April 29, 2011

P.S.- A Paramount/Stateside Affair. April 28, 2011

It was a Thursday night. Why not go to a party? There was one planned at The Paramount and its sister, the State Theatre. Called "P.S." (the initials of the theaters), it was a celebration involving a very special theme dear to my heart. One that has allowed folks like me to write blogs and share our voices to anyone who wants to digest what I have to say.

In short, the theme of the evening was networks.

No, not this kind of network. No one is mad as hell here...

Wait, not this network, either. But I'm pretty sure many are mad as hell about that specific one...

No, we're talking about social networks.

Okay, that's closer, but not so litigious.

It was a bash for bloggers, tweeters, and other social networkers. And it was all free with a mere RSVP. Partners in crime included: Gowalla, Austin Eavesdropper, Glitoris, Hey Cupcake!, Kohana Coffee, and Alison Narro Photography. The goal, as stated on the Paramount website, declared: "P.S. is about celebrating secrets, rebirths, interactivity, cupcakes and Austin’s affinity for free drinks."

Yes, indeed.
I got there at 6:30 and proceeded to the State Theatre. Now known as The Stateside Theatre at The Paramount, it was the starting point for all festivities. I was sure to check-in on Gowalla, and stood in line for my "personalized Paramount card," made for those who submitted the RSVP with their networking information. As I waited in line, friendly faces were passing out a free gift, a travel coffee mug with The Paramount Theatre logo. Oh, but what's this? As I open it up I find a lovely little surprise, a free sample of Kohana, a coffee brand from here in Austin. Très nice.

Yet the pleasant surprises did not end there; not by a long shot. Alison Narro photography was also on hand at Stateside snapping portraits of patrons. I got to the front of the check-in queue and was elated to see that I was not presented with a mere card. Instead, I received a badge, professionally created and complete with a crimson lanyard. Name and internet information printed on the front, exclusive deals printed on the back.

After socializing and partaking of free drinks, I moseyed on over to The Paramount next door. Outside was a Hey Cupcake! trailer, open for business. Something about the sight of that trailer just made me smile. Austin's a hell of a place to call home, and if the city strives to "keep austin weird," count me in.

Entering the Paramount lobby, I was sure to check in on Gowalla once again. More crowds meant more socializing. There was a nice leisurely atmosphere, with many sitting inside the auditorium visiting with one another. Others (who had not been into the theatre before) were clearly in awe of the breathtaking majesty of the place. I ventured upstairs and climbed all the way to the top. There I awaited a tour of the projectionist's booth. For a movie buff like me, that's where the magic happens. I've been dying to see it since last summer's film series, and today was finally the day.

I won't lie, I was fascinated to be in a projectionist booth that was nearly a century old. I was curious, yet deathly afraid to touch anything. Projectionist John Stewart (no, not of "The Daily Show") was a friendly and informative host, answering any and all questions the group had for him. As I took photographs, I felt a distinct sense of history that my DVD and BluRay collection will never possess.

After my tour, everyone gathered in the Paramount lobby to hear special announcements and witnes the awarding of door prizes. Tolly Moseley of Austin Eavesdropper expressed gratitude to the Paramount staff for involving her in the event. Paramount Web Marketing Associate Nick Barbieri took the mic and also warmly received the crowd. But then, something unexpected happened. Nick was talking about how The Paramount recognized the importance of social media and said that this party was partially inspired by an individual as well as the blogosphere at large. I was snapping away with my camera when he announced that person was me. It was a slow process to comprehend as I realized what was being said. My goodness, was I just recognized for the blogs? Were all eyes really trained on me? Humbly I made my way to Nick and the Paramount gang. I was given a gift bag of appreciation, and I waved at the masses in the lobby. It was a surreal but warm feeling, and I felt so honored and touched. I hate to blow my own horn (I really really try to avoid doing so), but this merit was just too significant and touching to not mention. Thanks, guys.

Ah, but the show went on.

Jesse Trussell, Paramount Film Programmer, took the mic and announced plans for the 2011 Classic Summer Film Series. He teased about several titles, and revealed that the kick-off party would have a very special guest: writer/director Peter Bogdonavich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon). Brooklyn Henson, Associate Director of Marketing, mentioned highlights of the upcoming 2011/12 season, whetting my appetite for future Paramount experiences. And General Manager Assistant Nicholas Saenz ignited the crowd with grand plans for the revitalized Stateside Theatre.

Needless to say, after all of that information, there was plenty to buzz about. The party continued on, and everyone was fluttering about like the social (networking) butterflies we were. Music was provided by Glitoris, which kept up a vibrancy to augment the accessible sugary sweets and alcohol. It was an amazing night I didn't want to end. After all the fun experiences, the accolades, and the new friends I made... it really was an affair to remember.

April 17, 2011

Coming Soon: David Sedaris

He's an unassuming fellow, the kind of man you could pass on the street and not take notice of. Perhaps he greets you with his voice, which comes across as reedy yet deliberate. There is a distinction beyond that high vocal pitch, a modesty that you could easily discern. Maybe you smile and continue on your way, none the wiser to the personality you just walked away from. But what a mistake that would be. This man may appear as a run-of-mill (or even meek) kind of guy, but he is one of America's best humorists. He is a satirist with a talent for prose and gifted with razor-sharp sardonic wit that cements him as one of the funniest men in America. He's David Sedaris, and he's returning to Austin as part of The Paramount Season Series.

The most treasured assets for any writer is an observant eye and a clear voice honed to illustrate that to be shared. Some may write in much the same fashion as an artist tackles a blank canvas, developing their work in broad, bold strokes. Humor, however, is often found in the particulars. Sedaris is capable of painting with the small strokes of a comedian. But what makes him so great is that he can use these niceties of life to capture our attention, and then transform them into a mirror for our modern society to gaze into. For David, the devil is in the details.

A bestselling author of story collections and essays, Sedaris is also a staple on the radio waves, particularly This American Life. In fact, it was Life's host Ira Glass who discovered David reading his diary and gave him his first shot on the air. The real breakthrough came in 1992, when Sedaris appeared on National Public Radio and read "SantaLand Diaries," a true story of David's time working at a Macy's department store as one of Santa's elves. His essays have been published in Esquire and The New Yorker magazines. Since then, his collections of autobiographical musings and sardonic lamentations have garnered widespread acclaim and a fanbase of many loyal readers and listeners. He was even named Time magazine's "Humorist of the Year" for 2001. Of course, I have a feeling David may find that distinction dubious at best, since Time magazine ranks below the 6th grade reading level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. But dont let that scare you off. Sedaris is very much the genuine article, and will never be found in the library next to any Stephanie Meyer book.

His work is usually self-effacing and personal, yet universal in its appeal. David's tongue-in-cheek style also accommodates a sharp wit, which he uses to skewer his subject matter and serve up like a kabob. While his manner is often mocking, it never loses its accessibility; always remaining natural in its delivery. Not content to merely shake things up, he often slices society's conventions like a knife through butter. His brilliance, tempered with his cool-as-a-cucumber attitude, make David Sedaris the most insightful and gifted satirist since Jonathan Swift. Whether you read his collections or listen to him, the laughs from his biting humor is infectious.

I know I could go on and on, but I don't want to bore you with my appeal for smart humor. It's just refreshing to find laughs that aren't boorish or dependent on potty humor. Often it is too easy solicit laughs with fart jokes and bodily functions, and those laughs always feel tiresome and cheap. Luckily we have humorists like David to stay clear of the scatological chuckles, no?

Well... I stand corrected. Stadium Pal. Just. Wow. I'm speechless. Urine jokes or no, that was brilliant.

The following is also a favorite of mine. Particularly apropos of the current season. Happy Easter, everyone!

A fine line exists between the ludicrous and the funny, but David balances both like a Chinese acrobat. There's nothing run-of-the-mill about being able to do that. It's not easy to point out the absurdities in times like this, and American culture can often be as gaudy and lurid as the Merry Ol' Land of Oz. I, for one, am grateful for David Sedaris for pointing out all the wonderful nuances that make life silly and wonderful. But more importantly, for keeping us laughing as the wizard is revealed from behind the curtain.

David Sedaris will be performing at The Long Center (as part of The Paramount Season Series) on Monday, April 25th at 8:00 p.m.

April 11, 2011

Coming Soon: Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps

Oooh, now here's something you don't see everyday. What do you say to a mashup of Alfred Hitchcock and... comedy? This isn't a late April Fools joke, I assure you. A combination of such genres sounds interesting, to say the least. The result of such an unorthodox pairing is "The 39 Steps," a play that recreates the classic Hitchcock film with a unique twist.

I know what you're thinking, you skeptic. Mashups of differing breeds rarely work. For every genius mix like peanut butter and chocolate, there are several hundred failures. Examples of things that don't go well together: fish and cheese, breakfast cereal served in orange juice, or logic and government. Alas, there must be a breakthrough every so often. After all, someone had to break that ceiling to find the edible parts of fugu, right? It appears "The 39 Steps" is one such innovation, and you don't even have to risk eating toxic blowfish to enjoy it.

A two-time Tony award winning show, "The 39 Steps" is an adaptation of the 1935 espionage film. The twist, as mentioned earlier, is that only four actors portray over 140 roles. Yes, you read that correctly. Filled with frenzied costume changes and references to other Hitchcock films played for laughs, the production has become a funny love letter to the Master of Suspense himself.

Ah, but this not a mere wacky romp on stage. The play has credentials. Debuting in 2005 in London and Broadway in 2008, it garnered wide success and acclaim. It received London's prestigious Lawrence Olivier award (for Best Comedy), and won two Tonys and a Drama Desk award here in the States.

Curious yet? I thought so. Here's a little glimpse:

The master of suspense with a Monty Python-esque spin? Count me in. Who knew Hitchcock and silliness would go hand-in-hand? I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise, since the great British director gave us decades of source material to mine (and even parody). It's a rare opportunity to see a director of thrillers enjoyed in a fresh new way. Let's face it, others of the genre will never approach the level of Sir Alfred. In 50 years, no one is likely to mix farce with the cinema of Brian De Palma. And M. Night Shyamalan? Let's just say I'd rather try fugu.

So if you're ready for a fresh and fun new spin on classic Hitchcock, feel free to join us for "The 39 Steps." Inspired by the original Master of Suspense, the laughs are sure to been more silly than macabre. It's a mad concoction that not only works, it will leave you in stitches.

Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps dials M for Mockery at The Paramount Theatre on Tuesday, April 12th at 8:00 p.m.

April 7, 2011

Coming Soon: Leo Kottke

Spring has brought a new wave of energy for most of us here in Austin. I see more people bustling around, and everyone has an increased sense of go, Go, GO! Now, I have nothing against being active or the buzz of social electricity, but it never hurts to slow things down a beat. To quote Elvis, is "too much not enough?" This year's South by Southwest has sparked debate here in Austin: Has it gotten larger than necessary? This year's SXSW was bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before. I mean, a make-shift Apple store on Congress offering iPad 2s like Willy Wonka's golden tickets? Kanye and Jay-Z playing at the closing of the festival? Is that keeping Austin weird (in a good way)? For your consideration, Lady Gaga was also in town this week. Whoa. Perhaps things have gone a bit whirlwind and out of hand. Post-SXSW, the city seems to be coming down off of a giant sugar-high, like the Great Cornholio.

To that, I can only say "settle down, Beavis." Now take a deep breath, people. Let's take some time and unplug for a while.

And heck, if we are going to unplug, we might as well go acoustic. Austin's still a live music mecca, after all. Coming to The Paramount is Leo Kottke, a master of the acoustic guitar. It seems in this Guitar Hero/Rock Band video game saturated era, everyone thinks they're a guru of the guitar (or of shiny colorful buttons); but Leo is a genuine virtuoso.

Learning music at a young age as his family moved from state to state (12 different ones during his childhood), Kottke first dabbled with the violin and trombone. Succumbing to the influence of Mississippi delta blues (particularly John Hurt), he finally settled on the guitar. And that's lucky for us; we all have enjoying his talent ever since.

Just as impressive as his prodigious talent is Leo's perseverance. Constantly battling hearing loss since his younger days, the 1980s also saw Kottke struggle with a painful bout of tendonitis. As a result of the tendon inflammation, he had to retrain himself on how to play the guitar. Nevertheless, he maintains his unorthodox finger picking style that creates a very distinct sound, particularly when playing the 12-string guitar.

Wait. Let me repeat that. 12 string guitar. To me, that's absolutely mindblowing. I love good music, but must confess to a complete void of musical talent myself. I can't even handle those colored buttons on the musical video games. That's right, I'm a true Guitar Zero. In spite of this (or perhaps because of it), I appreciate musical artistry all the more.

Here's a sample of some of his mesmerizing work. The way he works the strings and that slide is like something from another world. It's just... wow.

And if you think there's no way he can even come close to that level at his age. Guess again.

Oh, or how about this one. A partnership with Chet Atkins covering one of my all-time favorite guitar instrumentals. And, hey! Doesn't that host seem familiar?

As an added bonus, Kottke will be performing with Austin's adopted singer/songwriter Amy Cook. I first heard her as the opening act of Chris Isaak's show in October. She's been a favorite of mine ever since and has entered heavy rotation in my playlists. With Cook as an opening act, it promises to be an entertaining evening for guitar lovers. It will be a performance that promises to cleanse our palates and remind us that unplugged is more than okay.

This strumming legend has more talent in his fingers than most others possess in their entire bodies. I gotta admit, it sounds very exciting. I just gotta keep telling myself, "settle down, Beavis. Settle down."

Leo Kottke performs at The Paramount on Saturday, April 9th at 8:00 p.m.