100 Creatives 2014: Christopher Turbessi, Pianist

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Photo courtesy of HGO
Christopher Turbessi
Early on, Christopher Turbessi played percussion but quit after a couple years. ("I hated it; not for me.") Then he went on to the French horn and stayed with that for a while.

He finally found his way to piano when he was 12; he calls that a late start. He discovered he didn't just like playing the piano. He liked performing his music along with a number of musicians, which could be anything from several pianists playing together to a sonata for violin and piano or with singers. "I really like working with other people. I really prefer that."

In his senior year in college at the University of Michigan (where he went on to get a master's degree in collaborative piano), he was asked to play for an opera. That led to his being part of the young artists program in Syracuse, New York, for two years and another in Norfolk, Virginia, before arriving in Houston -- where he is a second-year member of the Houston Grand Opera's Studio Artists.


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100 Creatives 2014: Chuck Norfolk, Filmmaker

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Hector Luna
What He Does: Chuck Norfolk is a titan of the local film industry. He's written, directed, produced, and acted in at least a dozen features and shorts, a real hands-on member of the local scene. He's most notable for The Haunted Trailer starring Ron Jeremy, Joe Grisaffi, and Lauren Leal, where he wore most of the production hats. He also wrote the recent horror film Conjoined, a tale of murderous sisters connected at the waist, with his bother Tim, and produced the acclaimed revenge film Jacob

The Norfolk Brothers (Chuck, Tim, and Steve) have always been story tellers. Chuck and Tim wrote their first feature screenplay 20 years ago and tried to push from the screenwriter angle to get our stories told. Fourteen years and nine features and a bunch of short scripts later they realized that the screenwriter door is a tough door to get through, and so Chuck decided to start producing his own scripts. This led to several, admittedly terrible, short films, but gave him experience behind the camera to get better.

Chuck attributes his ability to handle the many different duties he usually has on every set through his ability to focus and his partnership with producer Courtney Sandifer, another Jill of all trades with her hand in many film pies.

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100 Creatives 2014: Reginald Smith Jr., Opera Singer

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Photo courtesy of HGO
Reginald Smith
Reginald Smith Jr. is a studio artist in his second year with the Houston Grand Opera, which means he's part of a small elite group getting an intense course of study and a chance to appear in operas while readying for what he hopes will be a longtime career. At this season's Studio Artists performance, HGO Music and Artistic Director Patrick Summers singled Smith out as someone who's going to be doing great things.

Smith grew up in Atlanta and says he was always singing along with his two brothers and two sisters. He was in school choir from second grade all the way through college. An eighth grade teacher spotted his talent and told him he should consider going to the city's School for the Arts. His major there was vocal music. "I just wanted to be a good choir singer.

Then in the tenth grade, he attended his first opera. "I thought I've never seen an opera before and it's ten bucks and even if it's boring, I can get out of school. So I went to see it and my first opera, and it was Tosca, a great opera."

"The thing that I can remember that was so amazing to me was that all of the main characters died. When the soprano sang Avante a Dio, most people sort of run and jump off the back of the building. She stood on the ledge and sang Avante a Dio and then jumped backwards. I thought, 'Man, that's pretty intense. I kind of like this stuff.' " Soon after he looked up more about Puccini, and the opera started taking his lessons much more seriously. "It was really then that I thought maybe I should consider more singing. "

What he does:

"I sing the best music in the world. And I think that goes for opera music, that goes for art songs. It goes for French, German, Italian, English. I love singing concert works like Beethoven's symphonies. But also doing wonderful things like 'Unforgettable.' I think I have the best job in the world. I get to sing great music and experience wonderful opportunities in new and interesting places and I get paid to do it! "

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100 Creatives 2014: Luke Hamilton, Dancer, Choreographer and Actor

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Photo by Kyle Ezer
Luke Hamilton, Choreographer
Bayou City Theatrics resident choreographer Luke Hamilton showed signs of being a performer early in his life. "When I was five years old, I was on a soccer team. I scored a goal, turned to my Grandma and took a bow. She said she knew right then and there that I was supposed to be a performer."

Soon after that, Hamilton traded soccer teams for chorus lines. Dancing, singing and acting lessons followed, all of which convinced him a career onstage was the right thing for him.

"I discovered my love for theater at an early age. When I figured out I could make a career out of playing dress-up, something I did often...as a kid, I was sold on the idea."

Somewhere along the line, Hamilton started choreographing as well as performing. His work in the Houston Family Arts Center's Fiddler on the Roof won Best Choreography for a Musical at the Houston Theater Awards in 2013. That was an especially difficult task since the show included 64 performers and there were several scenes with the entire cast singing and dancing onstage. Hamilton was only 20 years old at the time, making him the youngest Houston Theater Awards winner ever.

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100 Creatives 2014: Jera Rose Petal Lodge, Metalsmith and Jewelrymaker

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Photo by Amanda Shackleford
Jera Rose Petal Lodge, one of five artists currently in residence at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, has been making things her whole life, she says. "I was always really into sewing and would make jewelry with whatever I could get my hands on, but I didn't think making jewelry could be a career until I was in my early twenties. I took a couple of years off after high school and saw a friend taking a metalsmithing class, and when I saw what she was making, I knew that's what I wanted to do."

Lodge graduated from college in 2012 and has been working independently for only two years. In that time, she's decided that metalsmithing and jewelry design is how she wants to make her living, but she isn't sure if that's a good plan.

"Right now, I say this looks like it's going to be my work, but at the same time I never take days off so that doesn't look sustainable. In the three months I've been in Houston, I've never taken one day off. Can I really not take any time off for the next ten years? I have to think about that."

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100 Creatives 2014: Lauren Burke, Dancer and Choreographer

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Photo by Jacqueline Nalett
Dancer/choreographer Lauren Burke
Lauren Burke has had a busy couple of years. She was named the 2014 Outstanding Dance Student of the Year at the University of Houston (her picture is currently on UH Dance department's promotional material). She was awarded a prestigious scholarship to attend American Dance Festival 2014. She was one of only 19 who were chosen for New York choreographer Netta Yerushalmy's work. (Some 400 dancers auditioned.) She was named the Best Emerging Artist at the most recent Houston Fringe Festival, where she performed her own work. And she's currently dancing for not one but two of her favorite local dance companies, Urban Souls and FrenetiCore.

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100 Creatives 2014: Ben Fritzsching, Comic Book Show Promoter and Character Actor

Categories: 100 Creatives

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All photos courtesy of Ben Fritzsching
Ben Fritzsching
Ben Fritzsching, a partner in the comic book show promotion group STX Shows, has a very simple explanation as to how he started collecting comic books: "My mom never made me get rid of anything. The next thing I knew, I was collecting." His parents took him to a couple of comic book shows and that moved him from the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics he had been reading to superheroes and GI Joe. By the time he was 17, he had so many comics he decided to set up his own booth at a show, and his career as a part-time comic book dealer was born.

After selling collectables at comic book shows for about ten years, Fritzsching took a break from the business. "Everything was getting so expensive. The prices for everything were skyrocketing." Both Fritzsching and his wife were laid off and weekend comic book shows took a backseat to paying bills.

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100 Creatives 2014: Will Ottinger, Novelist

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Chances are novelist Will Ottinger won't die on a golf course in the next five years. At least not according to his own estimate of life expectancy after retirement (which is based on a completely unscientific sampling, we're sure).

Ottinger, who had a long career in finance, tells us that once it he left the business world it wasn't time for him to do less with his time, but something different. "I quickly realized there was more to an active after-business life than playing golf, coming home, watching television and going to bed. [People who do that] typically die within five years of retiring."

Instead of practicing his putting, Ottinger started writing. His first book, A Season for Ravens, was released earlier this year. Ravens reflects Ottinger's life long interest in history and is set in 1918. It's the story of three fighter pilots, each with their own personal demons, as they take part in the first ever aerial war.

Along with the three pilots (two American and one German), Ottinger created a host of other characters - wives, commanding officers, soldiers, friends - and they all ended up living in his head for a while.

"If you want to create realistic [fleshed out] characters for the readers, you have to make them realistic for yourself first. They became very real for me. My wife asked me 'Do these people live in your head? If they do, can we get you back on your medicine?' There was some sadness that all of these people, these characters that I've lived with for so much time are going away when I finished the book but really after a while, I [was] just so damn glad to get rid of them!"

Ottinger is already working on his next novel, and "bringing some new [characters] to life."

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100 Creatives 2014: Greg Starbird, Theater Lighting Designer

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Courtesy of Greg Starbird
The set of Red Death at Mildred's Umbrella
As a theater lighting designer, Greg Starbird does a lot of planning. He analyzes the show's script. He meets with the show's director and other designers to determine a communal approach. He creates a light plot of his initial ideas and tweaks it as he goes along. "In smaller theaters, such as Mildred's Umbrella, I typically work alone to hang, cable, and focus the lights," he tells us. "This can be a long process depending on how involved the plot is, who was in the space last, and how much troubleshooting and repair work needs to be done to get the necessary lights operable."

Planning, he's found, decreases but doesn't eliminate problems in production. "No amount of preparation can ever make tech go perfectly, so I have to be ready to improvise quickly, effectively, and efficiently to satisfy the director and design team without compromising my own aesthetic."

And then there's the question of getting it "right," not just being glitch-free but enhancing the show's impact and deepening the audience's experience.

"Every play has at least one moment of near-crippling self-doubt and at least one moment of self-validation," he says, "and if I'm lucky, they come in that order and the latter outnumbers the former."

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100 Creatives 2014: Dominique Royem, Symphony Orchestra Conductor

Categories: 100 Creatives

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All photos courtesy of Dominique Royem
Dominique Royem and the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra
Dominique Royem, Music Director of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra as well as Music Director and Conductor of Bayou City Concert Musicals, was in college when she conducted her first orchestra. As part of a class, she conducted "How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place" from the Brahms Requiem. "I had fun," she tells us, "but didn't think anything about it. After the performance, Dr. Robert Linder, who happened to be in the audience, pulled me aside and told me that I had a spark that 'couldn't be taught' and [that I] should pursue conducting professionally. I said 'Uhhhh... sure?' and that was that."

Soon after that, Royem was appointed as assistant conductor for a production of The Marriage of Figaro. At the time she had only a small amount of training, but it was then that she first called herself a conductor. "The title of conductor or music director is a job description, but it's one you have to earn. [With that production of The Marriage of Figaro,] I jumped head first into something I didn't fully understand. Things move very quickly in the theater world, and there is no time for self-doubt. Through that experience I learned that I had to call myself a conductor if I wanted to be one; no one else could bestow the title on me."

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