Things To Do

Best Bets: Duke Ellington, JLF and Viet Cultural Fest

The Butler Studio Showcase returns to the Wortham Theater Center.
The Butler Studio Showcase returns to the Wortham Theater Center. Photo by Lynn Lane

Today is “Are You Okay Day” in Australia, and our suggestion is for Houstonians to take it a step further and not only check on your loved ones but also invite them out to spend some time together. If you do, keep reading for our list of the best things to do this coming week.

Get your first look at the class of 2024 at the Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio on Thursday, September 14, at 7 p.m. when Houston Grand Opera presents this year’s Butler Studio Showcase at the Wortham Theater Center. The artists who will perform excerpts – staged and costumed – from works such as Gaetano Donizetti's La favorite, Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus and Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly this year are baritone Navasard Hakobyan (who took first place at the Concert of Arias in 2022); sopranos Meryl Dominguez and Renée Richardson; mezzo-sopranos Ani Kushyan, Emily Treigle and Erin Wagner; tenors Michael McDermott and Demetrious Sampson, Jr.; and pianists/coaches Michelle Papenfuss and Marco Rizzello. Tickets for the annual concert event are available here for $20.

Houston is known for being one of the most diverse cities in the United States, and that includes the fact that our city is “home to the second-largest Vietnamese population in the country” too. You can celebrate Vietnamese culture on Saturday, September 16, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. as the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association brings Viet Cultural Fest 2023 – Taste of Vietnam to NRG Center. The one-day-only, family-friendly cultural festival promises contests like pho eating and blind boba tasting; a cultural clothing contest for kids and teen pageant; traditional games, the work of local Vietnamese-American artists; and, of course, food reflecting Vietnam’s north, central and south regions and cooking classes offered on dishes like spring rolls and snow skin mooncakes. Tickets are available online here for $8 to $10, or you can buy a ticket at the door for $15. 

The essence of the Jaipur Literature Festival – which last occurred in Jaipur, India, back in January – returns to Houston and Asia Society Texas for its sixth edition on Saturday, September 16, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Themes this year include history, censorship, and war and politics, and sessions will focus on topics like war reporting in Ukraine and the effect of war on literature, cosmological discoveries with Yale University professor Priyamvada Natarajan, and the work of filmmaker Mira Nair, who will be present talking about her career. JLF Houston, which actually runs from September 15 to 17, is presented by Teamwork Arts, Asia Society Texas Center, Inprint, the University of Houston, Rothko Chapel and the Eternal Gandhi Museum Houston. Day passes for Saturday, which include admission to a "Meet the Authors" reception, can be purchased here for $20 (and $10 passes are available for students).

Social consciousness is at the forefront of the programs curated by Social Movement Contemporary Dance Theater, and their latest program, titled Dance | Hunger | Action, is no different. The company, founded in 2019 and still helmed by founding Artistic Director Elijah Alhadji Gibson, will present a 75-minute program that will be performed twice – at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 16, at The MATCH – and feature works from local dancemakers designed to bring awareness to food insecurity in Houston. Tickets to the performances can be purchased here for $25, and note that proceeds from the shows will go to the Houston Food Bank.

Playwright Heidi Schreck took her experience as a high schooler who traveled around around to American Legion posts talking up the U.S. Constitution – and as an adult questioning those experiences – and wrote What the Constitution Means to Me, which will officially make its regional premiere at Main Street Theater on Saturday, September 16, at 7:30 p.m. Shannon Emerick, who plays the role of Heidi in the production, recently told the Houston Press that the one-act is “possibly more timely now than when it was published” with a lot on women's rights issues, but also notes that it “has a lot of respect” for the Constitution while acknowledging the document is “pretty old and it's not protecting everybody in America.” Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through October 15. Tickets can be purchased here for $39 to $59. 

The Duke Ellington Orchestra – founded by its namesake, “a nonpareil composer, pianist and bandleader,” in 1923 – became “the soundtrack to an epoch.” On Saturday, September 16, at 8 p.m. today’s iteration of the Duke Ellington Orchestra will come to Miller Outdoor Theatre as part of The Houston Jazz Festival, produced by Houston Jazz Collective. Ellington’s grandson, Paul Mercer Ellington, will host the evening, along with an appearance by Tierney Malone and artwork made in honor of Ellington’s 100th birthday by Jack Whitten. You can reserve a ticket for covered seating beginning here at 10 a.m. today or you can grab a blanket or lawn chair and opt for ticketless seating on the Hill. If you can’t make it, you can catch the concert on the Miller Outdoor Theatre website, YouTube channel or Facebook page

Lauren Groff, who famously wrote Barack Obama’s favorite book of 2015, Fates and Furies, is coming to town on Monday, September 18, at 7:30 p.m. to read from her newest novel, The Vaster Wilds, as part of the 2023/2024 Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. The novel, “an unflinching portrayal of her heroine’s desperation and will to survive,” is written from the perspective of “a servant girl who has fled a 17th-century colonial settlement” for the wilderness, where she “questions whether the world would have been better off had the Europeans never crossed the Atlantic.” Groff will join Maggie Galehouse at Rice University’s Brockman Hall for Opera for a conversation and reading, followed by a book sale and signing. Tickets to the in-person reading can be purchased here for $5.

If you haven’t heard, after almost 50 years together, the Emerson String Quartet will disband next month. But you’ve got one last chance to see the group, courtesy of Chamber Music Houston, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 19, at Rice University’s Stude Concert Hall in The Shepherd School of Music. Violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Larry Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins will perform Felix Mendelssohn's “glorious” Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20, with faculty members from the Shepherd School; Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, “arguably the zenith of Beethoven’s late quartets”; and Sarah Kirkland’s second string quartet, Drink the Wild Ayre, which is also Emerson’s final commission. Tickets can be purchased here for $20 to $95. 

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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.