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the Long Center, from Inside the Ring

Editor’s Note: Long Center Resident Company Austin Shakespeare, a professional, award-winning theatre company, presents Noel’s Coward provocative comedy, Design For Living, February 6-24 in the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theater.

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It’s difficult for us to realize the extent of the daring nature of Design for Living. Premiering in 1933, its treatment of sexuality in loving relationships was provocative for the time. Using a three-way love affair as the core of the plot, much of the play would still be considered eyebrow-raising today. Michael Miller plays the lead role of “Leo” in the production, and he also starred as “Mr. Darcy” in Austin Shakespeare’s recent production of Pride & Prejudice.

Ann Ciccolella: What does Noel Coward’s Design for Living say to you about relationships?

The play presents an aspect of human relationships that isn’t often discussed and may not be fully understood but, for all that, is similar to the situations in which many people do find themselves. Though our society values and presents coupling as the dominant and only acceptable mode of romantic relationship, Design For Living asks, “What do you do when you love more than one person at once?” But then, going further, it asks, “What happens when the people you love return your love but also love each other?” You might have stumbled on similar stories on Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, but I guarantee, the participants there didn’t explore their situation with nearly the amount of wit, intelligence, honesty (& healthy teeth) as these characters.

Why did you want to act in this play?

noel cowardI was excited to do the show because I’ve loved Noel Coward for years. I had the best time years ago doing two different productions of his Hay Fever in which I played the same character both times. I love his wit, language, music, elan and the fact that he was obviously, if not openly, gay (and therefore a kind of role model for me). And then there was the chance to work with Ann Ciccolella, Helen Merino & Michael Dalmon again. And although he signed on after I was cast, the addition of Martin Burke took that ‘triple treat’ and made it a treat to the fourth power.

What surprised you about the work?

designforlivingWhat has surprised me is the depth of the play. I think the common conception of Coward (definitely what comes to my mind, at least) is that of the urbane, quick-witted sophisticate. And there is that – the language is unlike any other writer’s and the humor singularly Coward’s. However, this can make him seem a little “too cute for school.” But the play is rife with honestly presented conflict and searing heartbreak. And then he gives the audience this challenge  – Design For Living starts where many plays, movies, TV shows, etc. end. In other words, without giving away too much, the first act ends where most other dramas end, but Coward keeps drilling deeper as he lets the characters continue to explore just how far their love for each other can go. And therefore, this play is far more surprising and courageous, I think, than most any other you could see.

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Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Beth Burns is the Master of Company and Theatrical Deviser for The Hidden Room Theater in Austin, Texas.

We all sat there, mouths agape, heads tilted.  I suspect I looked like I’d just tasted something I couldn’t describe.  Suddenly, actor Robert Matney started to laugh.  Then we all did, and with great appreciation.  We’d just learned our first magic trick.InvisibleInc18Web

Invisible, Inc. is a crackling play by Paul Menzer about feuding magicians in depression-era New York.  It’s absolutely filled with twists, turns, and lots of magic.  I fell instantly in love with the script, but was also a bit baffled by how we could make these illusions come to life.   Our magic consultant JD Stewart (http://jd-stewart.com) quickly got on the task, and began training our performers on how to make magic real.   Now almost a year later, our actors look like pros, and as I watch them, I still feel a sense of amazement. InvisibleInc15Web

How do we do it?  We’ll never tell.  We took a magician’s oath of secrecy with JD when we got started, and we simply can’t divulge.  But we urge you to join us January 11-20, and see if you find yourself in the same puzzled position the Invisible, Inc. team found ourselves in a year ago, as you enjoy this snappy, sexy noire mystery.  Come see us before we disappear into thin air.

PrintStarring Robert Matney, Liz Fisher, Joseph Garlock, Todd Kassens, Julia Lorenz-Olson, Laurence Pears.  Featuring an original score played almost-live nightly by Graham Reynolds.  Directed by Beth Burns, set by Ia Enstera, costumes by Jamie Urban, lights by Megan Reilly, and props by Justin Cox.  Livestream show closing night at www.hiddenroomtheatre.com.

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Guest Blogger Chuck Smith is an Austin native and Executive Director of Equality Texas.

So, we currently call it the Long Center; however, “Austin’s Creative Home” has been operating, in one form or another, for my entire life.Riverside_Palmer_web

I remember the smell of peanuts and elephants that filled the ‘Austin Municipal Coliseum’ when the circus came to town when I was a small child.

I remember seeing Richard Nixon on stage at the ‘Austin Municipal Auditorium’ in 1968 as he campaigned for the United States presidency. I was twelve years old at the time. Apparently, Nixon played the piano for those in attendance. I don’t remember the piano playing. I do remember that Nixon shared the stage with Paul Eggers, a Republican candidate for Texas governor. In those days, Republicans didn’t win statewide elections in Texas. But, what I most remember is that Eggers had cheerleaders! E-G-G ! E-R-S! Eggers! (At age 12, I hadn’t yet realized I was gay. In hindsight, it was all so clear!)Nixon

I remember addressing my classmates in May, 1974 from the stage of the Austin Municipal Auditorium as the city’s largest senior class was graduated from David Crockett High School. I also remember having the distinct honor of receiving my diploma from my father, who served as a trustee on the Austin ISD school board.

I remember May 1, 1975, when I served as a freshman member of Alpha Phi Omega and an usher for UT student events. The raucous crowd at a Beach Boys concert had the ‘Auditorium’ balcony heaving up and down so much that the plaster on the walls began to crack and fall to the ground. I snagged a chunk of the falling debris and kept it throughout my college years.beachboys

Since those days, I’ve enjoyed all kinds of amazing events at the Long Center. Things like Trailer Food Tuesdays, Tap Dogs, Ballet Austin’s Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project and many others. My most recent experience at the Long Center was over the 2012 holiday season. Two generations of my family filled a fabulous mezzanine box as we watched the Cirque Dreams Holidaze show…just like generations before had done and many more will continue to do, making memories at Austin’s creative home.

–Chuck Smith

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Cliff Ernst is the Chair of the Long Center’s Board of Trustees. In celebration of the Holiday Season, Cliff and his family donated and decorated a beautiful purple themed holiday tree, which is now on display in our Kodosky Lounge. We recently chatted with Cliff about this gift to the Long Center and to Austin:

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Cliff, can you talk about the significance of the tree…what motivated you to make this gift?

I knew the Long Center budget was tight and I wanted our patrons to experience a little holiday cheer so I decided to offer a tree and draft my family and some friends to help with the project.

Did your whole family take part in the selection/decoration?

Yes.  My concept started as a simple little tree with inexpensive lights and maybe paper ornaments.  Then I spotted that nice tall tree on sale.  My wife Martha suggested the purple lights to be true to the Long Center “purple” brand and I found purple LED lights at Home Depot.  From then on it was a slippery slope.  I spotted “designer” Martha Stewart ornaments at Home Depot.  Then Martha thought we need more “bling” so we made a trip to Hobby Lobby for more glitz and glitter.  We drafted our friends, the Garza family, to erect the tree.  The biggest surprise came when we plugged in the lights.  Who knew that 800 purple LED lights would make such a powerful purple glow!

The Long Center is Austin’s Creative Home ™, and around the holidays, it becomes even more like a home to so many Austinites…why do you think the Long Center figures so prominently into the holidays for so many Austin families?

Each year since the Long Center first opened its doors almost five years ago, more and more Central Texans have had an opportunity to come to the Long Center to experience the joy that the performing arts bring to our lives.  Our executive director, Jamie Grant, likes to remind us that one of the most powerful aspects of the performing arts is the life long memories they create.  Our mission is to be the place in Austin where all types of performing artists can share their creativity and talent with the community.  What better way to create wonderful holiday memories than to experience a great show together at the Long Center?

What do you hope people get out of this gift….what will they take away from seeing this beautiful tree?

I hope our tree reminds people of how fortunate we are to live in Austin, where even a “weird” purple holiday tree can be at home in Austin’s Creative Home.

Have you started thinking about any New Year’s resolutions…?

Eat less and see more shows at the Long Center.  Happy holidays!

Thank you, Cliff.

Again, the Ernst/Garza family Holiday Tree is on display at the Long Center in our Kodosky Lounge. We invite you to stop in and see it for yourself..feel free to take photos, and we encourage you to post them on your (and our!) Facebook and other social media pages.

Thank you, and Happy Holidays Austin!

Even those of us who are gleefully filled with holiday cheer can get burnt out from the oversaturation of Christmas music. When various radio stations and department stores switch over to all-holiday-music-all-the-time before Thanksgiving is even past, it’s sometimes hard not to feel some Scrooge-like sentiments bubbling up. Fortunately, there are some holiday albums that aren’t just the same smooth jazz and smarmy pop that inundate the airwaves. Here are a few that might help resuscitate your holiday cheer:

 

Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold (2012)

Indie rock darling Sufjan Stevens released Silver and Gold, a new collection of holiday tunes, this past November. With 58 tracks ranging from fresh takes on Christmas traditionals like “Silent Night,” “Good King Wenceslas,” and “Let it snow!” to new originals like “Lumberjack Christmas” and “Mr. Frosty Man,” there’s bound to be something for everyone in the almost five-dozen-song collection. Stevens’ characteristic folk instrumentations and mix of optimism and melancholia are sure to pull on the heartstrings and induce bittersweet nostalgia in even the most hardened of holiday hearts. Check out “The Midnight Clear” and “Auld Lang Syne” (also known as “that song they always sing at New Year’s”) and feel your heart be warmed with holiday cheer.

Click here for more of Sufjan Stevens’ Silver and Gold.

 

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)


If you’ve heard anything from jazzman Vince Guaraldi, it was probably the music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” He’s no one-hit-wonder – Guaraldi won a Grammy for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and had 17 albums to his name before his untimely death – but this album has stood above the rest.

There’s a reason why “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is still a seasonal staple, and the soundtrack is as good as the TV special itself. The jazz piano solo tracks like “O Tannenbaum” and “Skating” are more than worthwhile on their own, but the songs that really shine are the endearing piano and children’s chorus songs “Christmastime Is Here” and “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.”

Click here to see Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas on Amazon.

The Sonics / The Wailers / The Galaxies – Merry Christmas (1965)


If you’re looking for something really non-traditional, look no further than Merry Christmas, a collaborative album from 1960s garage rock bands The Sonics, The Wailers, and The Galaxies. Etiquette Records brought these three groups from Tacoma, Washington together for this 1964 release, and it’s more than unfortunate that it isn’t more widely available. If your nostalgia for bygone holiday seasons is tinged with longing for the sounds of groups like The Kinks and Paul Revere & the Raiders, then this album should bring a smile to your face. And really, even if not, this is a great listen.

Unfortunately, this one seems to have never been reissued, so you’re pretty much limited to what’s on YouTube.

Sam Billen – Merry Christmas (2012) and A Light Goes On (2011)

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Sam Billen has been releasing an annual free Christmas album since 2008, and this year’s edition is no letdown. Family has always been a central feature of Billen’s music, and this mostly-acoustic album features his brother Dan and father Bill alongside Sam and his oftentimes collaborator Josh Atkinson. It’s understated and folksy, with a tinge of retro synth. It’s a pleasant 22 minutes of holiday classics, with “I Wonder as I Wander” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” particularly standing out

Click ‘play’ to take a listen to Sam Billen’s “A Light Went On,” from A Light Goes On (2011).

But while this year’s instrumental album is great, for me it can’t top last year’s Billen Christmas project, A Light Goes On. And while there are plenty of fantastic takes of holiday classics in this one (Katlyn Conroy and Austen Malone’s take of “Baby Its Cold Outside” and Timbre’s “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” are particularly charming), the original and unexpected inclusions are where this really shines. Beau Jennings’ rendition of Woodie Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre” – about the 1913 Italian Hall Disaster, where 73 people were trampled to death after someone shouted “fire” at a crowded miners’ Christmas party – is as hauntingly beautiful as it is tragic. Sam Billen’s title track, “A Light Went On,” is a story of nostalgia for the Christmastimes of childhood, all bundled up with endearing indie-pop trappings.

You can find more information or download Merry Christmas (2012) here, and you can click here for more of A Light Goes On (2011).

The Maccabeats – “Candlelight” (2010)


Okay, this one isn’t an album like our other selections, but it’s brilliant enough that we just couldn’t leave it out. The Maccabeats, an all-male a cappella group out of Yeshiva University, became an internet sensation for their hilarious parody of Taio Cruz’s party hit “Dynamite.” The new lyrics tell the Hanukkah-appropriate tale of the mighty Maccabees, and the impressive music video and top-notch a cappella work does not disappoint. Whether you’re one of the treasured people or you don’t know the difference between Seder and cedar, you’ll enjoy this wonderful remake.

Click here for more Maccabeats.

Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland – Fireside Songs for the Soul (2010)


This list wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of local flavor, and Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland both have plenty of that. These two regionally acclaimed Texans have been significant players in the Austin music scene (as well as throughout the rest of Texas) for years, and there’s a reason why. Their country twang is charming in this cover of the wintertime classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Even though it’s never actually that cold in Austin, Texas (although I’ve heard 55 degrees described as “frigid” by some of the locals), this iconic tune is always fitting for the holiday season.

You can check out Fireside Songs for the Soul on iTunes, or find it on Carolyn’s website.

– Nick Curry, Marketing and Development Intern
The Long Center

The Long Center hosts Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland’s Holiday Roast on December 20- 22. Click here for more information and tickets.

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There’s no way around it: the Blue Man Group is a strange bunch. Intentionally and delightfully so, but nonetheless, pretty odd. Their uniqueness is part of the appeal, but it makes it slightly tricky to explain what it is they actually do. The press kits they send us, allegedly to help us tell you what exactly it is the Blue Man Group is, aren’t too much help either: they like to drop phrases like “indescribable phenomenon” and “experiences that defy categorization.” Fortunately for us, we’ve seen Arrested Development (more on that in a later blog post) and we’ve scoured the interwebs for the best clips of the Blue Man Group in action, so we’re at least slightly more familiar with the Blue Men.

1. “Blue Thousand One”

This might be the classical music nerd part of me talking here, but I’m a sucker for just about anything that uses the opening to Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” (or, as it’s more commonly known, the music from the monolith scene of Stanley Kubrick’s classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey). Whether it’s the computer files scene in Zoolander or Blue Men tossing exploding balloons full of paint at each others’ faces, this music can make just about anything dramatic and epic. Maybe I should cue that tune up for the next time I’m washing dishes.

2. Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”


Okay, I like Lady Gaga. I’ve spent the last five and a half years studying classical music theory, but there’s still just something about cheesy, superficial pop music that I enjoy so much. This last week, my listening was split (nearly 50/50) between Maurice Ravel’s La valse and Swedish pop star Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend,” and I’m okay with that. I can love them both.

In this clip, the Blue Man Group takes a crack at Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and, as you could expect, it’s wonderfully silly. While this isn’t my favorite Gaga cover ever (that distinction goes to the staff of National Public Radio for their amazing rendition of Gaga’s Telephone) it’s still pretty cool.

3. Rods and Cones


Part science lesson and part musical performance, this video from the Blue Man Group production “Tubes” features mesmerizing rhythms, grooving percussion, and an intriguing look at how our eyes work. I definitely have a soft spot for well-done educational entertainment (my childhood was spent with Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Bill Nye the Science Guy, after all) and this clip not only has some pretty great music but throws in a fascinating examination of the human eye.

– Nick Curry, Marketing and Development Intern
The Long Center

The Blue Man Group will be at the Long Center on December 31-January 2. Click here for more information and tickets.

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On a particularly sweltering Saturday this past August, I sat decompressing after a very successful event the Long Center had hosted that morning on the City Terrace. Bubblepalooza!, a brand-new free event, featured an environment of open play  combined with the sweet sounds of Kiddie Rock. Over 3000 men, women, and children dropped by in just three hours. We were all overwhelmed by the response.

For the purpose of this tale, the term “decompressing” means to sit elated with friends and their children who had attended the event, brainstorming additions to the immediately conceived second annual Bubblepalooza!, all the while trying to grasp the awesomeness of what had happened that morning. There were just so many smiling faces! At one point, while reiterating my disbelief of the sheer volume of little bubble blowers that came out to participate, my friend asked me why I was so surprised.

It had been just eight months since the Long Center presented a company from the United Kingdom named Architects of Air and their amazing Luminarium, an enormous inflated structure that at first glance looks like a futuristic bounce-house village. From the moment I saw it, I knew Austin had to have it. It was the first big project I ever stuck my neck out for as an arts programmer, but the gamble paid off in spades. In just seven days, more than 8500 Austinites young and old had experienced the Luminarium, many happily waiting multiple hours for the opportunity. The friends I was “decompressing” with that afternoon had all taken their children to experience the “Mirazozo,” as this particular Luminarium was named. One friend shared something that took me over the edge from elated to completely blown away: her son, who was just three-years-old back in January, still talks about his trip to the Mirazozo almost a whole year later.

Long Center Programming Manager Karen Jantsch stands in front of Architects of Air’s “Mirazozo”

For me, the satisfaction of being a programmer comes with bringing Austin not just the things they want to see and experience but also the things they don’t even know they want. The response to the Mirazozo solidified this notion for me, and for that I will always be grateful. It also reminded me just how powerful experiences can be as a young child. As they say, “with great power comes great responsibility,” so I’m making it my responsibility to ensure that a whole new host of Austinites get to experience the Luminarium first hand. It is my absolute pleasure to announce that this January the Long Center’s West Lawn will host this sensory experience of color and light once more. This time, we’ll be presenting the company’s 25th Anniversary structure “Exxopolis”. Like with all things Long Center, we’re working hard to make the experience even better than last year, so I hope you’ll make a note on your calendar to visit us January 19-27 for what I promise will be an unforgettable experience. Stay tuned for more details!

– Karen Jantsch, Programming Manager
The Long Center

For more photos and information about Architects of Air’s Luminaria, visit Architects-of-Air.com.

A photo from the inside of Architects of Air’s “Mirazozo.”

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