Our Annual Thanks to the Houston Arts Scene

Venus in Fur with Nicole Rodenburg as Vanda and Michael Bakkensen was just one of many endeavors that fired up the Houston arts scene in the past year
Venus in Fur with Nicole Rodenburg as Vanda and Michael Bakkensen was just one of many endeavors that fired up the Houston arts scene in the past year
Photo by Jann Whaley

It's become a tradition to ask our Art Attack bloggers what they are thankful for in the Houston arts scene this year. Here's this year's reaction:

Think of our performing arts scene as a grand banquet, a great groaning board full of savory dishes. Just since the official opening of the current season, look upon the entrees we've already tasted: classic fare like Main Street's The Real Thing; Houston Ballet's The Merry Widow; the Alley's You Can't Take It With You; Houston Grand Opera's Aida; A.D. Players' Arsenic and Old Lace, all prepared by the finest of chefs.

Then there were the mouth-watering side dishes, like TUTS new underground series that began with the grunge musical Lizzie; GEXA on Broadway's Peter and the Starcatcher and Chicago; and the Alley's Venus in Fur, the flavors were tantalizing. And let's not forget the highly spiced appetizers: Music Box Musicals' Avenue Q; Mildred's Umbrella's Carnival Round; Catastrophic's The Pine, Bayou City Concert Musicals' The Pajama Game. The food never stops, it's finely served, and just makes you hungry for more.

Not satisfied yet, just wait. Look what's in store for the next seating: 50 Shades of Grey; Wagner's Das Rheingold; Other Desert Cities, Aladdin, The Diary of Anne Frank, Vera Stark, American Idiot. The banquet in Houston never stops. Go gorge yourself, giving thanks all the while for Houston's performing arts bounty which is, as we all know, food fit for the gods. - D.L. Groover

I've written several Creatives profiles this year and I am so grateful to see so many people in Houston making a living (or at least a go) at a lifestyle that does not require sitting inside a cubicle. It gives me immense confidence in the creative diversity of this city. It's also so inspiring on a personal level to talk to people who are overwhelmingly passionate about what they do. That makes me want to be a better writer. - Brittanie Shey

I am grateful to Rice University for staging the irresistible A Midsummer Night's Dream outdoors under a giant oak, lit dramatically by Dustin Tannahill to evoke the power of nature - and human nature. And the actor playing Puck, Daniel Burns, whose gymnastic skills further enhanced an already engaging production. The Cabal Productions' intimate and witty production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, allowing me to forget the slick, heartless production I had seen in London.

The costume designs for Wild Party from Bayou Theatrics, where the character-driven outfits matched the personalities - and fit beautifully as well. The one-man show Man 1 Bank 0 which launched Theater LaB Houston's return to producing, in a new venue, with Patrick Combs holding the audience in the palm of his hand for well over two exciting hours. James Pendleton as Cassius, in UH Downtown's production of Julius Caesar - his magnetic stage presence, resonant voice and nuanced reactions made clear that, in an informal production, some important theater was underway.

Joe Kirkendall in The Real Thing from Main Street, giving a remarkable, nuanced performance that was letter-perfect, captivating in its authenticity and refreshing in the vigor he brought to the role of a playwright. The detailed set for Sweeney Todd, from Stage Door, Inc. in Pasadena, far beyond any reasonable expectations, rising to brilliance. The late Arthur Miller for creating John Proctor in The Crucible, an Everyman who is pulsing with the excitement and wonder of everyday life, while remaining an individual caught up in an impossibly difficult moral dilemma. There is more, much more, and I am personally grateful for being able to witness so much of Houston's varied and increasingly interesting theatrical scene. -- Jim J. Tommaney

Being the resident Houston Press nerd is a great gig because it's a wonderful time to be a nerd. All year long I've had things like the Doctor Who 50th anniversary and the return of Neil Gaiman's Sandman to look forward to. That I should live to see the day I'm paid to talk about these things...

More than any of that, though, I am thankful for the string of incredible video games I got to cover this year. Seriously, it was a good one for the last days of the PS3. Tomb Raider was so amazing that I beat it, sold it, and then bought it again just to feel that rush of excitement as the rebooted Lara Croft learned discovered the strength inside her to be the ultimate survivor. Then, we had The Last of Us, another title that has helped take video game story telling to new heights. While it's never going to hold a candle to the terror something like Amnesia inspires, it makes up for that with the white-knuckle dread and the hopeless social commentary of what makes us monsters. Beyond: Two Souls, Poker Night 2, and freakin' Bioshock Infinite all made 2013 my favorite year as a video game reviewer, and offered me so many wonderful nights relaxing at home in these increasingly unbelievable worlds that makers have created. It's the best kind of job, and I'm very happy to have it. -- Jef With One F

Story continues on the next page.


The War of the Worlds reading: aliens, Orson Wells and radio history, what could be better?
The War of the Worlds reading: aliens, Orson Wells and radio history, what could be better?
Photo by Ashli Hill

A lot of the things I liked best this year had to do with surprises. I went to see The War of the Worlds reading at Stark Naked Theatre thinking OK this will be a bit of pre-Halloween fun and found myself caught up not only in the re-creation of the famous radio broadcast but the fascinating back story that went with it, delivered by director, co-founder Philip Lehl. The three-act Don Pasquale at Opera in the Heights sped by with a hilarious story, incredible voices and the exuberance of Enrique Carreon-Robledo and his orchestra - what they do in that old creaky church is fantastic. The Houston Ballet's performance of The Merry Widow was both breath-taking and fun and with Mireille Hassenboehler's final appearance with the company, a beautiful and poignant reminder to see these artists when you can; they won't be onstage forever.

I'm thankful that we at the Houston Press are able to continue to encourage the arts in Houston with our MasterMind Awards complete with a grant and that our Houston Theater Awards have had such a good reception. We hold a party honoring the winners and when all those actors and other theater people cheer each other on, it's just a glorious feeling in the room.

I continue to be thankful for the outreach/discounted tickets and other avenues offered by companies like the Houston Grand Opera's HGOco, Alley Theatre, Theatre Under the Stars, Main Street Theater - in fact any company that makes it possible - even in this age of diminished field trips - for kids to get swept up in the arts. For the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that values crafts, quilts and student art competition. And for the Houston Public Library system which finally got back a lot of its hours, proving it is more important than ever if we want to keep thinking. And a special thanks for its audiobooks collection which has kept me from many a meltdown while tied up in Houston traffic.

I am thankful for the people who write for Art Attack, who care so much about Houston's culture and direct their passion into highlighting various parts of the local scene. Mostly I am thankful for how hard all artists work to keep their dream of performing their art alive, and how much this makes Houston and its area a better place to live. -- Margaret Downing

I am thankful to have seen this year world-class art, theater and dance alongside experimental and underground art, theater and dance within blocks from each other. Every year the performing arts in Houston get better and better and I lucky to be able to be right in the middle of the action. -- Abby Koenig

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The final day of Fashion Houston this year
The final day of Fashion Houston this year
Photo by Keith Luter, Jr., JAXON EP

This Thanksgiving I find that the Houston arts scene is jammed with people, companies and performances for which I'm very grateful. For me, the highlight of the season so far was Nicole Rodenberg' mesmerizing performance in Venus in Fur at the Alley Theatre. Rodenberg was wonderful as Vanda, an off-beat, slightly wacky actress who cajoles a weary director into letting her audition for his play. Michael Bakkensen appeared as Thomas, a director who's having trouble casting his show. Rodenberg was hypnotic on stage; with a glance or a turn of her head, she would seemingly transform from a kooky, klutzy scatterbrain to a completely-in-control seductress. She was phenomenal. Kudos to Bakkensen for keeping up with her; Rodenberg's Vanda would have pulverized a lessor actor. And, of course, Venus director Brandon Weinbrenner deserves much praise for drawing such a powerful performance out of his lead actress (and former school chum).

Both Rodenberg and Bakkensen were out-of-town actors brought in for Venus in Fur. While I'm grateful for the chance to see New York actors in Houston shows, I'm also grateful to theater companies like Stark Naked Theatre and Bayou City Theatrics for their commitment to casting local talent in their productions. (Earlier this season, Bayou City mounted the first ever production of Les Misérables with an all Houston roster of talent both on and off stage. Really? It's 2013 and we just now got an all-Houston Les Mis mounted?)

I'm grateful for photographers across the city, like Chuy Benitez, Lou Vest and our own Abrahan Garza for documenting the changing Houston landscape, capturing images of communities and buildings before they're lost to the wrecking ball (we love to tear stuff down in Houston, don't we?).

I'm grateful for local artists who stretch and change, such as Ashley Horn, who is not only a dancer and choreographer, she's a costume and set designer and a filmmaker. There's also Jade Simmons, a classically trained pianist who tried her hand at rap influenced work.

I'm grateful for all the other people in the audience who stare down and shush the miscreants who still haven't gotten the message: Once the show starts, you should shut up. (And to the exceedingly talkative woman who sat behind me at the opening night of the Alley Theatre's Red a couple of seasons ago and ruined what was otherwise a wonderful evening with her non-stop inane blabbering, please do the rest of Houston's theater goers a favor and keep your chatty ass at home. Wait for the movie, actually no, scratch that. Wait for the Blu-ray. I don't want you in a movie theater either.)

And finally, I'm grateful for the theater district's Birraporetti's quick-serve policy. If I ever miss a curtain, it's not their fault. - Olivia Flores Alvarez

I am extremely grateful that I write for the Houston Press, for two main reasons. First, writing about Houston helped to make me feel at home after I moved here in 2010. It was a huge transition--geographically, culturally (in every way imaginable, really)--but having a job that pushed me to meet people and get involved in things I enjoy (food, arts, literature, fashion) helped me settle in. Second, I get to go to some amazing events that I might not otherwise attend--like Fashion Houston--and meet and interview some pretty rad celebs (Christian Siriano, Nicole Miller). Sure, working at home in my PJs all day--while writing about fashion HA HA!--is a great way to make a living, but my favorite Houston Press freelancer moments have come when I put on pants and went out into the world. Thanks for making me put on pants, HP! -- Christina Uticone

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