Sometimes it comes down to one person to pull off a show. She may be a visionary, or a workhorse, or as simply a relentless recruiter of friends and unsuspecting collaborators. Several of Houston's most significant arts events in 2010 were small-scale, planned in kitchens and garages, and mounted by an enthusiastic few. With scant resources, these events are nonetheless where audiences come away with the richest experiences.
These were our favorites.
Plants! The Musical! This play, as with many of Keith Reynolds' productions, was first mounted in his apartment, but then made a public appearance in that little alleyway beside Antidote coffeehouse. Written and directed by, and starring, Keith Reynolds and Ashely Horn, and supported by a magnificent cast of clowns, Plants! tells the story of a band of flowers and friends who fall in love and then somehow are able to turn on the garden's water spigot. While Reynolds' shows are often scandalously racy, he buffed this one up into an innocent shine. Tirelessly productive, Reynolds also publishes a homemade newspaper, The Houston Entertainicle, with fake news, precise horoscopes, and comics and games, which can be found in bars, cafes, birdcages and gas stations.
Cinema Bomar Three ingredients for a great show: a portable film projector, a screen, and selections from a 20th-century reliquary of informational, educational, and propagandistic films. For five years now, Cinema Bomar has curated and hosted near-monthly screenings of these actual reel-to-reel films, the kind that rattle at the back of the room. The offerings are sometimes poignant, often ridiculous; and the settings are intimate enough that the voluble and high-spirited audience of regulars will call out, insert jokes and break into song.
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Voices Breaking Boundaries presents Patti Smith Ordinarily, VBB would not belong on this list: The arts and social justice nonprofit has been an essential presence in Houston for over 10 years, very well-established, hardly DIY. While often intimate and usually derived from community sources, VBB productions are hardly low-rent affairs. In this case, however, some special honor goes to the implacable VBB founder and director Sebha Sarwar who years ago by chance ran into Patti Smith in an airport, struck up a conversation, and extracted a promise to visit Houston for VBB someday. When Smith released her book Just Kids, Sarwar came calling. Smith came to Houston without charge, so the audience at UH's Cullen Hall could pay just $5 to hear the rock-n-roll prophetess read from her book, sing some of her songs, and take questions. Seven months later, Smith's book won the National Book Award.
(NSFW material ahead.)
The Gendermyn This "gender performance troupe" not only stages drag shows that make the term "drag" nearly meaningless, they are inspiring other performers with their ability to create evocative and eloquent spectacle with nearly no resources. DiverseWorks' sold-out queer sex show "Come As You Are" was dominated by the Gendermyn, whose collaborative and consensus-based process was manifest in three short pieces of repurposed pop music dressed up in costumes, dance, narrative, and quite a bit of kink.
Poetry and Art on Demand: Sketchy Neighbors, NANOFiction, and Spacetaker What an odd summer evening this was for its audience at Winter Street Studios (Spacetaker). As with the familiar practice of improv comedy, willing participants took responsibility for topics, ideas, and suggestions, which were then drawn from a hat by two groups of artists, one of drawers (Sketchy Neighbors) and one of writers (NANOFiction). They took about 10 minutes to come up with something in their own medium and then traded what they had with the other side. Then another 10 minutes of putting words to pictures and the other way around. Meantime, the audience milled about, had drinks, and speculated wildly about the outcome of this experiment. Writer and editor Andrew Kozma, with support from Poets and Writers, spearheaded this event, and the results were hung by clips from fishing wire across the room, to be reviewed and derided and praised.