The weather was perfect, the music was thumping, and art from almost three dozen artists and photographers covered the walls of Winter Street Studios, making Saturday night's Houston Press Artopia the hottest ticket in town. After local favorites Gio Chamba played the opening set on the music stage, we honored this year's 2016 MasterMind® winners in a ceremony attended by family and friends.
Horse Head Theatre Co., which wowed us with its out-of-the-box and into the belly of the whale production last year, was named one of our 2016 MasterMind® Award winners. Accepting the award on behalf of Horse Head were Joe Machado, president of the board of directors; Kevin Holden, founding artistic director; Philip Hays, newest company member; and Jacey Little, artistic director. From the company's ambitious production of Abby Koenig's Spaghetti Code, which dabbled in the touchy subjects of abortion and infertility; to playwright Timothy N. Evers's The Whale; or, Moby-Dick, for which Horse Head erected a geodesic dome on the banks of Buffalo Bayou and engaged the audience in the shared goal of trying to escape; to helping create the immersive experience for the regional premiere of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (produced by Stages Repertory Theatre), these creatives really made us sit up and take notice. The bar has been set.
The EMERGE program at Houston Independent School District has grown exponentially since 2010's trial fellowship by then-teacher Rick Cruz and a team of volunteers, one of the reasons we named the program one of our 2016 MasterMind® Award winners. From helping 14 students in its inaugural year — most of them first-generation college-goers — to this year's growing ranks of 700 to 750 kids, EMERGE has paved the way for students to attend Ivy League and Tier One colleges and universities. Accepting the award for EMERGE were Jharrett Bryantt, senior manager; aspiring writer Deangelo Val, who is heading to Columbia University; Rick Cruz, who was just named HISD’s new chief of major projects; and Leslie Benavides, who intends to major in either political science or psychology at Brown University in her pursuit of a law degree. Through EMERGE Fellowship, EMERGE has also just expanded to Spring Branch ISD and hopes to expand to additional school districts in the Houston area.
Our third 2016 MasterMind® Award winner — University of Houston's Moores Opera Center — continues to wow us with its powerhouse singers, elaborate sets and ambitious productions. Accepting the honor on behalf of Moores was Buck Ross, director and founder of the program. For five years in a row, the school’s productions have earned top honors from the National Opera Association; this year Rappaccini’s Daughter won first place in Division V, while the local premiere of Frau Margot placed second. It was October’s production of Jules Massenet’s Manon, however, that best demonstrates the school’s ability not only to take on massive productions, but also to make them seem effortless. Moores had 60 people onstage and another 60 in the pit, pulling off the 120-member cast with the skill and talent of any leading professional opera house.
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Houston Press Artopia 2016 had great music (Gio Chamba, Say Girl Say, Catch Fever and DJ CeePlus Bad Knives), six shows on the fashion stage (Mod Chic, Chester Paul Roberts, Pardon My Fash-Uhn and Samo Dinero, plus performances by Fly Dance Company), and fabulous food from many of our favorite restaurants. There were printed-on-the-spot souvenir posters from Black Swan Screen Printing, a Jumper Maybach-hosted VIP lounge with food by Harvest Organic Grille and Boheme, and plenty to drink from all of our fabulous sponsors. We enjoyed samplings from some of our favorite restaurants: BB's Café, Cajun Shop, Cumbia Coffee, dgn Factory, Eculent, KUU, Pollo Tropical, Texas de Brazil Churrascaria, Thai Spice and The Tipsy Dessert Bar.