Houston Theater District's Open House and Our Theater Awards Issue

Photo by Marie Noelle Robert
For entry level opera-goers: Sweeney Todd
Besides the ballet, the theater companies and the symphony, this year's 21st Annual Theater District Open House will feature food trucks in Jones Plaza, tango lessons from the Society for the Performing Arts and has expanded to include Bayou City Music Center and Bayou Place (known rather more for their rock music than classical works).

And even though Alley Theatre has moved to a temporary home at the University of Houston where its first show of the season The Old Friends opens Wednesday, its personnel will still be on hand to show visitors through its production rooms to plumb the mysteries of costumes and wigs and rehearsal halls.

Perryn Leech, acting board chair of the Houston Downtown Alliance and Houston Grand Opera's managing director, says this year as always gives visitors an up-close-and personal (and free!) look at the Houston arts scene with the added benefit of being able to sign up for discounted subscriptions. "There are good bargains to be had," he says.

Tying in to all the occasion, the Houston Press this week presents its annual Houston Press Arts Guide as well as the third year of our Houston Theater Awards, in which we draw attention to what we believe were the outstanding theatrical performances in our city during the 2013-14 season.

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Murakamania Midnight Release Party at Brazos Bookstore on Monday, August 11

Haruki Murakami fans may want to consider taking a cat nap on Monday, August 11, in advance of Brazos Bookstore's Murakamania Midnight Release Par-tay [emphasis added], which kicks off at 10 p.m.

Stop in to talk about what you talk about when you talk about running with other Murakami fans, and walk away with a one-of-a-kind, Brazos Bookstore-designed original Murakami-themed coloring book--"What I Talk About When I Talk About Coloring." At the stroke of midnight, copies of "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" will go on sale, but beware--the store strongly encourages pre-ordering, in anticipation of a sell-out.

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Finding the Black and White Truth on Tomlinson Hill

If your car radio is usually tuned to NPR, you may have already heard from journalist and author Chris Tomlinson--his recent appearance on Fresh Air with Terry Gross likely caused a driveway moment or two. Tomlinson will be discussing and signing his new book, Tomlinson Hill, at Brazos Bookstore on Wednesday, July 30, and he says that sharing the story of his own Texas family's slaveholding roots is an exercise in personal and historical honesty.

"Almost every day I read or hear a Texan bragging about being a fourth or fifth-generation Texan, but I don't hear them talk about what that means," said Tomlinson, who recently joined the staff of the Houston Chronicle. "If you can trace your family history back that far, you are going to have a family history much like mine. I get angry when I hear people talk about being a fifth-generation Texan, but they don't want to talk about slavery or Jim Crow; they want to choose the history they talk about, and when they do that, they deny African Americans their history and their experience, and that's problematic."

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Throwback Thursday: Put on Your Dancing Shoes at Spring Street Studios

Put on your dancing shoes

Many people know Spring Street Studios is where you go to watch theater offerings from Stark Naked Theatre Company and Mildred's Umbrella and that it is filled with visual arts studios as well.

This Thursday, Spring Street Studios is hosting its first ever Throwback Thursday to celebrate both theater companies' upcoming seasons and to also highlight the other building occupants.

"We have a lot of artists but we also have some businesses in the building," says Stark Naked's co-founder Kim Tobin-Lehl. Sponsored in part by the Houston Press, the event will also highlight a bicycle tour company, a yoga studio, and a paper company.

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Combined Smashin' Fashion Show + Houston's Best Stylist Competition Promises a Double Dose of Fashion Fun

For Houston image expert Sarah Shah, style happens from the inside out. "I help people bring out what's inside them, rather than just putting something on to them," Shah recently explained over coffee at Down House. "Most people in this business tell people what they should wear, and then get mad when [the clients] don't like it. My job is to figure out a person's natural style, their own innate sense of what they should wear, and I take that and go from there. I guess I go a little backwards!"

Now Shah is poised to make a splash with yet another makeover, and this time it's a big one. She's making over the entire runway on July 31 at the first-ever Smashin' Fashion™ Show--Houston's Best Stylist Competition, at The Art Institute of Houston.

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7 Texas Drive-In Theaters That You Can Still Visit

Photo by Andrew Dupont
The Starlite in Brenham still stands as a reminder of the halcyon days of drive-in theaters

The Starlite Drive-In Theater lies abandoned just off of Highway 290 in Brenham, looking like a dead monument to a time long gone. Anyone taking that route between Houston and Austin will have seen the back of its single screen and a tall metal fence around the perimeter.

Scattered around America, there are many old drive-ins. Most are lifeless husks, either abandoned and slowly being claimed by the elements, or having been repurposed into something entirely different. In other cases, they're simply gone, demolished so the land they sat on could be redeveloped into something more profitable.

Those that have disappeared entirely are relegated to the memories of locals who can still remember going to see movies there, but as time goes on fewer people are around who went to movies when they were open for business. There's a definite ghostlike quality to those old, boarded up drive-in theaters. It seems that most of the ones still standing are usually scattered on the outskirts of small towns where land is plentiful, and not in high demand. There's no rush to buy the theaters, and in those cases they simply stand vacant, as a reminder of a long gone era of American entertainment.

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Places in and Around Houston That Feel Like You've Stepped Back in Time

Photo by Eric Mueller
A car would help to visit these places, but it doesn't have to be a DeLorean.
Sometimes the pace of modern life can get to anyone, and we long for a simpler time. Unless you have a time-traveling DeLorean, your only option for really reaching back in time is to find places that keep elements of the past alive.

Fortunately for us would-be time bandits (okay, if you can travel back in time, I don't condone stealing anything), there are a few places in and around Houston that will give us a taste of a bygone era without the need for an expensive time-traveling 1980s sports car to get there. Places like...

1. Yale Street Grill & Gifts, 2100 Yale

This Heights diner is one of the oldest left in Houston, occupying a space in what originally was the Yale Pharmacy. The diner area is exactly what one would expect from an old-fashioned malt shop, and the food and drinks are excellent diner fare. The area that used to be the pharmacy is now an antiques mall, so there's cool stuff to browse through if that's your thing. I'll be there for an old-fashioned burger and milkshake. The atmosphere is pleasantly anachronistic, and worth the lines that form on weekends.

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Lawndale's The Big Show Doesn't Disappoint

"Pinkscape" by Leslie Roades
For 30 years running, The Big Show at Lawndale has been treating Houston to an exceptional collection of local works in an effort to entice art lovers and put the spotlight on undiscovered artists. This year's efforts continue the tradition of offering beautiful artwork from a variety of mediums.

The show, which opened on Friday night, features 115 different works from 106 different artists. The selection was juried this year by Erin Elder, the visual art director of Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. Elder had her work cut out for her. A total of 981 works were submitted by 382 different artists. They don't call it "The Big Show" for nothing. The exhibition is certainly large and widely varied. I was hard-pressed to find any two artists whose work overlapped in style, which I appreciated.

If there were any common themes, it may have been the idea of the "selfie," which showed up in several pieces. It's odd to think about the "self-portrait" taking on a more technological viewpoint, since it is as old as art itself. It's difficult to even express the difference between the traditional self-portrait and the "selfie," save linguistics. The selfie just feels more egotistical in some respects. Whether this was intended by the artists of The Big Show or not, it felt that way.

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10 Artsy/Cultural Houston-Only Summer To-Dos

Photo by sozavac
Summer in Houston is, well let's just say the obvious, really freaking hot. Unlike our coasts to the east and the west, the Gulf Coast dampness makes a person want to hibernate indoors from May through September. But even at 99 degrees and 100 percent humidity, we Houstonians persevere. It could always be worse and we are used to it.

In terms of art and culture, Houston's summer months may slow down a bit, but there is still plenty going on - outdoors and indoors - and being a Houstonian means taking it all in.

10. Take a picture at Soto's Houston Penetrable at MFAH

Jesús Rafael Soto, Houston Penetrable, 2004-14, lacquered aluminum structure, PVC tubes, and water-based silkscreen ink, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund. © Estate of Jesús Rafael Soto. Used by permission. Photograph © The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Thomas R. DuBrock, photographer.
There are plenty of places to take selfies in Houston; why we could even compile a list of them if we so desired. However, only in the Houston summer can you swim through the newly constructed Houston Penetrable at the MFAH, which is a part of Jesús Rafael Soto's signature Penetrables series. On view through September in the mezzanine of the Caroline Weiss Law Building, the Soto piece is a dangling, "kinetic" experience of clear and yellow plastic tentacles hanging from the ceiling. The museum hopes this will be an annual summer exhibit, but for now, you only have until September 1 to immerse yourself.

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Assemble Your Search Party! Find Waldo Returns to Houston in July

How long will it take you to spot Waldo at the 16 local businesses participating in this year's Find Waldo" scavenger hunt? Sharp-eyed searchers will need to be on the lookout for a red-and-white striped T-shirt and knitted cap this month, as local businesses once again host this fun tribute to Waldo, and awareness-raiser for the Shop Local cause.

"We added businesses in the Heights this year," explained Brazos Bookstore's resident Kids Specialist (and Grand Czar of Teen Romance), Mary Catherine Breed. "We have an existing partnership with Travis Elementary, so it seemed like a perfect fit." Brazos will serve as the Find Waldo Local Headquarters, and returning businesses include Buffalo Exchange on Bissonnet and the Monster PBJ food truck. New businesses include Tulips & Tutus, the oolala boutique, and Heights Candy Bar.

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