Happy Thanksgiving: Art Attack Writers & Their Shout Outs to the Houston Art Scene

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The arts writers on Art Attack like to pause for a minute every Thanksgiving to note the things and people they are thankful for in the Houston arts scene.

So here's our 2012 version. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Olivia Flores Alvarez

I'm thankful for Asia Society Texas Center, which changed the cultural landscape of the entire city when it opened its very well-designed doors. It has the most diverse programming in the region with art, film, literary and political programs, as well as dance, opera, music performances and more by Asian artists and leaders, including those from China, Pakistan, Indonesia , Japan, Afghanistan and America.

I'm thankful for outsider artists who are growing their own galleries and hosting their own shows such as Aerosol Warfare and NeoPopStreetFunk as well as more mainstream galleries and museums that are opening their walls to them, such as Art League Houston and Station Museum of Contemporary Art.

I'm thankful for the legion of foreign embassies, such as the Consulat Général de France à Houston and Consulado de México en Houston which support cultural events such as artist appearances, art exhibits, film festivals and performances throughout the year.

I'm thankful for a great children's theater scene, one that not only puts on shows for children, but that puts on shows with children in them.

I'm thankful for a healthy experimental theater scene, including productions by Catastrophic Theatre, DiverseWorks, Mildred's Umbrella and Horse Head Theatre.

I'm thankful for individuals who have taken on the quote, "I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'" as a personal challenge, including:

-Ana Treviño-Godfrey, a wonderful singer and co-founder of Mercury (formerly Mercury Baroque) who is teaching music appreciation and skills to young kids and creating life long music fans.

-ReShonda Tate Billingsley, who is building a publishing empire right here in H-town, getting her books made into movies and being read by scores of fans across the country.

-Enrique Carreón-Robledo, who is bringing world-class opera to a tiny stage in the heights and adding to the city's reputation as an opera powerhouse.

-David Eagleman, who is smart enough to make being smart look easy and so gives hope to the rest of us that we just might one day understand his big-brain ideas.

-Stanton Welch, Dominic Walsh, Karen Stokes, Dawn Dippel and all the other dance makers who have turned Houston into a place where both classical and contemporary works are not only performed, but created. (We've lost count of the recent world premieres.)

-Paul Hope, a longtime and popular company member of the Alley Theatre, who also manages to find time to lead Bayou City Concert Musicals as the group's artistic director.

-Marian Luntz, who constantly gives Houstonians the latest in cinema from around town and around the world.

Crystal Brannen

I am thankful for the arts team at the Houston Press and all of the opportunities they have given me. Writing for the Press has opened my eyes to how much bigger the Houston art scene really is and I have met so many amazing, artists, fashion designers, photographers, actors. I had never realized that our city has so much to offer culturally. It's taught me to get out there and explore and what I've found in the Houston arts community are a variety of amazing restaurants, theaters, music and art.

David E. Clarke

When it's Thanksgiving, all the major corporations have had their Christmas decor and wares on display for what seems like half of the year. Everything is bathed in that clichéd red and green tinge. For us in Houston, we hear about snow and white Christmases as we tramp around in shorts and flip flops. Often times, as a culture, it seems that Thanksgiving takes a back burner and gets kind of overlooked. Many like me just want to sit down and see Adams Family Values play on ABC Family so we can sing along as the kids and Pugsley, dressed as a Turkey, exclaim, "Eat us! Because it's Thanksgiving Day! Eat us! We make a nice buffet!" Instead, Jim Carrey as The Grinch is in an infinite loop with Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, battling for supremacy in the realm modern Christmas movies and Peter Billingsley's Ralphie is relegated to the "classics" box and is no longer up for the title.

To put a minor halt in this unflinching, vaulting leap past Thanksgiving, I just want to take a moment to share what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving season. I have enjoyed seeing the daily posts in my Facebook News Feed that tell me what each friend and family member is thankful for, but I simply don't have the discipline to not skip a day or week. So, I'll share my blissful benedictions of thanks here:

1.) I am thankful for the diversity of the Houston arts scene, especially in terms of theater choices and programming. As a burgeoning reviewer writing on houston.broadwayworld.com and doing 100 Creatives for Art Attack with the Houston Press, I have been consistently and pleasantly surprised at how Houston's theater scene truly offers something for everyone and at every price range. Many groups in town have fantastic "Pay-What-You-Can" performances, which I laud, honor, cherish and respect. I am beyond thankful for each and every theater venue in the city for embracing Houston's socio-economic diversity and trying to not let any factor be a reason to exclude people from the arts. I also look forward to seeing the newer theater companies flourish and the more established ones continue to succeed.

2.) I am thankful for how embracing the Houston theater scene has been of my writing. You guys have been so warm, friendly and open, and I sincerely appreciate it. All of you keep me delightfully and gleefully busy and in good practice. They do not know it, but each theater, actor, techie, press agent, artistic director and so on has played a role in helping me achieve my dreams. Thank you!

3.) I am thankful for my BroadwayWorld and Houston Press families. You guys have been so welcoming and helpful on my journey so far. I look forward to continuing my work with each entity in the future. Cheers!

4.) I am thankful for all my friends and family members, especially my wife. Without you and your support, I wouldn't be doing what I love. I wouldn't have this joy to share with you all. Thank you for everything from the bottom of my heart.

I wish each and every person in Houston and the great United States of America a very happy Thanksgiving. No matter how you are spending it, I hope and pray that the day is bright and full of good memories. I know some will have harder days than others, but may you find you some blessings on Thanksgiving regardless of your situation.

Meredith Deliso I am really grateful for the local talent that makes Houston such a vibrant and diverse arts scene. In the past few months we've seen a giant survey of Houston painters at McClain Gallery, shows devoted to Art League's Texas Artist of the Year and Texas Art Patrons of the Year -- all Houstonians, and  a sprawling exhibition comprised of eight Houston artists currently up at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art . On a regular basis, you can also pop in and see what's happening at the Spring Street Studios, Winter Street Studios, Art Square Studios, War'Hous Visual Studios, Heights Art Studios, Independence Art Studios and more. This list only touches the surface of what is the city's arts heartbeat.

Margaret Downing I am grateful that actor/director James Black, who for health reasons was unable to continue in the lead role of Death of a Salesman at the Alley Theatre, has gone on to direct the Alley's A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas. He has always been a gracious and articulate interview subject -- in addition to his acting and directing talent -- which is always appreciated.

I am grateful for the length and breadth of the Houston theater scene, from the Alley and Theatre Under the Stars and Gexa Broadway Energy to newer ventures such as Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin's Stark Naked Theatre (with its wonderful T-shirt). I love its intimacy over at Spring Street Studios, just as there's no bad seat in the house at Stages Repertory Theatre or Main Street Theater. Just since the season started in August there have been amazing performances all over town.

I am grateful that the theater people here are willing to take chances, to bring back work we might not otherwise see, to present this with actors who for the most part are amazing. I thank them for the ticket discounts and the outreach they do to students who might otherwise never get to see a play or a musical or an opera (thanks again to Houston Grand Opera's HGOco).

And I am grateful to and amazed by scenic designers like Jodi Bobrovsky who can make something out of nearly nothing and tranform it into that just-right effect.

Thanks to the theater departments at UH and Rice, which attract and develop talented students to our city, and the UH Theatre Department's plan to expand aid to promising theater students (thanks too to Brett Cullen on this!). This summer's performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre of Hamlet by UH students (aided by a couple pros) remains one of the highlights of the year -- and it was free.

This year, I have to say a special thank you to Patrick Summers, Artistic and Music Director at the Houston Grand Opera. Usually you get chills at an opera when the soprano hits her high notes or the singers make it through a bel canto rapid fire exchange without a bobble. In a pre-season address, Summers achieved the same thing with his passion and vision for what the HGO will be doing in the years ahead. Whether it's adding challenging operas by Wagner or great American musicals like Show Boat, if it is great music, he wants HGO to be doing it. How could you ask for more than that?

D.L. Groover

What am I thankful for in the Houston arts scene this year?

Comp tickets. And the opportunity to spout my opinions about the cornucopia that is Houston theater. It's a feast on the bayou. There are creamy, tasty entrees from the big kitchens at the Alley, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, always beautifully prepared and presented; but there are equally savory courses from Main Street, Stages, Country Playhouse, Theatre Southwest, Catastrophic, Ensemble, Texas Rep, A.D. Players...the menu is endless. To end the meal, could there be anything sweeter than Music Box, Mildred's Umbrella, Classical Theatre Co., Stark Naked, Bit of a Stretch, Theater LaB, among others? And let's not forget the touring chefs from TUTS, Broadway Across America, and Society for the Performing Arts. I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry. The best thing to be thankful for in all this good eating? -- it's FDA approved, nourishment for the soul and 100 percent fat free. See you at dinner.

Alex Randall

I am thankful for the dancers who dash from their other jobs, dance clothes stuffed in a backpack, to make it to rehearsal on time. I am thankful for the choreographers who first decide that they want stilts in their show and only later figure out how to walk on them. I am thankful for the company directors who dream up collaborations among baroque orchestras, boys' choirs and dance artists and still manage to take care of the administrative duties necessary for their studios to operate. I am thankful for the donors and board members who lend their time, support and insightful feedback to countless board meetings and fund-raising campaigns. I am thankful for the audience members who take the risk of seeing a dance performance over a safer Saturday night of watching How I Met Your Mother. I am thankful for the volunteers who paint, sell concessions, make costumes, hand out flyers and build sets like it's their job. And I am thankful for the dance journalists who write, blog, tweet and post in hopes of bolstering the connections between the dance community and the general public.   It's because of you that dance lives on and strongly in Houston. It's because of you that many of us consider this city a home. It's because of you that so many of us can and do love what we do. From the bottom of my heart -- thank you, thank you, thank you.

Jim J. Tommaney

In theater, listening well to the other characters is half the battle -- perhaps more than half -- and I can't think when I saw someone do it better than an actor in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, from the Cast Theatrical Company. What is most astonishing is that it was the first role for the actor, Parker Hearon, and that he is a child actor playing the role of a ten-year old.  He grasped playwright William Inge's real intention -- the play is not about the behavior of adults, but about the effect of adult behavior on a child; the shy ten-year old-year old playing on the floor is the protagonist. I'm grateful for a fresh look at a playwright whose once sterling reputation has dimmed. And I'm grateful that God still makes actors like Parker Hearon -no one else can claim the credit. 

I'm grateful for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson from Generations Theatre as it combined a driving energy, compelling music, superb acting and total irreverence to create an evening of wit, vivacity and truth-telling not likely to make its way again to our stages. With so much brilliance, it's impossible to single genius out, but the performance of Kregg Dailey as the title character, and the ground-breaking book by Alex Timbers, clamor for me to name them anyway. The Glass Menagerie is Tennessee Williams's most-produced play, and I was astonished to see it freshly illuminated by Roy Hamlin in the role of Tom, often played as a subsidiary quasi-narrator. Here Tom is front-and center, as Hamlin found the perfect balance of a creative youth trapped in a dead-end job living with a mother dwelling on the past and a reclusive crippled sister, and holding these skeins together with the deftness and skill of a Ben-Hur chariot-driver.His humor and humanity enhanced the production, and reminded again of the genius of the playwright. Elaine Edstrom directed this for the Houston Family Arts Center, and must have had a large part in Hamlin's theatrical brilliance.

I'm grateful for Steve Yockey's Large Animal Games from Mildred's Umbrella, a shaggy dog-story in which, though a great deal of fun, nothing of any real import happens, but it is dressed up so stylishly that everything seems important.  The play is a conundrum, and the key line is: "If you say nothing at all, you can't believe all the positive things they will make up about you." I went back to see it a second time, and savored the audience murmuring: "How profound!, proving the playwright's subtle point.

And I'm grateful that the elegant and attractive Mary Westbrook lent her talents to The Country Playhouse for Frankenstein, and transformed herself from a likely candidate for Private Lives to an overweight female criminal up to no good, complete with what looked like makeup-enhanced missing teeth, and one of the world's most-soiled faces.  Complimenting her in the lobby after the show, my mind kept insisting: "This can't be the Mary Westbrook I know!"  A staggering transformation. And I'm grateful for all the surprises the next year will bring.

Jef With One F (Rouner)

This year I am thankful for two very specific people in the Houston art scene, Jeremy Bulloch of 8th Dimension Comics and Robert Saucedo of the Alamo Drafthouse. I had pretty much given up on comics until Bulloch opened his store not far from my house. Certainly it had been a decade or more since I'd been a regular single issue reader or followed a superhero book monthly. Nonetheless, with patient enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge he steered me into one of my favorite monthly column. Because of him I discovered fantastic books like Saga, Witch Doctor, Princeless, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and many, many more. Nothing makes me happier than passing those books along to Art Attack readers, and every time I get an email from a fan telling me how much they enjoyed a book I recommended it makes me feel very warm inside.   Likewise, Saucedo throws me incredible curve balls in the name of independent film. Especially indie horror. Juan of the Dead  was one of my favorite flicks of 2012, and I can guarantee I never would have seen it if Saucedo hadn't bugged me about interviewing the director. Then there is his penchant for doing things like screening Alligator with real life alligators in the theater . That's the work of a mad genius. Do I even have to mention how he helped get me the dream job of hosting Doctor Who screenings? Saucedo is one of those people that is making sure that the movie cinema industry will remain relevant and incredible no matter how easy downloads and streaming become.  

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