Obsidian Art Space
Founders Tom Stell and Leighza Walker started the nonprofit Obsidian Art Space as a way to promote original work, and they've done just that. Obsidian Art Space already has hosted such performances as the world premiere of Selkie, A Sea Tale by Divergence Vocal Theater. The space also played host to August in August (a presentation of work by August Strindberg), The Great Storm (new plays based on Hurricane Ike) and, most recently, A Midsummer Night's Dream — The Unhatched Project by Unhinged Productions (a gender-bending take on the Shakespeare classic).
Anvil Bar & Refuge
Alex Gregg is the epitome of the classic bartender archetype: rolled-up sleeves, a broad and genuine smile and a can-do attitude. Gregg will mix up absolutely any drink you can fathom, and a few more of his own creation. The ultra-creative cocktail menu at Anvil is peppered with his inventions, but that doesn't mean the man can't also put together a soulful and straightforward Manhattan. There's no pretense here, either; Gregg is as friendly and open as they come. So put yourself in his hands and let this Renaissance man (did we mention he's a talented photographer, too?) captain your cocktail ship.
For a journal that focuses on works of 300 words or less — that's the "nano" in the name — it's a shame we have to wait half a year between issues. Luckily, Houston-based NANO Fiction keeps us tided over with a regular reading series, a summer reading list, plus a contest that comes with a $500 prize and your name in print. What makes the journal better than most is its laid-back, self-deprecating and altogether un-snooty personality. In a word, accessible. But not altogether plebeian.
The Dutchman
Some of the interesting eye candy drinkers will find at this Wakefield strip locale: Wooden nickels as tender, pieces of whittled beige carpet as buckets-of-beer coasters and a cash register propped up with an upside down Smirnoff Ice cardboard box. And that's just the start of the no-frills offerings — such as cheap Lone Star bottles and women in their mid-forties regaling unprompted tales of lost virginity — that The Dutchman offers. If you're lucky, you may even get to tip back a few with the Lone Star Saloon owner, who sometimes posts up at the cozy joint.
Fonde Recreation Center
The area near downtown has more than its share of U.S. Presidents rendered in artistic medium, from David Addicks's Mount Rushmore to the oddly short but all-seeing George Bush Monument looking over Buffalo Bayou. But our favorite is the collage of images on the north side of the famed Fonde Rec Center, once the hangout of Moses Malone and Clyde Drexler. The mishmash of images include George W. Bush front-and-center next to a phalanx of missiles, wrecking balls, what appear to be the Blue Angels in formation, half of the White House, a tiny George H.W. Bush being sworn in, and a child reading a book. We're not sure what it all means, but it's reminiscent of North Korean propaganda posters in its artistic glory.
There has been a lot of talk in the past two or three years about Houston's music scene undergoing a renaissance, but it takes more than just talk to push it to the next level. Shortly after he took over as president and CEO of New West Records, the rootsy indie label based in Austin and Los Angeles, George Fontaine signed three of the scene's most promising young talents in indie-poppers: the Wild Moccasins, singer-songwriter Robert Ellis and roots-rockers Buxton. Fontaine became a fan of all three thanks to their frequent in-stores at Cactus Music, where he is a partner, and was a regular presence at their shows long before he closed the deal. Since then, all three have either released albums or are about to, and have spent considerable time on the road, giving them valuable real-world experience and the label a new generation of talent to go alongside venerable artists like Steve Earle, John Hiatt and the Old 97's. He's not even a full-time resident — splitting his time between here and Athens, Georgia, where he teaches a music-business class at the University of Georgia — but by what he's done for the local music scene, it's pretty clear Houston is where Fontaine's heart is.
George's Country Sports Bar
Ever since it opened in 2006, George has been one of our favorite neighborhood haunts. You don't have to be gay to feel at home in this laid-back Montrose joint; if you like friendly bartenders and clientele, kick-ass happy hours, pool, darts, and good conversation, then you'll be just fine. (You don't even have to like country music or sports, either — there's just no way you won't like this place.) Whether you want to relax on the patio or watch the game on one of the flat-screens inside, you'll probably find that George is one of those places where you know your first visit is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
We don't know of a lot of choreographers who go on to become award-winning film directors, but it's a transition Shawn Welling seems to have made quite easily. Welling's Project Aether, a science-fiction feature making its world premiere, took home three of the top trophies at WorldFest, including Best Actress for Joy Willard and Best Feature. A patchwork of the sci-fi, horror and conspiracy theory genres, Project Aether concerns a family that's moved into a haunted house, an event that interests several shady government types. Welling, who not only directed but also wrote Project Aether, has a cinematographer's eye and his films have a striking visual quality to them. We can't wait to see what he does next.
Warehouse Live
Canned Acoustica didn't start out as a concert series. Photographer and local music junkie Mark C. Austin planned last November's inaugural Acoustica as a way to see several of his favorite artists in the same place and help out the Houston Food Bank for the holidays. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that several acts who didn't play begged him to do another one; there have since been three more, with May's installment collecting donations for the Japanese Red Cross Society. With shades of Houston's storied singer-songwriter tradition born at places like Anderson Fair and the Old Quarter, each Acoustica brings together about a dozen of Houston's most talented (and altruistic) artists for an electricity-free evening, and has already spawned some unique collaborations, like rapper Fat Tony fronting artsy classical ensemble Two Star Symphony. Who knows what future Acousticas will bring, but Austin's brainchild has already proved that the local music scene's heart is as big as its talent.
Shannon Emerick recently played two iconic characters who bookend the 20th century, and she played both of them to perfection. This year, she played George Bernard Shaw's ideal woman, the eponymous heroine in Candida (1898). As Shaw's "new woman" — Candida is cool and regally elegant, always in control and much smarter than the two men who love her and make her choose between them — Emerick was the apex and driving force of Classical Theatre's definitive, humorous, visually stunning production. Last year, for Main Street Theater, Emerick hauntingly illuminated the cool, intellectual Hannah, the linchpin of the contemporary scenes in Tom Stoppard's time-tripping Arcadia (1993), perhaps the most satisfying — and romantic — play by English theater's resident genius. As both the ultimate Victorian wife and the smart but icy, mod English female, Emerick clarified the very essence of both plays and yet remained her own self. She has that rare gift of illumination, discovery and adventurous fun that some actors say they have but never quite manage. Emerick delivers gloriously.

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