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Local theatre production shows Austin's connection to the blues


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When most people think of the blues in Austin, they think of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Yet, the blues scene in Austin was thriving decades before Stevie Ray brought it to national prominence, and it was growing across the United States long before that. In its newest production "Ain't Nothin' But the Blues," the Zachary Scott Theatre hopes to bring the history, as well as the soul of Austin blues to the stage.

"I think a show like this will expose to a lot of people that didn’t know that this has been going on here in Austin all of these years," says Ted Hall of the Austin Guitar School. "I think it’s real important. Austin is such a growing community. There’s so many people moving from all over the world to Austin, and they hear about the blues, but maybe they’ve never gone out and seen a blues show. They don’t really know what it’s about. It’s not all about just sadness and poverty."

The goal of the production is to connect contemporary Austin blues to the historical development of the blues.

"From those earliest music forms . . the piece moves to New Orleans," says director Dave Steakley. "Then it explores the gospel music of Mahalia Jackson and the Clark Sisters and Rosetta Tharpe as well as those male vocal groups that were so popular during that time frame. It moves through Chicago and the Mississippi Delta, and the then the piece winds up in our production in Austin, and it was very important to me because of the long legacy of the blues within our own community that the story not end out of this particular community."

The Zach Scott Theatre has also organized a master class related to the production to help teach young people about the blues, headed by the Austin School of Music

"There are many elements to go to form in this sound and I think just as it’s important to know the history politically or socially of our community, it’s also important to be able to connect artistically to the community, particularly to the history." says Steakley. "So one of the ways we do that is by involving kids in classes. We know that for a future generation to be interested in these art forms that they've got to have the opportunity to participate now and to get a hands on experience, and so that’s what we’re trying to do through the classes is allow kids, much like the Rock and Roll camps that happen in town, an opportunity to engage the blues first hand with a master teacher in a very informal setting."

The Zach Scott Theatre hopes to turn their work into something more than entertainment. They want to create something that builds connections within the community.

"I would say that in all the work that Zach does, that I feel that our job is to not be the kind of theatre that could exist in Dallas or Cincinatti or San Diego," says Steakley. "Our charge is to be a theatre that is uniquely Austin, and so in order for that to happen, not only do we have to reflect Austin, but I think when people are sitting in our house they should see Austin onstage and vice versa -- that we should be reflections of the concerns and interests of this particular community. That’s important to us because we want to be apart of the dialogue. We want build community. We want to make this an increasingly great place to live."

 

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Produced by Domenique Bellavia

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