Announcing the 2013 MasterMind Winners

It's hard to believe it's already five years since the Houston Press started out to recognize some of the wonderful artistic talent we have in Houston with the MasterMind Awards.

This year was as tough as any; in fact, for the first time ever, the panel of judges had to meet repeatedly as they debated the possibilities. This wasn't because there weren't enough — rather the reverse, with so many individuals and groups who did great work in the past year. Again, this isn't meant as a lifetime achievement award but in recognition of what is going on now.

As in years past, we checked on how our previous winners had done. As our Brittanie Shey reported in November, it turns out 2012 was a good year for last year's winners as well.

The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, dedicated to the history of African-American soldiers in the United States, was able to move to a new home after the renovation of the 1925 Houston Light Guard Armory Building. Aptly enough, the move was made on Veterans Day. It came after the increased public recognition from the MasterMind Award. Captain Paul Matthews, founder of the museum, said the organization passed out copies of our issue in which they were the cover shot. "It was an opportunity for us to reach a new audience, some of whom had never even heard of Buffalo Soldiers, except the Bob Marley song," he said.

Alex "Pr!mo" Luster, filmmaker, made the documentary film Stick 'Em Up! about Houston's street poster artists. Since MasterMinds, Luster has had several screenings of his film, which won Best Feature Documentary at the Gulf Coast Film & Video Festival a few months ago and screened at festivals in Canada and Mexico. Luster, who called the MasterMinds exposure "awesome," used the cash to move his documentary out to an even bigger audience. "People had been waiting so long; we used it to distribute the DVD. We didn't want to wait any longer."

The Pilot Light Restaurant Group, namely chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan, were providing private dinners out of a men's clothing store when they received their MasterMind Award. Unfortunately, the recognition got them a visit and subsequent shutdown by the city health department. But the $2,000 check helped tide them over till they were able to move into their own multi-concept restaurant, The Pass & Provisions, which opened last September. "There are probably people out there who are working on things and haven't figured it all out yet. It's cool to get recognition for something you wouldn't normally get recognized for," Siegel-­Gardner said.

All of this year's winners will be honored in a special ceremony at the Houston Press Artopia® Party — celebrating the arts — on Saturday, January 26, at Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter.

This year's winners are:

Opera in the Heights: Operating out of a converted church building in the Heights, this opera company has seen the quality of its productions rise dramatically in the last year. Now it's attracting even more singers of top caliber and decided to focus its 2012-13 season on works by Verdi, Bellini and Rossini with characters out of Shakespeare. At the helm as artistic director is Enrique Carreón-Robledo, a conductor who's internationally known for his interpretations of opera, ballet and ­symphonies.

Karen Stokes Dance: Karen Stokes has been a working choreographer and company manager in Houston for years; in 2011 Karen Stokes Dance was born, a modern dance company known for quirky work. This past year, Stokes added cameras to the mix, filming performances as a way to get the group's work out to more people. Stokes also started using the filming to train her dancers between rehearsal sessions so they could come to practice better prepared. Karen Stokes Dance also reaches out to the community, having set up a field-trip program so area school kids get to see performers.

Stark Naked Theatre: Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin launched Stark Naked Theatre because they believed there was a shortage of smaller theaters in Houston doing high-quality work and paying actors at competitive levels. Their first play of the 2012-13 season, Body Awareness, received critical acclaim, and Tobin supplemented the performances by bringing in a visual art exhibition with work from local artists related to the play's theme. In addition, Tobin continues to run her actors studio, founded in 2009 at Spring Street Studios, where she teaches the Konstantin Stanislavski and Stella Adler acting techniques.

Opera in the Heights

Maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo has what he calls good problems. The Crystal Globe nominee joined Opera in the Heights in 2011 as artistic director and promptly set about raising the bar for the company. Oh!, already well-respected in the opera scene, refocused its energy and began working toward mounting even better, though not necessarily bigger, productions. When Carreón-Robledo began ­auditions for the company's ambitious all-Shakespeare 2012-2013 season (Rossini's rarely performed Otello, Bellini's I Capuleti e I Montecchi, and Verdi's Macbeth and Falstaff ), he found that the singers vying for roles were of a significantly higher quality than even those he had seen just a year before. "Their experience, their level of proficiency, was very impressive. It's inspiring to see that people of that quality want to come to Opera in the Heights. It makes my work harder and harder to choose a cast, of course. But that's a good problem to have, I think," he laughs.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Olivia Flores Alvarez