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the Long Center, from Inside the Ring

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Austin-based theater company Crank Collective presents Cabeza de Vaca: Shipwrecked in Texas April 3, 4, and 5 at the Long Center Rollins Studio Theatre.

cabezadevaca550_439The first in a series of two Texas History operettas, Cabeza de Vaca is a musical tribute to the extraordinary journey of the 16th century Spanish Explorer who shipwrecked on Galveston island in 1527 and struggled to survive in a Native American land. Director John Cecil recounts Crank Collective’s journey in bringing this exciting work to the stage:

Galveston, Texas. 1527:  Four men wash ashore and are enslaved by a local group of Karankawas.   Despite beatings, battles and a diet of cactus and deer dung, the four Spaniards survive to eventually become traders.   A mysterious ability to heal and raise the dead elevates the men to shamans, and they begin a six-year escape on foot into Mexico, followed by thousands of devotees.  Sounds like the perfect story for a Crank Collective show.

I first heard about Cabeza de Vaca when teaching Texas history to 7th graders (quickly scanning the margins of the teacher’s edition).   I later read a translation of de Vaca’s narrative and got to see the amazing movie by Nicolás Echevarría.  When Crank Collective decided to do a Texas History Operetta series, this story seemed too rich, and too strange, not to put on stage.   But how to do it?  How to transform a 2000-mile, six-year journey into a one-hour musical show at the Long Center?

We adapted the text into a play, keeping close to the quasi-anthropological of the original account.  With the band, we developed music with Spanish elements, but including sound effects of the sea and wind, and inventing music for the now-extinct Karankawa tribe.  For costumes, we naturally wanted to avoid the nude-but-for-12-inch-nipple-piercings that de Vaca describes so we came up with some formal, deliberately out-of-context costume styles.

In the original reading of the de Vaca text, the actors first sounded a bit stuffy, like they were doing fake Shakespeare or in a church play.  It was funny, but not the way we wanted.  In rehearsals, however, the actors managed to master and loosen up the script, interacting and improvising to create a believably exotic clash between two vanishing empires. Cabeza de Vaca: Shipwrecked in Texas is now an unusual, engrossing, and very entertaining show.

– John Cecil, Director of Cabeza de Vaca: Shipwrecked in Texas

For tickets and more information on Crank Collective’s Cabeza de Vaca: Shipwrecked in Texas, at the Long Center, Rollins Studio, April 3, 4 and 5.

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Austin Dance India presents Bharata Natyam Solos and Duets at the Long Center Rollins Studio Theater, March 28-31. We asked Austin Dance India’s Artistic Director, Anuradha Naimpally  to give us some insight on this classical style of Southern Indian dance.

Often I step back mentally during the busiest moments of the day and always
find myself amazed at what I am doing. At times it is in a studio teaching a class. Other times it is performing in a school cafeteria to 500 kids and Journey-Sunday-041teachers. On occasion it is under the bright lights of a proscenium stage. But wherever I am, I am doing what I love most in this world — dance. And specifically, bharata natyam dance, a classical style from southern India.

I’ve always loved to dance and studied the usual ballet, tap, and jazz while growing up in a remote northern Ontario city. But when I saw bharata natyam for the first time when I was 12 years old,
I instantly knew this was the dance for me. There was just something so familiar about it that I was drawn to it like nothing I have ever felt before. With two of the most supportive parents, I had the opportunity to eventually travel to India and live there to study professionally with incredible masters in Mumbai. I haven’t looked back since.

I have traveled far and wide teaching and performing bharata natyam. I have received many honors which are wonderful but always seem like icing on the cake because I don’t ever feel like this is work. It is hard to fathom that this dance just keeps getting more beautiful and richer in depth as time goes on. An ancient text on bharata natyam states that the performer is doubly blessed because they themselves obtain such joy from this art and they can also share it with their audience through performances. How true.

What is incredulous is that this form, that dates back to ancient times the likes of the 3rd century B.C.E., still finds relevance in today’s modern world. This is what amazes me! Bharata Natyam portrays universal values, aesthetics, human emotions, and situations to which any person can relate. A jilted lover, longing for one’s beloved, playful pranks of a child, young love, spiritual joy are just a few experiences that are portrayed and explored in bharata natyam dance.

I am excited to be presenting an evening of new works with my daughter, Purna, now a lovely young dancer. She was born, and has grown up in Austin and studied bharata natyam with me since she was very young. Our performance, Two Generations, One Tradition: Bharata Natyam Solos and Duet, is a culmination of all that amazes me during those moments of stepping back; I am performing bharata natyam in Austin, TX in 2013; I am performing with my daughter; I am performing at The Long Center; I am performing for all of you! What a blessing indeed!

Anuradha Naimpally, Austin Dance India

For tickets and more information on Austin Dance India’s Bharata Natyam Solos and Duets at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, March 28-31. 

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Words of Wisdom from Charlie Ross, Creator of One-Man Star Wars Trilogy


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Charles Ross, star of One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, is performing his one-man act of the entire original Star Wars Trilogy this weekend at the Long Center! We asked Charlie just how he came up with the idea for his original show, and this is what he told us:

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This is me, at the age of eight years old. Not much of an achiever, as you can see by my total lack of merit badges.

Okay, I lie. I did receive one badge for house keeping- there’s a vacuum on it. It’s about as prestigious as the “Breathes Oxygen”, “Carbon Based Life Form”, and “Takes Up 3 Dimensional Space” badge.

Now, if you look very closely at my face you’ll notice the glazed look of a boy who knows too much about Star Wars.  My head is somewhere off in space.

At this time, I lived on a farm, in a far, far away, remote-ish, part of Canada.The TV and radio reception at our farmhouse was even worse than my badge count. Our entertainment came from Winter sports, books, a record player and a VCR. The videos we had were the original Star Wars, the Blue Lagoon, and the eight part miniseries of James Clavell’s novel Shogun (except we were missing the last 20 minutes of the last episode).

Now- it doesn’t take Eagle Scout to figure out- that nine times out of ten, when I chose something to watch, it was Star Wars– sorry Brooke. After three years of watching the film an incredible amount of times, we moved away from the farm, to an artsy little mountain town called Nelson. It was there that I discovered Acting. Behavior that used to get me kicked out of class suddenly had some value- I wasn’t being a disruptive jerk- I was a budding Thespian.

Flash-forward fifteen years later, I was a University grad with a BFA in Acting. I was living the bohemian, poverty-line life of an actor, and I longed to gain some autonomy with my “career”. The question was how? The answer was a one-man show.

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It’s all very involved, but in not so many words I put together my One Man Star Wars with my best friend and colleague, TJ Dawe. TJ had already written, performed and toured a couple autobiographical solo shows- he was the only person I trusted to work with. Plus, he knew Star Wars.

Once my show felt ready, I toured it on the North American Fringe Festival circuit. At the end of my tour, I was invited to perform in Chicago, at the Noble Fool Comedy Theatre.

Suddenly, stuff started to get pretty serious. The media liked my show’s concept: one hour, one man, three films, no props, no costumes, and no set. Then “POOF!” Lucasfilm contacts me: what’s going on? I respond: please don’t kill me?

They didn’t. Instead, they invite me to come perform at Star Wars convention. The little Boy Scout who couldn’t earn a merit badge for anything, suddenly found himself as an adult, performing for 4000 hardcore Star Wars fans per show.Once my show felt ready, I toured it on the North American Fringe Festival circuit.

At the end of my tour, I was invited to perform in Chicago, at the Noble Fool Comedy Theatre. Suddenly, stuff started to get pretty serious. The media liked my show’s concept: one hour, one man, three films, no props, no costumes, and no set. Then “POOF!” Lucasfilm contacts me: what’s going on? I respond: please don’t kill me?

To hell with your badges! I keep this picture to remind myself that while it may be worth a thousand words, none of them would describe who I am on the inside. I turned one person’s idea of a “waste of time” into “career research”.

I was a definitely terrible scout, but I’m a kick ass dreamer.

Charles Ross, Creator and Performer of One-Man Star Wars Trilogy now at the Long Center. 

For Tickets and more information about One-Man Star Wars Trilogy at the Long Center. 

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Noel Coward’s provocative comedy, DESIGN FOR LIVING Feb. 6-24 at the Rollins Theater from Austin Shakespeare, professional award-winning theater.

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As Austin Shakespeare goes into its final week of production of Noel Coward’s witty comedy Design for Living, we thought it would be fun to take a second look at the characters from lead Helen Merino’s perspective.  In her interview with Artistic Director Ann Ciccolella, Helen gives us her thoughts on the show

What makes Noel Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING appealing?

Well, it’s an attractive world to start. It draws you into its serious ideas via sex, period clothing, enchanting music, and dazzling wordplay. It is a provocative, substantial, sometimes even painful journey but always in the close company of something sparkling, fun and beautiful. My only regret about being in it is that I can’t be in the audience to have that happen to me.

Why did you want to act in DESIGN FOR LIVING?

It was a combination of the script and knowing I would be working on it with Ann (Ciccolella, director). In general, I find it hard to turn Austin Shakespeare down. The experience is always the way I fantasize I’ll be treated as an actor in other companies but rarely ever am. There seems to be – not
just in Ann, but in the staff as well – a sincere, intelligent interest in what actors actually DO, so the odds of being able to DO it goes way up. I’m hired as a real colleague, employed and encouraged to do my best. They are the most satisfying company to work with because of it.

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Also, I fell in love with Coward’s three main characters. He manages to be frankly critical of them without ever losing the thread of what makes them beautiful. In the end it’s their beauty, their shameless, authentic devotion that carries them to their final convictions. They all have smallness in them that they fight against or give into throughout the show, each of them following the wrong solutions to what they need to be.  But I love that when they do the final math, they look simply to the truth. Coward lets real love and honor be the thing that carries them toward survival, not fear or whim. I think that’s what separates them from some of his more cynical, sexually addicted characters. I honestly don’t know how other people will take them, but I like them all very much.

What surprised you about Noel Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING?

Hands down, it’s the level of difficulty. It’s not just the language – which is some of the most difficult I’ve ever done, and absolutely the most difficult not written by Shakespeare. It’s the show’s hybrid style. Coward, sort of brilliantly, tells us the impossible story of helpless

21906_10151301655818253_1075770236_nlove for two people by using two different styles of drama; it’s part “Private Lives,” part “Brief Encounter.”  And he, like his characters, seems frankly, blindly in love with both methods of communication – it’s all hot and cold speech; each scene seems to exist simultaneously on two planets. The method of conveyance is sometimes a swift, cool, calculated bubble, then switches immediately into a savage, indecent, humiliating openness. It makes one feel a constant sense of, “what’s happening? is this right?”  It’s very hard to modulate, alternate, and find the right place to be, but when you do, you feel like the best of bareback riders.

For more information and Tickets to Design for Living at The Long Center.

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Power. Precision. Passion. Valentine’s Day weekend.
Music by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Schubert.
Allegro Brillante – George Balanchine
Requiem for a Rose – Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
The Rite of Spring – Stephen Mills

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Long Center Founding Resident Company Ballet Austin presents The Rite of Spring February 15-17 at the Long Center. Here are some beautiful photographs from a recent dress rehearsal. Photo Credit: Tony Spielberg.

For more information and tickets to The Rite of Spring.

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As distinctive and dynamic as the city it calls home, Ballet Austin welcomes audiences near and far to participate in its “classically innovative” vision for the democratization of dance. With a rich history spanning five decades, acclaimed productions, a commitment to creating access to programs and one of the nation’s largest classical ballet academies, the organization is poised for an even greater future. From their home at the Butler Dance Education Center in downtown Austin, Ballet Austin and Artistic Director Stephen Mills actively engage the community, dancers, and audiences alike. The New York Times proclaims Ballet Austin “a company with big ambitions” originating work that is “absorbing.”

For More Information and Tickets to The Rite of Spring. 

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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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