mexico City-based artists and collaborators Diego Espinosa Cruz González and Nadia Lartigue to participate.
Activations March 30 and 31 at the Contemporary Austin-Jones Center. See events page for tickets. Exhibit continues through July 14.

Installation view, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Autorreconstrucción: Social Tissue, Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland, February 16 – March 25, 2018. Artwork © Abraham Cruzvillegas. Image courtesy Kunsthaus Zürich. Photograph by Nelly Rodriguez.

 

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Seeing Things: Hannah Kenah’s “Three Shitty Sons”

Amaya Ananda Abalos as Mamu in "Three Shitty Sons" by Hannah Kenah. UT New Theatre. Photo by Lawrence Peart

Vibrant, hilarious and tender, Hannah Kenah’s “Three Shitty Sons” is an homage to Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” — a contemporary theatrical valentine sent to one of the greatest American plays of the 20th-century.

A company member of Austin-based theater collective Rude Mechs, Kenah is a Michener Fellow in playwriting at the University of Texas and “Three Shitty Sons” is receiving its debut as part of the UT New Theatre showcase. And yes — there is something both fitting and endearing that a new play that is an homage to one so legendarily performed in high schools and universities (“Our Town” has a large cast) is presented by an academic theatre program.

A deft theatrical deviser Kenah replaces the moody simplicity of Grover’s Corner, Wilder’s imaginary small town, with Hebron, another imaginary small town but one that is far more antic and where “no one is looking out for anyone.” See, in Hebron, people can be a little shitty sometimes, like the trio of none-too-bright adult sons who would really like to kill their shut-in mother whose illness, anyway, is likely not so much somatic as it is emotional.

There’s also a high-strung narrator who gives us all the backstory, a couple of dead family members that wander in and out of the action, strings of Christmas lights, a wedding, a ratty reclining chair, and a celebratory family meal with a flurry of food.

Exuberantly performed by UT theater students (Amaya Ananda Abalos displays an impressive range as Mamu, the mother) Kenah’s absurd, engaging little comedy of family dysfunction arrives in a similar place as Wilder’s epic. Community and family matter — even if other people are kinda shitty sometimes.

“Three Shitty Sons” continues through March 31 at UT New Theatre.

 

 

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Kronos Quartet searches for utopia in “A Thousand Thoughts”

    A performance of "A Thousand Thoughts." Photo by Walled Shah.

    On March 27, in Austin, Kronos Quartet will remind you that all music is temporary, and that everything will eventually end in oblivion — but in a way that’s more humanity-affirming than you’d expect.

    “A Thousand Thoughts” is a live-cinema experience directed, written, and edited by Joe Bini and Sam Green, with accompaniment by Kronos Quartet. Unlike common behind-the-music-esque documentaries, the film not only details the history of the world-renowned ensemble, but also delves into the philosophical pursuit of utopia and the fleeting nature of music.

    The performance, held at Bass Concert Hall, is presented in partnership with University of Texas’ Butler School of Music and KMFA 89.5.

    The idea for the project first began to solidify when Sam Green made a short film called “Meet Kronos Quartet” for the group’s 40th anniversary in 2014. During the interviews Green conducted for the short, David Harrington (the quartet’s founder and first violinist) discussed his idealistic pursuit for the “bulletproof” piece of music — a composition so beautiful that it could essentially save the world. The ambition of this statement deeply resonated with Green and got under his skin.

    “There was something so compelling and powerful about what he was saying, but at the same time — it’s impossible,” Green says, in a recent phone interview. “You’re making an experience for people that will eventually all just fade away, nobody will be around to remember it anymore. In some ways, that sentiment was the whole basis for this project.”

    When Green later pitched the concept for “A Thousand Thoughts” to Harrington, he was confused as to whether the project would be a movie, concert, or lecture.

    “I told him it would kind of be all three and he said ‘I love it let’s do it,’” Green recounts. “That’s something that I love about them — they’ve been around for 40 years and they’re still curious and up for anything.”

    The film features interviews from famed composers, past and present quartet members, and clips and images assembled from Kronos’ immense archives. Onstage, Green manually cues the film’s scenes and provides a live narration that lies somewhere between scholarly exposition and spoken-word poetry. All the while, the Kronos Quartet musically relives their history by performing the works that shaped their careers, including pieces by John Adams, Wu man, Terry Reilly, and much more.

    “A Thousand Thoughts” is the fourth live-cinema piece directed by Green, his first foray into the form being 2010’s “Utopia in Four Movements.” While his past works have also featured live music, this project marks the first in which a music ensemble is the primary subject. Green notes that music documentaries are well suited for live-cinema because unlike typical films, the music can actually take precedence.

    “The truth is I really generally can’t stand music documentaries. They’re always so formulaic, its 15 seconds of music and then people talking,” Green admits.

    “Kronos is not Led Zeppelin, where where all the shit that happened in the hotel rooms is interesting — their music is the most compelling thing.”

    By placing live music at the forefront of “A Thousand Thoughts,” Bini and Green also expand the traditional conventions of cinema. Instead of simply accompanying the visual images happening on screen, Kronos Quartet and the music they’re performing are instead framed as active, and even primary agents in the presentation. Green remarks that this is philosophically-contrary to the how the medium of film is usually perceived.

     

    “In cinema, you are transported to another place and another time, you are completely engrossed in what’s on the screen,” Green says. “Performance, in some ways, is the exact opposite. You are in the space with those people — you’re right here now, and the past and present don’t exist.”

    In toggling between, and even combing the best aspects of film and musical performance, “A Thousand Thoughts” presents a fluid counterpoint between the two mediums, which is only made possible by its live presentation. Green surmises that the format is a “great way to move people with the power of cinema, but also to grab them with the immediacy of performance.”

    Performance of “A Thousand Thoughts.”
    Photo by Wojciech Wandzel

    The live-quality of the show also has thematic intentions. Unlike most documentaries (or really any film), “A Thousand Thoughts” is not and will not be available on any viewing service or home release — and probably never will be. Green argues that this element of impermanence adds a weight to the project that is not often felt in today’s media. “Remember when we had to order something from Netflix and they would send it through the mail? I mean, it sounds like the 1800’s, but that was about 20 years ago,” Green muses.

    “Even then, you had expectations, you looked forward to it, and there’s something about all that  that made the experience more meaningful. This is something that you can never see on Netflix, you cannot watch on Youtube. You have to be there.”

    Like Harrington’s search for a bulletproof piece of music, the form of “A Thousand Thoughts” is forever fleeting, but Green believes the journey of its presentation is utopian in its own right.

    “I don’t think a film can make a huge difference. What I do think is that films, books, music and art can strike people very deeply and in some small way, become a part of them. That’s my highest aspiration for the things I make.”

    In searching for utopia with passion, precision, and even humor, Green, Joe Bini, and Kronos Quartet have constructed a remarkable work that explores the character of one of the world’s most prolific quartets, and in the process acts as a love letter to the ephemeral nature of music and life itself.

    “We’ll travel hundreds of miles to get there, you’ll turn your phone off, we’ll have an experience together that will never happen again in the same way,” Green says.

    “There’s something radical about that.”

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    Carrie Fountain, Rick Lowe among newly appointed Texas State artists

    Austin poet Carrie Fountain and Project Row Houses founder and Macarthur Foundation “genius” winner grant Rick Lowe are among the eight Texas state artists for 2019 and 2020, the Texas Commission on the Arts today announced today.

    The positions, created by SB 1043 of the 77th Legislature, are filled for one-year terms. Appointees will be formally announced through House and Senate Resolutions at the Capitol on March 25.

    The eight appointees for 2019 and 2020 are:

    State artists are selected by a legislative-appointed committee. Any Texas citizen is able to nominate an artist in any of the four categories and self-nominations are encouraged. The TCA reviewed all nominations and developed a list of finalists.

    The next call for nominations will take place in the fall of 2020.

    Read: “The Writing Life: Carrie Fountain, On Tackling New Genres”

    “In honoring these individuals we bring attention to the important role the arts play in shaping Texas’ cultural landscape,” said Gary Gibbs, executive director for the Texas Commission on the Arts. “These Texas State Artists are the best of the best. Their work defines our character of place and reflects the distinctive qualities that make Texas unique.”

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    The Weekly Line-up: 3.17.19

    A short and selected list of what’s good and what’s new the week of March 17, 2019.

    “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché”
    Ever heard of Alice Guy-Blaché, the first female film director? Sadly, most people have not. Directed by Pamela B. Green, a new documentary dives deep into the frustrating mystery of why Guy-Blaché — who made her first film in 1896 at age 23 and went on to write, direct, or produce more than 1,000 films — has been nearly erased from film history. Produced and narrated by Jodie Foster.
    2:30 p.m. March 23, 7:30 p.m. March 26. AFS Cinema, 6406 IH-35 

    New Music Mixer: James W. Parker
    KMFA and Sightlines present the New Music Mixer, a monthly happy hour series for classical music nerds and newbies alike at Friends and Allies Brewing. Join us for our next event with featured composer James W. Parker. Enjoy $1 off locally brewed pints and mingle with folks who love new music.
    5 to 7 p.m. with composer talk at 6 p.m. Friends & Allies, 979 Springdale Road

    Hotel Ella Salon Series: Leslie Blair & Virginia Cumberbatch
    Leslie Blair and Virginia Cumberbatch, authors of “As We Saw It: The Story of Integration at the University of Texas at Austin,” will guide a discussion on race and space in Austin. Co-hosted by Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum.
    6 p.m. March 19th, Hotel Ella, 1900 Rio Grande.

    Poetry and War: A Reading and Conversation
    Dunya Mikhail was forced to flee Iraq in the wake of the first Gulf War. She is the author of “The Iraqi Nights” (2014), “The War Works Hard” (2005), and “The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq” (2018). Brian Turner served in the US Army with deployments in Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is the author of two poetry collections, “Here, Bullet” (2005) and “Phantom Noise” (2010), and his memoir, “My Life and a Foreign Country,” was published in 2014.
    7 p.m. March 21, Harry Ransom Center. Free. hrc.utexas.edu/events

    “Antigonik”
    Salvage Vanguard Theater’s co-producing artistic director Diana Lynn Small, stages a new production of “Antigonick,” a new translation of Sophocles’ “Antigone” strangely reimagined by the inimitable classics scholar and award-winning poet Anne Caron. “Antigonick” stretches the boundaries of story in poetry and theater and asks, “What can one woman do in the face of unjust laws?” What is she willing to sacrifice?”
    March 21-April 6, Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road. salvagevanguard.org

    Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera
    The fourth annual showcase of new micro-operas, each no more than 20 minutes long. March 22-31, Museum of Human Achievement, 916 Springdale Road
    Read: “One Ounce Opera’s festival of micro-operas offers fresh musical stories”

    “When They Appear: Larry Graeber & Marilyn Jolly”
    A dialogue in sculpture, painting and mixed media collage between the two artists and their relationship to time, space, and where we fit within it.
    Opening: 7 to 10 p.m. March 23. Grayduck Gallery, 2213 E. Cesar Chavez St.

    Golden Hornet’s 4th Annual Young Composer Concert
    Inventive chamber ensemble Tetractys performs 15 new works by composers between the ages of eight and 18, in Golden Hornet’s yearly showcase of the freshest of fresh young talent. The family-friendly concert, is “an investment in the continued life of the new music community,” says Kate Murray, Golden Hornet managing director.
    2 p.m. March 24, North Door, 501 Brushy St. Tickets, starting at $5, here.

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    Does Austin have a new festival of new opera? Almost

      The Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera festival is performed in the Museum of Human Achievement, a warehouse arts space in East Austin. Photo by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin/Sightlines.

      There’s no wrist band, but there is a “Five Weeks of Opera” punch card. And if the trio of Austin arts leaders behind the current continuous stretch of new opera are reluctant to call it new festival in already festival-fatigued city, they’re embracing, and promoting, the kismet of it all.

      “It’s a result of fortuitous timing,” says Julie Fiore, founder of One Ounce Opera and newly-appointed Director of Audience Experience for Austin Opera. “We didn’t necessarily set out to have five consecutive weekends of new opera. But when the schedules all lined up consecutively, it just made sense to us to point that out and present it together to the public.”

      The marathon started with LOLA’s production of “Lardo Weeping,” an operatic portrait of a reclusive, idiosyncratic woman, a new work-in-progress by Austin composer Peter Stopschinski. The action continues with One Ounce Opera’s “Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera” March 22-31, an annual showcase of new micro-operas, each no more than 20 minutes long. And Austin Opera culminates the celebration April 5 and 6 with the launch its new Opera ATX initiative. David T. Little’s “Soldier Songs,” a one-hour multimedia one-opera that incorporates video, theater, and rock-inspired musical themes, presenting an intimate view of war through the personal stories of veterans.

      Fiore calls her popular, annual Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera production, which is staged in the unpolished East Austin warehouse venue, the Museum of Human Achievement, “a gateway drug for other opera.”

      Read: “One Ounce Opera’s festival of micro-operas offers fresh musical stories”

      “The more that One Ounce and LOLA can be the boots on the ground for new opera, the more that we can get people in the door for OperaATX and traditional productions  that Austin Opera has.”

      Read: “Alone with the audience: ‘Lardo Weeping’ is opera in the making”

      Opera-seeing, after all, begets more opera-seeing. Usually.

      “The real challenge in building an audience for opera doesn’t not lie in attracting new audiences, but in retaining them,” says Annie Burridge, Austin Opera managing director and CEO. “Across the industry, we retain only 10 percent of new audience members. So the more entry points we can offer people to opera, the better.”

      It makes sense from an arts employment perspective too.

      “(Austin Opera) depends upon local talent — high caliber classical musicians and singers,” says Burridge. “So the more opportunities that classical singers have in Austin only increases the likelihood they’ll that those singers will stay and we’ll have the talent pool we need.”

      Plans to align the schedules, and marketing of OperaATX’s 2020 production, “Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera” and LOLA’s premiere of “Lardo Weeping” next year are underway.

      In the meantime, bring the punch card to “Solider Songs” and if you have two or three punches, you’ll be eligible for prizes.

       

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      Bryan Washington captures a specific, contemporary Houston

      Bryan Washington. Photo by David Garcia.

      Bryan Washington is a writer from Houston. His fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Timesthe New York Times MagazineThe New YorkerBuzzFeedVultureThe Paris ReviewBoston ReviewTin HouseOne StoryBon AppétitMUNCHIESAmerican Short FictionGQFADERThe AwlHazlitt, and Catapult, where he wrote a column called “Bayou Diaries.”

      His first book, the short story collection “Lot,” comes out March 19 from Riverhead. You can catch the 25-year-old Washington in person at Austin’s BookPeople on March 20 for a reading and book signing.

      I chatted with Washington on the phone this week. We spoke about the importance of Houston in his work, his arduous world-building process, and crafting a magical adventure buddy comedy story about characters who don’t often get to experience that kind of narrative.

      Amanda Faraone: I wanted to talk first about setting because it’s such an important part of your work. Houston looms large both in your collection and in essays I’ve read from your column on Catapult. When you started working on this collection, did you always know that Houston was going to be the main through-line or was that something that emerged in your work more organically?

      Bryan Washington: I think it was the latter. It emerged over the course of 4 or 5 or 6 stories. It wasn’t a question for me of whether the stories would be set in Houston, because they kind of were by default. I don’t know that it was a very intentional decision to bring out the characteristics of each hub. But when I started thinking about the work as a collection and a cohesive whole, my original goal was to have the through-line be Houston and each story represent a hub from the city — and that ended up falling through when I became attached to a handful of narratives and a handful of the voices that those narratives belonged to. It was when I started focusing on their specific concerns and their specific conflicts that their individual experiences of the city began to color the rest of their stories, and in that way, writing about their Houstons became a lot easier, because the question on my end became less of, “How do I write about Houston en masse?” and more, “How do I write about this specific character’s experience of Houston?” and, “How does this specific iteration of Houston relate to their problems and what they’re trying to do in their lives?”

      AF: That makes a lot of sense to me. And I thought you had such strong characters throughout your collection. They felt very fresh and alive to me and not like characters I’d seen before, which was exciting. I did notice that some characters get repeated and keep coming back and many of the protagonists have a similar viewpoint. I was wondering if you had considered or would consider going even further and creating a novel with any of those characters because they felt like they had such rich backstories.

      BW: It means a lot, hearing that they read as having rich backstories. A part of that was due to my trying to build a world for each of those characters and in the process of building a world, let’s say a story is 4,000 words, I probably wrote at least 25- to 35,000 for each of those characters within that specific story trying to get a sense of who they were and how they navigated the world. I had to do that in order for them to be a bit more real to me and for their voices to become more seamless for me. It was through that over-writing that I was able to fall into what felt comfortable for me in terms of projecting their voice and getting them out there.

      I don’t know that I would throw them into a novel right now. I just finished another novel but the characters are different — although it has quite a lot to do with Houston still. But I think working with my editor was pivotal in terms of making each of the respective narratives into a cohesive whole because she saw what the book could be and we worked to weave everything together, so that instead of many stories about various Houstons, it became a collection that was projecting a very specific mood of the city.

      AF: I love hearing about your process and how much work you did on those characters. I heard another Texas writer, Bret Anthony Johnston, who runs the Michener Center for Writers now, speak once, and he was talking about the difference between writing a story and a novel. And he said, “You do the same amount of work and at the end of the story process you have 20 pages and at the end of the novel process you have 300 pages.”

      BW: I agree, 100 percent. The amount of emotional toil that goes into a story, at least for me — and I guess, for Johnston as well — is not terribly different from what goes into a novel. Because even though the length might be significantly shorter, the scope and the weight that you’re trying to imbue in a short story should reach for that which you find in a novel, because you want it to have that same impact and lingering effect. You don’t want to bore a reader, most of all, for me — and that’s going to require work, irrespective of the form you’re working in.

      AF: I did want to talk about the story “Bayou” from your collection. I loved the characters and this buddy adventure story you tell centered around this magical animal. What sparked you to write that story? And in the process of working on it, how did you know when it clicked and was building in the right way?

      BW: Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it, that means a lot. It was one of the stories that took the longest to write out of any in the collection, partly because it was difficult to get the mood that I wanted for that particular story, to where it was funny when it needed to be funny and had weight where it needed to have weight, and there was a certain sentimentality that I wanted to try and imbue throughout it without it being a sentimental story. It was just really difficult to do that.

      I think my original aim was reading and watching any number of narratives where you have a neighborhood or community where this unreal or magical element enters the community, and more often than not it was three white kids — specifically, 3 white cis boys— who found something somewhere and they go on this crazy adventure and they come back and everything’s different for the rest of their lives. I wondered what would happen if you took those same elements and you brought them to a different community and to a set of protagonists who were more familiar to me but were perhaps very unfamiliar to the possibility of that kind of narrative touching them. And that in itself was interesting to me.

      I was lucky because I edited that story with Patrick Ryan, who’s over at One Story, and he was so great and so helpful when it came to adjusting certain moments, heightening the mood in one area or another, and knowing when to cut back on dialogue and when to enhance it—he was really insightful. And when I was working on the collection at large with Laura Perciasepe, who is my editor at Riverhead, she’s just a genius and she was helpful at heightening certain themes and moments throughout that story so that it could become closer to what I wanted to try and make it in the end.

      AF: Throughout this process, from working on your collection to publishing it and now being in the promotion stage, what’s been the most challenging part? And what’s been the most rewarding thing that you didn’t expect in this process?

      BW: I think the actual press cycle is the most challenging thing. It’s a very different muscle from sitting down and working on a project — cause it’s you for the longest time and then maybe your friends, if you show your friends, and at some point, your agent, if you have an agent, and then your editor, but it’s a very contained process.

      What’s been an adjustment for me hasn’t been putting the collection out in the world but putting yourself out in the world and talking about it. But I don’t have any complaints — it’s been a really cool process and I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of cool people, such as yourself, and I’ve enjoyed that process.

      I think the thing I’ve enjoyed the most so far is meeting booksellers. Just getting to chat with them about Lot, but also about the ways in which they’re able to negotiate this industry, and what brought them to bookselling, and how they’re navigating it currently, and what they’re reading, and what they’re drawn to. Meeting the folks that are actually in the indie bookstores doing the work — pushing narratives out in the world — has been super cool.

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      One Ounce Opera’s festival of micro-operas offers fresh musical stories

        Maureen Broy Papovich, Julie Silva, and Robert LeBas performing "Remembering Landscape" by Marvin J. Carlton and Madeleine St. Romain in the 2017 Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera festival. Photo by Roy Moore/Control Images.

        For Julie Fiore, opera is so much more than hours-long epic tales of centuries past. The Austin-based soprano believes it’s a powerful medium for telling any story.

        “I think that it’s maybe the most human of all of the art forms when it comes to getting a story across,” she explains.

        She points to the world of contemporary opera, which connects opera-loving audiences with topics that feel fresh and relevant. “I enjoy hearing stories that are so much more like (my own experience), exploring current topics or trends.”

        Seven years ago, Fiore banded together with a group of fellow singers to found One Ounce Opera, an opera company dedicated to exploring alternatives to the traditional opera house experience.

        “We started by singing in bars,” says Fiore, reflecting back on the company’s early days. “The idea was to take operatic (repertoire) and bring it right to where people are going to be anyway.”

        The format was a hit. As One Ounce Opera’s popularity grew, Fiore noticed an unexpected trend in her email inbox: She began receiving opera scores. What first began as a trickle — local composers sharing their new work — eventually grew to a steady stream of new operas from artists around the country.

        “A lot of times, what they would send to me would be shorter works,” explains Fiore. “As all these ‘micro-operas’ started to come into my inbox, I began to really enjoy the short format and all the variety. It seemed to make perfect sense to pick out a few and put them in a showcase together.”

        The outcome was the first Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera festival, in the spring of 2016. Fiore and the One Ounce Opera company selected five contemporary micro-operas for the program, each between ten and twenty minutes in length. In keeping with the group’s penchant for alternative venues, the festival was held at the Museum of Human Achievement, a warehouse space adjacent to the Canopy arts complex in East Austin.

        The Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera festival is performed in the Museum of Human Achievement, a warehouse arts space in East Austin. Photo by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin/Sightlines.

        Fast forward to 2019: Fiore and her team are in the midst of rehearsals for the fourth Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera festival. The annual production is now One Ounce Opera’s signature event.

        It’s a hit among the performers, too. Singers return to the One Ounce Opera company year after year. According to Fiore, many of the artists have participated since the organization’s early days, when they would gather to sing arias in local pubs. And seven of the 14 cast members in this year’s Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera production have been with One Ounce Opera since the very first show in 2012.

        Fiore has managed to retain the scrappy, grassroots character of that inaugural Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera performance.

        “We’re still in a raw warehouse space in East Austin, we’re still building (all the sets) from scratch, we’re still creating the atmosphere of a community event where everyone is invited,” says Fiore. “And we’re still choosing works that are focused on topics that are current, or things that we’re curious about as artists, or are just so cool we can’t pass them up.”

        This year, Fiore chose four operas from a pool of 32 submissions. The selections run the gamut from comedy to drama, futuristic science fiction to ancient myth. Coincidentally, all  feature women in central roles, each highlighting various aspects of the female experience.

        “The Whole Truth”  by composer Robert Paterson and librettist Mark Campbell, delves into the inner world of a woman named Megan as she navigates relationships and interpersonal drama.

        “It seems like she has a devil on her shoulder and that’s the only one that she’s listening to,” hints Fiore.

        As an opera based on a work of literature (it’s based on a short story by Stephen McCauley), “The Whole Truth” utilizes casting to emphasize Megan’s inner conflict. Two different female singers portray the central character, while a lone baritone plays the six men who revolve around Megan’s life.

        This isn’t the first time one of Campbell’s operas has come to Austin. His Pulitzer Prize-winning opera “Silent Night”, a collaboration with composer Kevin Puts, was performed earlier this year by Austin Opera.

        A retelling of the Greek story of Eros and Psyche, “Sukey in the Dark” balances the seriousness of the protagonist, Sukey (Psyche) with the witty banter of her two sisters, Chloe and Zoe. Composer Thomas Whitman and librettist Nathalie Anderson intertwine emotional intensity and clever comedy in this modernization of ancient myth.

        “The Cookies Call, A Tragic Tragedy” injects light-hearted vaudevillian fun into the program. Composer Peter Michael von der Nahmer and librettist Emily Roller’s comedic tale of a woman grappling with temptation provides many opportunities for melodrama and farce.

        In “The Boy Who Wanted to be a Robot”, Portuguese composer Pedro F. Finisterra and librettist Edward Einhorn transport the audience to a distant dystopian future on an Earth where few humans remain. When a little boy raised by robots meets his new teacher, a human woman, his perspective on the world is changed. Eventually, he must decide if he wants to remain a human or become a robot.

        For this year’s festival, Fiore has joined forces with stage director Linda Nenno, who is directing three of the operas on the program. (“The Boy Who Wanted to be a Robot” is directed by Alexandra Saulsbury.) A theater instructor at Texas State University, Nenno divides her spare time between projects in Austin, New York City, and Los Angeles. Although she has directed plays and musicals, this is Nenno’s first experience directing opera. As a seasoned director who is an operatic newcomer, she brings both a depth of experience and a fresh perspective to the production.

        “When Julie and I talked about me directing, I said to her, ‘If you’re interested in having the singers just stand around and sing, I’m not the director you want,’” chuckles Nenno. “I’m asking the singers to physically do a lot more than some of them have been doing in the past. But so far they seem really excited about it. They’re very open to exploring in a way that will open them up as actors too.”

        Nenno’s favorite moments are when acting, music, and song all blend to create a powerful experience for the viewer. She describes a scene in “The Whole Truth” when Megan’s troubles reach a climactic point. “That moment (in the opera) is really exciting. I’m asking the singers to do some very physical (acting) there. They are so game and are really going for it. That’s what opera can do, really give you that heightened emotion.”

        Veronica Williams, mezzo soprano (foreground) and Charissa Memrick, soprano (background) in a scene from “Alex in Transition,” an opera by Anthony R. Green, performed at the 2018 Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera Festival.

        This year’s Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera is part of a city-wide new opera marathon spanning five consecutive weekends in March and April. A collaboration between One Ounce Opera and partner organizations Austin Opera and LOLA, the event shines a spotlight on innovation in the opera world and encourages audiences to explore contemporary work by living composers.

        The marathon began with LOLA’s production of “Lardo Weeping”, an operatic portrait of a reclusive, idiosyncratic woman. The action continues with Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera festival in late March.

        To culminate the five-week marathon, Austin Opera launches the new Opera ATX initiative in early April with a performance of Bill Morrison’s “Soldier Songs.” The multimedia one-vocalist opera incorporates video, theater, and rock-inspired musical themes, presenting an intimate view of war through the personal stories of veterans.

        With so many opportunities to experience opera, Fiore is excited for local audiences to discover new works that feel meaningful and relevant.

        “I really hope that the audience comes away with a feeling that a story was told,” she says. “I hope that at least one of the (Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera) pieces changes the way that they think about opera, or what they think opera is capable of in terms of telling a story.”

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        Sinclair Black donates $5 million to UT School of Architecture for urban design studies

        Sinclair Black's "Reconnect Austin" proposal to submerges IH-35. Image courtesy Black + Vernooy

        Austin architect and University of Texas professor emeritus Sinclair Black has donated $5 million to the university’s School of Architecture to to support the field of urban design, school officials announced this week.

        Black, who taught at UT for 50 years, gave $1 million upon his retirement in 2017 to establish the Sinclair Black Endowed Chair in the Architecture of Urbanism. And now he  has committed an additional $4 million to further support the study and teaching of urban design and to advance the school’s partnerships with the City of Austin and other community-serving organizations.

        Sinclair Black

        Funds will be used to support urban design faculty, bring in visiting critics, recruit graduate students, sponsor events and activities, and support students with interest in the field.

        “The very best urban design occurs when physical design skills intersect with both private opportunities and enlightened public policy,” said Black in a statement. “The University of Texas at Austin has the creativity, cutting-edge technology, and thought leaders which, when combined with this funding, will create paradigm-changing urban design solutions that benefit Austin and serve as best practice examples for other American cities. I expect great things to come from this.”

        Black received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from UT in 1962, a Master of Architecture degree from The University of California, Berkeley, in 1970 and went on to establish the firm Black + Vernooy in downtown Austin. Some of his projects include the Great Streets Master Plan for the City of Austin, 2nd Street District, Cedar Street Courtyard and Reconnect Austin, a grassroots campaign to bury IH-35 through downtown Austin.

         

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