Penfold Theatre Company takes offense to the notion that the best theater comes from New York. In every successful season, the Round Rock stock of actors and artists give the Great White Way a run for its money with inspired productions. Hatched in the summer of 2007?after an 18-hour road trip led its founders to the dramatic potential of the hills of north Travis and Williamson Counties?Penfold quickly blossomed into a community jewel and a critics? darling. Winner of the Austin Critics Table Award for Best Musical Production for the third year in a row, the troupe embarks on a new season filled with comedy, drama, and music?all while breeding new stocks of young thespians in their Penfold Players acting classes and summer camps.
Although Esther's Follies' variety show of music, magic, and comedy recalls the vaudevillian entertainment of yesteryear (albeit with a more acerbic modern bent), the nostalgia goes beyond just the performances. The longstanding venue and comedy troupe was named after Esther Williams, the Golden Age starlet whose career as a professional swimmer led to numerous iconic MGM films. Posters for several of these pictures are plastered throughout the space, and an undersea mural bustling with brightly-hued coral, kaleidoscopic marine life, and even a Loch Ness monster further contributes to Esther's otherworldly, aquatic theme. The magical environment, along with the shows themselves, have wowed audiences and Austin Chronicle critics alike.
On the production end, Esther's Follies busts guts in record speed with satirical quips on current events; relevant parodies; and high-stepping, fast-paced comedy sketches. Resident magician Ray Anderson keeps things light with levitation illusions known to dazzle crowds. As the Follies cast ignites into choral skewerings of front-page newsmakers, audiences will laugh so hard that giggles come out their noses.
THEARC Theater was created out of necessity. The first theater in Ward 8 in Washington, DC, it was founded to provide residents living east of the Anacostia River with expanded cultural opportunities and hide-and-seek spots. Constructed by local nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River, the theater aims to improve the lives of children and adults in southeast Washington through educational, health, and social-service programs such as free theater workshops and youth internships in technical theater management. Noting the tower of glass windows that crowns the entrance, the Washington Post called it "a veritable lighthouse of learning—a $27 million, 110,000-square-foot campus set on 16 beautiful green acres."
Black Grace fuses contemporary dance with Pacific and Maori styles—forging a new form of movement at once tribal, thundering, energetic, and suffused with raw spirit. Having toured their homeland to sell-out crowds, the dance troupe has also wowed dance fanatics at many of the world's top dance festivals, including the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Mexico’s Cervantino Festival, and the Aichi World Expo. During their Austin performance, Black Grace will perform a three-part program of the best selections from their repertoire. The show begins with Minoi, a fusion of Samoan and western contemporary dance, followed by excerpts from Surface, a full-length piece centered around Samoan tattooing, before closing with choreographer Neil Ieremia's latest full-length opus, Gathering Clouds.
The Dinner Detective eschews campy costumes and plots for an exciting evening of food-accompanied mystery and paranoia, where actors hide among the diners, playing innocent and making everyone a potential suspect. To solve the crime, guests freely interrogate one another, chivvying out clues about the murderer and determining who has a bloodthirsty look in their eyes. Between dramatic deaths and simulated police involvement, guests dig into four-course meals, washed down with bottomless iced tea and drinks from the cash bar. The diner who comes closest to solving the mystery through their snooping goes home with a prize basket to show off to their friends or split with the murderer as per their shadowy conspiracy.
When Felicity Coltman founded it in 1981, the Austin Chamber Music Center's goal was simpler than it is today, yet still ambitious: to create a summer chamber-music workshop for teens. Since then, not only have many alumni gone on to become professional musicians, but the center has expanded into an outreach organization whose concerts and instruction brings chamber music to Austin ears, instruments, and hearts. Adults of similar skill levels gather into small chamber-music groups, whereas youngsters meet with instructors on weekends, during the summer, or in school. Just two years after its founding, the center sent students on two European voyages and hosted musicians from Salzburg, starting an international exchange program that continues today.
In 1988, a unique performance series took form with the center’s Intimate Concerts, which take place in private homes so that audiences can experience the music in a personal way and help their cats learn to read sheet music. Led by artistic director Michelle Schumann the center now holds year-round concerts for a variety of musical tastes, with all programs including live program notes.