100 Creatives 2014: Atseko Factor, Actor

Categories: 100 Creatives

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Photo by Christine Weems
Qamara Black as Mama Nadi and Atseko Factor as Christian in Ruined at Obsidian Art Space
A 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner, Lynn Nottage's Ruined is a difficult story - to watch and certainly to perform. The production, directed by Tom Stell, is in the last week of its run at Obsidian Art Space. The story takes place in a bar-and-brothel in the Congo. There's the no-nonsense madame, Mama Nadi, and the prostitutes she oversees, their customers and the soldiers and guerrillas fighting for control of the region. There's also smooth talking, happy trader Christian who stops in the bar as he makes supply runs ... and who happens to be in love with Mama Nadi. Actor Atseko Factor plays Christian.

Read our review of Ruined.

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Photo Courtesy of Atseko Factor
Christian is a complicated character. He appears happy-go-lucky, but he is well aware of the unstable situation of the region. He traffics in more than just dry goods; he also sells "ruined" women. (Rape survivors in the Congo are considered to be ruined and rejected by their family and friends. The outcasts often end up in brothels, such as the one seen in the play.) The play starts when Christian arrives at Mama Nadi's bar and sells her two traumatized women.

Factor, whose father is from the Congo, found Ruined echoed the stories he heard in his family. "Growing up, I heard my father talk about the Congo, about how he wished we could go back home but couldn't because it was so chaotic and dangerous." In building the character of Christian, Factor used his father as a starting point. "He's the epitome of a Congolese man to me."

Ruined has received positive reviews with both critics and audiences singling out Factor's performance, along with that of co-star Qamara Black who plays Mama Nadi, for its excellence.

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100 Creatives 2014: John Pluecker, Writer, Poet and Language Justice Worker

Categories: 100 Creatives

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Photo by Allison Cobb
We admit that before talking to John Pluecker, co-founder of language experimentation collaborative Antena, we hadn't heard of language justice. Sure, we heard about gender-neutral language (waitstaff vs waitress), but that's not what writer, poet and translator Pluecker means.

"What [Antena's] really talking about is the right that people have to use the language that they wish," Pluecker tells us. "We look at how to create spaces that are multilingual where people can speak across languages barriers and spaces where people can use the language in which they feel most comfortable."

Antena has been in residence at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston since January. Collaborating with Latin America and U.S. writers that were working visually and artists that were working with language, Antena has helped launch a number of initiatives during its residency including an exhibition of work combining literary and visual arts, readings and performances, DIY projects throughout the U.S. and Latin America, the weekly class "In The Between: At the Intersections of Writing, Art, Politics" as well as workshops in writing, bookmaking, translation and language justice.

"In the past, my work as an artist has been different, separate from my work as a translator. With Antena it's been about creating a space for my work as an artist to overlap with my work as an interpreter and translator."

This story continues on the next page.


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100 Creatives 2014: Ricky Ortiz, Painter, Tattoo Artist

Categories: 100 Creatives

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What He Does: Though he's quite capable of translating a beautiful image to be forever etched into your very flesh as a tattoo artist, most of the work that comes from Ricky Ortiz's brush is of a much more disturbing quality. Screams, fractured anatomies, and a penchant for poses that hunt at some kind of hellish perversion are his typical output, and it's as striking as it is uncomfortable to look at. Still, it's also undeniably beautiful, just as skillful surgery and a well-crafted weapon are beautiful.

Ortiz has drawn all his life, and can't remember a time when he wasn't creating images. His work has been presented in galleries, events, and venues around Houston. Zen Art Space, WarHous, JoMar Visions, and Comicpalooza have been good places to sample his wares, and he even picked up a Best Original Art award at last year's Splatterfest for his work in a local horror film. If you're lucky, you will also see his art on the skin of passers-by in Houston. His website is still under construction but you can visit the Facebook page for his art if you fancy setting an appointment.

Why He Likes It: "I love everything about it as far as being able to use it as a tool for expression and giving life. And by that I mean in the sense of being able to create something from nothing and having it take a life and meaning of its own.
The best part of it is being hands-on with art. There is no other way of enjoying it in my opinion."


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100 Creatives 2014: Rabēa Ballin, Artist

Categories: 100 Creatives

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Courtesy of Rabēa Ballin
Miss Third Ward
Looking at Rabēa Ballin's paintings and drawings, it's easy to guess she's obsessed with hair. Not just as a textural object that's visually interesting but as an expression of status, self-worth and beauty.

"I was raised in a beauty shop," Ballin tells us. "My mom was a trained beautician and I was always her little apprentice. I always thought what she did was sculptural. These women would come in and she'd tease up their hair and make these bouffant sculptures."

Eventually Ballin realized that she was seeing more than just hair styles. "I would associate these women and their hair with their religious affiliation or their nationality or their age group so I started thinking of hair as an identifier, as a way to self-express.

"I started drawing hair in grad school because I love texture. Now I'm just obsessed with these really eccentric hairstyles that tie into culture and status and the fact that the only thing we can change from day to day is our hair. At first, I didn't want to draw portraits of people just from the back, now these hairstyles don't even have heads and bodies attached to them anymore."

Ballin used her hairdressing skills to earn money while in college. "I'd braid hair for gas money - I made a lot money," she laughs. "I still have a couple of customers that I [work with] on a regular basis. As I'm braiding their hair I'm thinking 'Hmm, can I draw that?'"

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100 Creatives 2014: David Wald, Actor

Categories: 100 Creatives

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Courtesy of Main Street Theater
David Wald as Buckingham in Richard III, a 2012 Main Street Theater/Prague Shakespeare Company co-production
Stage and voice actor David Wald will be playing to a small audience when he takes the stage in the title role in Main Street Theater's production of Macbeth. (Wald shares the role with director/actor Guy Roberts.) The only person Wald wants to satisfy with his performance as Macbeth is Macbeth.

"I think my performance really is for the character," Wald tells us during a break in rehearsals. " My goal as an actor is to embody this character, to take some black and white scrawl on the page and make it breathe in the air. We as actors do that in service to the playwright, in service to the director and of course, in service to the audience. But for me as an actor, if there's any single pair of eyes that I need on me, it's those of the character."

One of Shakespeare's darkest and most conflicted characters, Macbeth is a loyal general in the beginning of the play. Ambition and greed prompt him to kill his king and take the throne for himself. Wald says the character's range of emotions and complex motivations make it a dream role for most actors. "Of course, most actors shoot for Hamlet first, because he's younger. Then they age into Macbeth. I've never played Hamlet; I'm just jumping right into Macbeth," he laughs.

Wald was invited to Prague to perform the role there in a previous production by the Prague Shakespeare Company, which Roberts also directed. The experience, he says, was profound. "Working with Guy is always so wonderful. He does these completely theatrical pieces that are a joy to be a part of. This is the third or fourth time I've worked with him and each time, I can see myself changing as an actor. During this last production of Macbeth in Prague, in the middle of one of the speeches, I felt myself level up as an actor. That's an amazing experience."

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100 Creatives 2014: Lisa E. Harris, Performing and Visual Artist

Categories: 100 Creatives

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Courtesy of Lisa Harris
Performing and visual artist Lisa E. Harris explored memory and self-perception in her 2012 project, ''No Matter How Hard I Try I Can't Look the Same as I Did Yesterday.'' The project included an exhibition of selfies and head shots, an installation and performance. At the time the Manhattan School of Music graduate told us about a video included in the exhibit. It was a home video of an eight-year-old Harris singing ''Memories'' from Cats.

''When I first got the video, I told my friends, 'Oh my gosh, I was so good -- I rocked!' Then we watched the video and I look terrified throughout the song, and that's not my memory at all. I realized the memory of me rocking had been projected onto me. Other people told me I rocked, and so I remembered it that way. My memory of that experience was based on what people had told me, not how I felt at the time.''

The grown-up Harris does, indeed, rock. The vocalist joined pianist Jason Moran, who like Harris is a graduate of Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as well as the Manhattan School of Music, for A Fats Waller Dance Party with Meshell N'degeocello with performances at the Kennedy Center for the Arts, the San Francisco Jazz Center, Toronto Jazz Festival, Ottawa Jazz Festival and the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

She created Cry of the Third Eye - A New Opera Film, a look at gentrification in Houston's Third Ward. She's currently participating in "Proof," a mixed media exhibit/installation/performance series with Pittsburg-based artist Alisha B. Wormsley at Art League Houston. (Harris and Wormsley are co-founders of Studio Enertia, an artist collective presenting works in sculpture, installations, film, photography, performance and new opera.)

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100 Creatives 2014: Stephanie Todd Wong, Executive Director of Dance Source Houston

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Photo by Lynn Lane
Stephanie Todd Wong (left) with board chair Christina Giannelli at The Barn.

Wearing a full skirt that doubled as a cape, Stephanie Todd Wong brought the vision of a bullfight to life as she became a matador onstage dueling with an imaginary bull.

That Washington, D.C. performance a few years ago in Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter by famed dancer and choreographer Anna Sokolow was one of the highlights of Wong's dancing career -- a career that has since morphed into choreography, teaching and, most recently, the administrative side of the business.

Since 2011, Wong has been the executive director of Dance Source Houston, whose mission is to support artists and organizations that showcase them and to build an audience for dance in Houston. The group supports people in dance not just in Houston, but from all over.


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100 Creatives 2014: Pamela Fagan Hutchins, Novelist

Categories: 100 Creatives

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Courtesy of Pamela Fagan Hutchins
If you ever meet Pamela Fagan Hutchins and she seems overly emotional, don't worry. She's just working. The bestselling novelist finds that in order to make her books engaging, in order to make her characters seemingly get up off the page and start walking around, she has to do what she calls "the emotional work."

"I'm working on a rewrite of my next book and ... my critique club said there were a few spots in the book that are flat, that are missing the emotion. In order to put that emotion [on the page], I have to stop and experience it in real life," Hutchins, the current president of the Houston Writers Guild, tells us.

Hutchins, who writes comedic non-fiction (What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too? and How to Screw Up Your Kids) as well as romantic mysteries (Saving Grace, Leaving Annalise, and Finding Harmony) admits she isn't always successful in keeping the emotion from her writing separate from her everyday life. "If it's dark, I'm dark. If it's happy, I'm happy. It's really hard to turn it on and off. And it can be a real problem in my household because we have to talk about real life and then discuss what happening in the book, in the other world that I live in."

"My husband always says, 'Oh, I can't wait for you to start a new book!' And I say, 'Really? You really mean that? Let's talk about the last time we went through this.'"

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100 Creatives 2014: Heather Gordy, Artist

Categories: 100 Creatives

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Photo courtesy of Heather Gordy
Artist Heather Gordy, it seems, was destined to work with death. "I dissected a lot of things when I was little," she tells us laughing. "My mother thought I was either going to be a mortician, a veterinarian or an artist because I was always dissecting things when I was a kid."

Gordy didn't go to mortuary school and she didn't turn out to be a veterinarian either. She became a visual artist, one who often deals with death in her work.

"I'm intrigued by the cycle of life and death; every creature eventually gives themselves back to the earth. There's something that's both beautiful and tragic in that."

That beauty and tragedy often makes its way on to Gordy's canvases. Not that you can expect to see skeletons or dead animals in her paintings. The meaning of Gordy's work isn't as obvious as that. It's more subtle, more symbolic. And she doesn't expect for viewers to take the same understanding of a painting as she does.

"All of my pieces mean something to me, there's always some element that has a strong meaning. An outsider won't see the same thing as I do and that's fine. Each flower means something different to me; it can also mean something different to anyone else who sees it. If they like [my painting] because it's pretty, that's fine. If it mean something to them, that's great. If they see something in a piece that I wasn't intending, that's good, too."


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100 Creatives 2014: Mark Nasso, Comic Artist

Categories: 100 Creatives

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What He Does: Mark Nasso is yet another example of the fantastic wealth of comic drawing talent that we have here in Houston. He's a regular at all the local comic conventions, selling his own unique take of pop art down whatever artist alley is going on that month. His work tends towards the gruesome, but with a slight bit of black humor that keeps it gleeful rather than grim. A perfect example of that is his mock-up for the fictional film Machete Kills Again... In Space. On a side note, can we totally make that happen?

Although he had always been interested in art it wasn't until after high school that he became aware of illustration as a discipline and how it differs from other fields of art. From studying at the University of Houston and taking advice from other illustrators he set out to develop his distinct style. He's definitely another illustrator we need to be keeping an eye on.

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