The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Ostrich, Camel and Carnival Rides, plus a Prince and a Lord

It's a weekend of rarities in Houston, with the once-a-year camel and ostrich races at the horse track, a farewell performance from the Lord of the Dance himself, and the premiere of a new gender-bending opera.

It might be the final weekend of the 2016 thoroughbred racing season, but we think the big draw this Friday night is the camel and ostrich races, slotted between the horse events at Sam Houston Race Park. We asked Jamie Nielsen, the director of marketing, what motivates a camel or ostrich to run the track. “For the most part, they've just been trained; they know where they need to go,” says Nielsen, who adds that the animals do race regularly at tracks around the country. The eight-foot-tall camels are attended by local celebrity “trainers,” then jockeys race them down the 100-yard track at speeds of “almost 65 kilometers, which is about 40 miles per hour,” says Nielsen. “I was astonished; I couldn't believe that they could go that fast.” The funniest part, however, has to be the ostrich races, when the local jockeys test their balance and agility trying not to fall. “Absolutely, it's comical. It's very difficult for the jockeys to stay on. It becomes entertaining at some point.” Since the camel and ostrich races happen only once a year, she cautions that they always sell out, and fans shouldn't wait until the day of the event to buy their tickets. 

Gates open at 5:30 p.m. with live racing at 7 p.m. Friday; gates open at 4:30 p.m. with live racing at 6 p.m. Saturday. 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway West, 281-807-8700, $7 to $50.

It feels like Christmas in Texas, y'all! We're all ramped up about the concerts and the food (bacon cotton candy and deep-fried Snickers bars), but there are several other don't-miss events that are worth checking out at this year's Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, one of our picks for this Saturday. For those on a budget, the $10 general admission gets you into NRG Park during the Rodeo, which includes the carnival, NRG Arena for horse show events, NRG Center for AGventure (baby calves, piglets, lambs and chicks), the livestock show, shopping and food exhibits. But this week's big news has to be the Carnival with its La Grande Wheel (the largest portable Ferris wheel in the Western Hemisphere), the 1,700-foot gondola Sky Ride, and all the dizzying rides and cheesy arcade games.

The Carnival opens at 4 p.m. on weekdays, but beginning Monday, March 14, the Carnival is open noon to midnight weekdays and 10 a.m. to midnight on weekends (the Rodeo grounds open at 8 a.m. daily). Through March 20. NRG Center, Three NRG Park. For information, visit $10 for general admission to NRG Park and the carnival; $5 for children 3-12. 

For cowboys and cowgirls who prefer a little more “heeeyyyy” in the wagon, Out At The Rodeo is bringing out-loud-and-proud to the country’s largest annual rodeo event, and it’s a lot easier than remembering which color bandanna goes in which pocket. Visit the organization’s website to order a T-shirt, wear it to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and then look for others dressed like you, which we think is a pretty happening idea for Saturday. The itinerary will be posted throughout the day using hashtag #OATR16, and they’re sure to hit all the great attractions like La Grande Wheel, the pig races and the Champion Wine Garden. Proceeds from the T-shirt sales benefit AIDS Foundation Houston. “This is a grassroots effort to gain a GLBT day at the Rodeo,” says event organizer Doug Mason. “We’re going to make it a party and have that party give back.” Swag bags, prizes (watch out for the prize posse) and spirited fun are all part of the plan.

Noon to midnight, Saturday. NRG Center, Three NRG Park. For information, visit $20 for the T-shirt; $10 for general admission to NRG Park and the carnival. 

As a baritone in opera, Ben Edquist says he knows he won’t get a lot of chances to do a deep emotional role. “You’re usually the villain or the sidekick,” he says. But in Carlisle Floyd’s Prince of Players, a chamber opera commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera and premiering this month, he gets to play a very emotional and real-life role: that of Edward Kynaston, a Restoration-era actor with androgynous looks that enabled him to play female roles in the 1660s — a time when women weren’t allowed on the London stage. Edquist auditioned for the part last year after hearing from renowned opera composer Jake Heggie (who suggested he apply) that Floyd specifically (playing against expectations) wanted a baritone in the lead, rather than a tenor. “He wanted to make it clear that this was a man,” says Edquist, now a member of the HGO student academy. Edquist says Kynaston “was the talk of the country because he’s the best at what he does.” Accompanying that star power was a certain amount of arrogance, and it was actually his emotional objections about female actors, voiced to King Charles II, that hastened the change and the king’s decision to allow women and, in fact, bar men from playing female roles, Edquist says. The premise sounds fascinating, and we think it's a culturally cool way to spend Saturday night. There will be one intermission in the 90- to 100-minute production (they’re still fine-tuning), which is sung in English.

8 p.m. Saturday and Friday, March 11; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. Through March 13. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit $25 to $80. 

Come over to our house and watch my husband and me fight. Sound like a night from hell? Well, famed playwright Edward Albee decided that was good material for an examination of the truths and lies in modern marriage and came up with the 1963 Tony Award-winning Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — a work not for the faint of heart in either content or length. Clocking in at three hours with two intermissions, it rips apart the relationship between college professor George and his wife, Martha, daughter of the college president, while a younger couple (Nick and Honey) look on and eventually, unable to escape, become embroiled in the evening’s events. “It’s not just two people screaming at each other,” says Stark Naked Theatre Company’s Philip Lehl, who plays George opposite wife Kim Tobin-Lehl as Martha. Matt Hune and Teresa Zimmerman play Nick and Honey. “It’s a reflection of society and our facades,” says Tobin-Lehl. “It’s stripping the cover off illusion in a marriage.” But all is not hatred and bile, Tobin-Lehl says. “It’s also about love. In order to have the stamina to fight, you have to have love.”  So gird up your stamina this Sunday afternoon to see one of the most important works of the 20th century.

7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and Monday, March 21; 3 p.m. Sundays. Spring Street Studios, Studio 101, 1824 Spring. Through March 26. For information, call 832-866-6514 or visit $29 to $49. March 21 is pay what you can.

Michael Flatley, the dancer/choreographer who revitalized and built on Irish dancing by incorporating upper-body movement into his routines, is headed back to Houston for a one-night-only performance in what he says is his last tour with Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games — our recommendation for Sunday night entertainment. “My body has taken a severe beating over the last 20 years.” He says he feels like he’s dancing at a high level now, but “I don’t think I’d be at that level in another two years.” He’ll be dancing in two, but not all, of the numbers. Flatley, who became world-famous as he took his troupe around the globe, says: “My whole dream was to make dance a center act. It wouldn’t be just people in the background.” The show includes new numbers, costumes and special effects. But as Flatley makes clear: “The meat of the show is those big dance numbers. That hasn’t changed.” Fans will be delighted to know that he’s already working on a book, which entails his going back through a career’s worth of notes and photos — many of the pictures never made public before, he says. 

7:30 p.m. Sunday. Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. For information, call 713-230-1600 or visit $62.25 to $409. 

Sam Byrd and Margaret Downing contributed to this post.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney