The best Austin parties before the big fall festivals begin

We’re only days away from the Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park, if you can believe that. Other big fall fests are not far behind.

These are some of the Austin parties and other events I hope to squeeze into my schedule in the coming week.

Taylor Mac will appear at UT McCullough Theatre. Contributed

Sept. 26: Charles Umlauf Home & Studio Tour. Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

Don’t miss this rare chance to see the sculptor’s hilltop home and studio.

Sept. 27-28: Texas Tribune Festival. Various Locations.

Top political figures and others speak on national and global matters.

Sept. 27-28: Taylor Mac’s “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (Abridged).” UT McCullough Theatre.

A mash-up of music, history that covers 240 years of American social history.

Sept. 28: Fête and Fêt*ish for Ballet Austin. JW Marriott Hotel.

One of the city’s prettiest galas transforms into a dance party when the clock strikes a certain hour. 

Sept. 28: Celebration of Life Luncheon for Seton Breast Cancer Center. Fairmount Hotel.

The city’s women join in solidarity for this fashionable but serious luncheon.

Sept. 29: Mike Quinn Awards Luncheon from the Headliners Foundation. Headliners Club.

Journalists are lionized at one of the city’s oldest private clubs.

Sept. 29: Booker T. Washington Day. Wooldridge Square Park.

Speech by Booker T. Washington restaged amid historical interpretations of the square.

Sept. 29-30: Austin Shakespeare presents staged reading of “Antony and Cleopatra.” Austin Ventures Studio.

Franchelle S. Dorn and Robert Ramirez in the title roles are the big draws for this very limited run.

The height of camp, ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ returns to Austin

Just 21 years ago, we wrote the following ode to one of our favorite movies, “Valley of the Dolls, when it appeared at the Paramount Theatre. Ten or so years later, we added commentary when a special showing for Stephen Moser played the original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Colorado Street.

On June 21, “V.O.D.” returns again, this time for a LGBTQ benefit at the Austin Film Society Cinema in the Linc. Don’t miss the 6 p.m. cocktail party or the 7:30 p.m. screening. You want a stiff drink before you see it. Benefits the Kind ClinicTickets here.


Rereading the 1997 article, it’s especially interesting to see what people thought were camp in 1967, when the show-biz movie came out, and what was considered camp in 1997 (see below). Do not fail to take the quiz at the end.

This ran in the American-Statesman in 1997:

Oscar Wilde. Joan Crawford. “The Wizard of Oz.”

Camp, that stylized, comic view of culture inspired by capricious fashion, nevertheless has fostered some indestructible icons. The range of campy relics runs from great art, such as Wilde’s comedies of language and manners, to great kitsch, like the Las Vegas groaner ``Showgirls.”

In 1967, the famously bad movie “Valley of the Dolls,” based on Jacqueline Susann‘s torrid best seller, earned instant camp status.

It has not gone away.

Thirty years later, k.d. lang has recorded the theme to “Valley of the Dolls,” the Los Angeles County Museum is showing “V.O.D.” as a cultural artifact and The New York Times reports surging interest in Susann, including parties and pageants devoted to the trash author.

Susann’s backstage saga about four women whose “appetite for life was greater than their capacity for living” was extravagant, artificial, mannered — elements related to the difficult-to-define camp sensibility.

“Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment,” wrote Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.” “It doesn’t argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. In clothing and interior decor, camp is when you are pushing the sensibility to the absurd.”

Not all camp revives outdated fashions, as in the current trend of adapting old corporate logos and advertising. The movie and book of “Valley of the Dolls,” for instance, joined the ready-made camp parade of the ’60s that included the TV series “Batman,” singer Nancy Sinatra and the fashions of Carnaby Street. (“Batman” was campy in a premeditated way; the other two were transformed in a flash.)

The movie of “V.O.D’ coyly depicts abuse of sex and drugs in show business. It was massacred by the critics and destroyed several acting careers, but it also spawned thousands of midnight showings for lovers of celluloid trash.

The film’s producers did not intend it that way.

Classy Andre Previn and his then-wife, Dory, composed the songs for “Valley of the Dolls,” John Williams scored them and pop singer Dionne Warwick — now experiencing a mini revival because of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” — recorded the omnipresent theme song. Serious, if in this case melodramatic actors, Patty Duke and Susan Hayward played key “V.O.D.” characters based on the trials and temperaments of Judy Garland and Ethel Merman.

Meant for greatness, it became pure camp, as Sontag defined it. “The pure examples of camp are unintentional; they are dead-serious,” she wrote.

Lovers of the movie have fanned the flame for years.

“For all those millions who thought they might go into show business, `V.O.D’ was the inside track on what it was really like,” said Austin Musical Theatre director Scott Thompson, who plans to see the movieat the Paramount. “As campy as it is, some of it rings true. Really nasty bitches who will throw you out of the show if you are too good. Major stars get through performances on whatever substances are available at the moment.”

Just as lines from the later pure-camp movie “Showgirls” have entered the popular vocabulary, sentences from “Valley of the Dolls” are mimicked for emphasis at theatrical parties:

“You’ve got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.” (Delivered with mock calm.)

“So you come crawling back to Broadway … well Broadway doesn’t go for booze and pills.” (Mouth twisted into a Brooklyn accent.)

“Neeeelyyyy O’haaaaraaaa!!!!” (Screamed at top volume.)

Why would people quote regularly from a bad movie?

Perhaps because camp expressions add color to the ordinary, Sontag suggested. Campiness answers a cultural need to simulate and critique mainstream culture, simultaneously.

As Sontag put it, “(Camp) is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.”

CAMP ’67 vs. CAMP ’97

1.Tiffany lamps vs. vinyl lamps from the ’70s

  1. “Batman” (TV series) vs. “AbFab”
  2. Novels of Ronald Firbank vs. Novels of Jackie Collins
  3. Hollywood art deco diners vs. Kon Tiki interiors
  4. Aubrey Beardsley drawings vs. Pat Nagel prints
  5. “Swan Lake”vs. “Riverdance”
  6. Bellini’s operas vs. sitcom spin-offs like “Phyllis”
  7. women’s clothing from the ’20s vs. women’s clothing from the ’70s
  8. Nancy Sinatra vs. RuPaul (but few other drag queens)
  9. old Flash Gordon comics vs. people dressed as corporate mascots
  10. “Queen for a Day” vs. “Talk Soup”
  11. hot Dr Pepper with lemon vs. Tab or Fresca
  12. “To Sir With Love” vs. “Grease” (the movie)
  13. “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS’ vs. “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS”

Valley of the Dolls Trivia Quiz

“You’ve got to climb _____ to reach the Valley of the Dolls”

a) every mountain

b) Sharon Tate

c) Mount Everest

What does Neely (Patty Duke) take to survive the training/rehearsal montage?

a) the A train

b) hot Dr Pepper with lemon

c) lots of “dolls,” i.e., amphetamines and barbiturates

Whose career was not ruined by — or soon after — the making of “V.O.D.?”

a) Patty Duke (OK, so 20 years later, she rebounded)

b) Sharon Tate (Manson’s gang murdered the beauty)

c) Barbara Parkins (frankly, she never had a career)

Which future Academy Award winner appears in a “V.O.D” bit part?

a) Ben Kingsley as the pool cleaner

b) George C. Scott as a drug pusher in drag

c) Richard Dreyfuss as a stagehand at Neely’s disastrous “comeback”

This is onstage while Helen (Susan Hayward) sings “I’ll Plant My Own Tree.”

a) a stately oak

b) a throbbing acorn

c) a giant, plastic mobile that defies the laws of physics

Demure Ann, played by Barbara Parkins, becomes _____.

a) “the It Girl”

b) “That Girl”

c) “the Gillian Girl,” patterned after “the Breck Girl”

Where do we hear a maudlin performance of “Come Live With Me,” one of several camp classics composed by Dory and Andre Previn for this film?

a) a women’s restroom, crooned to Helen’s flushed wig

b) on the beach, with surf rushing through Ann’s hair

c) a sanitarium that serves both a mortally ill singer and Neely in rehab

What does Jennifer (Sharon Tate) do to please her mother?

a)  bust exercises

b) send homethe profits from her French “art” films

c) both a and b

What sound effect is heard when Neely, in a climactic alley scene, screeches “Neeeelyyyy O’haaaaraaaa!!!!”?

a) Munchkins giggling

b) the sound of two hands clapping

c) church bells

What do critics call the “V.O.D.” for the ’90s?

a) “Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls” (1981 television movie)

b) any USA Channel made-for-cable movie

c) “Showgirls” (“I’m a dancer!”)

(The answer to all the above questions is “C.”)

 

 

 

Multitudes flock to Red, Hot and Soul plus Austin Book Awards

The flowers. Good heavens, the flowers.

This represents only a fraction of David Kurio’s cascading floral arrangements at Red, Hot and Soul for Zach Theatre. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

David Kurio‘s cascading floral arrangements filled the eye at every angle during the Red, Hot and Soul gala, staged in the Bobbi Tent at Zach Theatre‘s South Austin complex. The splashy arrays matched the evening’s theme, “Saturday in the Park,” an idea hitched to the theater’s first full-blown take on Stephen Sondheim, “Sunday in the Park with George,” which opens later this month.

Naturally, Artistic Director Dave Steakley opened the dinner/auction with the show’s extraordinarily difficult but ultimately gratifying first-act choral finale. The performance — indeed the whole run of the show — was dedicated to Managing Director Elisbeth Challener to salute her 10th anniversary in the job.

MORE ZACH: New season blazes ahead with new and rekindled shows.

Zach Theatre’s youth company performs “I Am Me” from “The Greatest Showman” during Red, Hot and Soul. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The performers never rested during the 12 auction-item “scenes.” This sizzling entertainment took the place of the musical numbers customarily presented later on the stage of the Topfer Theatre, which was instead dedicated to late-night dancing. The highlight during this tent show was a triumphant version of “I Am Me” from the movie, “The Greatest Showman,” from Zach’s youth troupe.

While this plan concentrated the joy around the superb Four Seasons Hotel Austin dinner — keep serving that buttery cod! — a dozen is still a lot of auction items and guests began to melt away by No. 9.

This is a crowd you want to keep close by. I’d wager that more of Austin’s “top socials” were gathered here than at any other Austin gala this season. I’d name a few, but the list would go on and on.

Jacqué Ayoub and Haley Drobena with a “living Degas” at Red, Hot and Soul for Zach Theatre. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

AUSTIN BOOK AWARDS

The evening began with a magnificent meal.

Led by Linda Ball and Forrest Preece, a merry band assembled in a private dining room at Fixe, where we feasted on Southern fare and riveting repartee. Discussing arts, books and civics were Annette DiMeo CarlozziDan BullockBarbara Chisholm FairesRobert FairesPei-San BrownDaniel Brown and my husband, Kip Keller.

You absolutely want to be stuck with this lively group on a rainy Austin evening. Luckily, though, the skies cleared and we walked a few short blocks to the stunning new Austin Central Library for the Austin Book Awards ceremony, which benefits the Austin Public Library Foundation. This was my first social outing inside this building’s special events space. Tall and wide, it worked well enough for the foundation’s understated fundraiser.

MORE LIBRARY: Downtown Austin gains a completely new gathering spot.

Not unlike the First Edition Literary Gala for the Texas Book Festival — but on a much smaller scale — these awards bring to the dais some of the best storytellers around. Speaking at breakneck speed, author Owen Egerton served as an especially witty and energizing emcee. The winners: Elizabeth Crook (Fiction); Varian Johnson (Young Adult Literature); and Nate Blakeslee (Nonfiction). What a group! And they were introduced by literary leaders such as Stephen Harrigan and Tim Staley.

One of the foundation’s most effective programs, Badgerdog, encourages young people to write, not just read. We heard two lovely poems from the 2018 Forrest Preece Young Authors Award Honorees, Brandee Benson and Angie Hu.

 

On an Austin party weekend, Fab Five meets Ignite

I’m late to the Seedling train. This great Austin group has been mentoring the children of incarcerated parents since 1997. They serve as one of the counterparts to Court Appointed Special AdvocatesBoys and Girls ClubsBig Brothers, Big Sisters and, new to the scene with a fresh formula adopted from Portland, Ore., Friends of the Children.

Bianca and SaulPaul Neal at Fab Five for Seedling Foundation. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Recently, I profiled Leroy Nellis, the president-elect of Seedling’s board of directors. At the group’s Fab Five gala, I scored a seat between the quietly compelling Nellis and former American-Statesman columnist Jane Greig, who appears to thrive in retirement.

Tuan and Bonnie Pham at Fab Five for Seedling Foundation. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

RELATED: Leroy Nellis leads the mentoring campaign.

The highlight of the event at Westin Hotel at the Domain was the salute to five leaders, Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, former Dallas Cowboy Thomas Henderson, founder of East Side Youth Services & Street Outreach, retired Travis County Judge Jeanne Meurer, KXAN weathercaster and champion volunteer Jim Spencer and Geronimo Rodriguez, chief advocacy officer for the Seton Healthcare Family.

Now that’s an all-star line-up for child advocacy.

Ignite for Shalom Austin

Innovation ruled the day. Shalom Austin, which combines the services of the Jewish FederationJewish Family Service, Jewish Foundation and the Jewish Community Center, formerly split its benefits into separate events — Mosaic, Momentum and Milestone — tailored for women, men and young leaders. Ignite at the JW Marriott combined all three sets.

Amanda Poses and Amanda Marks at Ignite for Shalom Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The first part of the evening was devoted to drinks and substantial noshes, so no need for table seating. Instead, the organizers, led by Dana Baruch, Mike Krell, David Kline and Stephanie Yamin, set up an auditorium of sorts for 1,200 guests. Although the color-coded seating system was a bit confusing, especially for those of us partially color blind, everyone eventually settled in their seats to learn a more about the constituent Jewish charities. A short segment of the program was devoted to gift pledges.

RELATED: Two dozen Austin parties you don’t want to miss.

Steven Resnik, Noah Krell and Isaac Miller-Crews at Ignite for Shalom Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The comedic main event was a first for me. After a warm-up act whose name I missed, “Weekend Update” star Colin Jost performed a full stand-up set, which was followed by banter between Jost and American-Statesman wit Ken Herman, mainly about the peculiar world of “Saturday Night Live.” Social and political jokes dominated. That’s a lot of comedy value to squeeze in before an afterparty.

I sat between Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Board Chair Elect Abby Rappaport, who both seemed to enjoy the show. I certainly enjoyed their company.