Thank you, Houston Press! Nova named MasterMind

From Houston Press Article: http://www.houstonpress.com/2009-01-22/news/master-minds

Celebrating Houston’s MasterMinds

We pass on a bit of luck to the recipients of our first creativity awards
By Paul Knight, Troy Schulze
Published on January 20, 2009 at 2:24pm

A long time ago, in another era of TV land, there was a show called The Millionaire. It wasn’t reality TV so it didn’t really happen, but it played to the daydreams of many viewers looking for a bit of luck.

The millionaire (never seen on camera) made it his business to give money away to people. He picked a different person each week, handing a cashier’s check to his executive assistant. The assistant would go out into the world and deliver a check for a million dollars to a stunned recipient.

The Houston Press isn’t in the position to hand out million-dollar checks. But it can do something real in terms of recognition and a monetary award (on a slightly lesser scale). The idea that there are worthy people out there, particularly in the arts world, whom we could recognize with praise and reward with a little seed money was a compellingly satisfying one — and one we decided to pursue.

We started talking about the Master­Mind program with our readers last fall. We would recognize local artists working in all sorts of milieus: visual arts, performance arts, writing, video, whatever. We took in nominations and examples of work through the end of October, and then our critics and some of our staff members put their heads together and came up with a list of the best possibilities before narrowing the field to our winners.

This Saturday we’ll hand out three $2,000 checks to the recipients of our 2009 MasterMind awards in an8:45 p.m. ceremony at the Winter Street Studios at 2101 Winter Street. It’ll all be part of our first-ever Artopia bash, an extravaganza of food and drink and art and fashion ­viewing.

Through the process, we weren’t looking for a lifetime or body of work. We were looking for artists on the cutting edge right now, people and groups doing some pretty amazing things, often on limited budgets.

In the end, the artists who caught our eye were an interestingly mixed bag:

• Patrick Medrano and Katy Anderson: a husband/wife team of visual artists who specialize in different mediums and combined their talents and work to transform an abandoned building into an East Texas art mecca.

• Hightower High School’s Broadcast Academy: a group of high school broadcast students under outstanding teacher Ted Irving who’s got them doing things both technologically advanced and ethically impressive.

• Nova Arts Project: a new member of Houston’s alternative theater scene carrying live performances that introduce new audiences to theater.

The stories of each group are uplifting, the challengers overcoming more than plenty enough. Through them all weaves a common thread of determination, creativity and the search for excellence.

Nova Arts Project

“Theatre naptime is over.” So goes the slogan of Nova Arts Project, a relatively new group in Houston’s alternative theater scene. And while that slogan might seem over the top, given that some American cities’ theater communities are wide awake and kicking, there is a general feeling among theater aficionados that the art form is struggling to stay conscious in our age of high-tech entertainment.

In Houston, we could definitely use a few more reasons to get excited about live performance, especially in the intimate, low-budget settings where our smaller groups are forced to indulge their passion to put on a show. For Nova Arts, that passion isn’t a mere hobby. By its own words, at its Web site and Facebook profile, Nova Arts is on a mission to “re-create classics and inspire new works in a fearlessly theatrical way.” The organization wants “a new theatre” that aims to “catalyze, provoke or even offend.”

Nova Arts might still have to prove itself as a group of trailblazing radicals, but it’s doing a great job introducing new audiences to theater in Houston. Formed by Amy and Clinton Hopper, as well as Jenni Rebecca Stephenson, in 2005, after Stephenson and Amy Hopper graduated from the University of Houston with master’s degrees in directing, the nonprofit Nova Arts debuted with the original play Stella…Stella for Star and followed it up with planned seasons of shows that included “updated” versions of classic Greek plays and Shakespeare, peppered with contemporary works like Dan Dietz’s wild temp­Odyssey and Maria Irene Fornes’s challenging The Conduct of Life.

The group followed a pattern many small arts groups feel they need to follow — nonprofit status, board of directors, build a brand, build an audience, plan a season and try like hell to keep on schedule and budget. But now, the group is ready to challenge that model, streamline operations and approach bigger donors. “I think in the beginning we tried hard, maybe even prohibitively so, to follow the rules,” says Stephenson.

Artistic director Clinton Hopper agrees. “We wanted our audience to know we’re doing this and we’re doing that, and it all fits together in a season, and this is how our brand is working,” he says. “But because of our size we’ve had both opportunities and hurdles come up, and we need to be able to go with the flow, but going with the flow costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you’re our size, not going with the flow means you don’t do a show or you miss a great opportunity or you miss a great script or a great actor or a great…something. So ‘go with the flow’ is appropriate for where we are now.”

The husband-and-wife Hoppers spent six years in Austin before returning to Houston so that Amy could attend UH. In Austin, they were exposed to (and worked with) many of that city’s offbeat theater groups like Salvage Vanguard and the Rude Mechanicals, outfits that explore new techniques in show-making and performance, and Nova Arts has adopted a decidedly “theatrical” approach that takes advantage of the intimate audience/performer setup. It also approaches classics with an irreverent attitude.

“We like classics,” says Clinton Hopper, “and I’m personally attracted to the Greeks because people don’t hold them in the same precious light as Shakespeare. The classics can be like a bolt of pretty heavy-duty material that’s pretty well tested, and we know it works, and now I’m going to be so arrogant as to cut it up and make a new garment out of it. Use those universal themes, but deconstruct them and make something new.”

Nova Arts also aims to make new audiences, but its approach is different from that of groups in the ’90s, operating when Houston had a cohesive art scene. Today our city’s theater/music/visual arts scenes feel insular and rarely mingle. Nova Arts has reached out to underserved audiences, especially the Asian community. Stephenson directed a stage version of The Joy Luck Club, and most recently, Nova Arts presented The Gate of Heaven, a co-­production with the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Association.

Nova Arts is committed to diversity, both in casting and production staff. To further develop audiences, the group is even considering a move outside the Loop, a tactic some might consider foolish but that Nova Arts feels could only expand its reach and unlock hidden talent.

But before it explores that wild frontier many inner-city dwellers would rather blaze through at 80 mph, Nova Arts will collaborate with Opera Vista on ten new ten-minute opera works, and after that, attend to the affairs of finance, grant-writing and bigger and better shows, which might include a drastic reworking, by Amy Hopper, of The Taming of the Shrew — one that explores the play’s inherent ­misogyny.

“Here you have this play that everybody remembers so fondly, but the reality is that at the end [Kate] gives in to the man, so what message does that really send?” asks Clinton. “What, that Kate’s really a toolbag and she’s completely abused and she should probably kick his ass and go her own way?”

“We should do that with Grease,” chimes Stephenson. “I hate Grease for the same goddamn reason,” says Amy.

“Any show that’s so ubiquitous and starts to get universal,” says Clinton, “it’s almost like you go and buy it at the fabric store and you take it home, get out your scissors and let’s screw with it.” — Troy Schulze


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~ by ladamesansregrets on January 22, 2009.

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