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As Austin starts its post-holiday trudge through the gray but mostly inoffensive winter, South by Southwest draws ever closer. The festival announced on January 10 a new keynote session about NASA and its third round of featured speakers, and they’re certainly not just filler.

“Unfold The Universe: NASA’s Webb Space Telescope” will explore the contributions of (and to) the James Webb Space Telescope, which released exciting full-color images on July 12, 2022, most notably of the Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula, which took social media by storm, juxtaposing sandy amorphous peaks and a midnight blue “sky” dotted with stars and other cosmic cameos.

The Webb Telescope was a landmark achievement — the largest and most complex observatory ever launched into space, according to the keynote description — and will continue providing new wonders for scientists and enthusiasts alike. The description is vague about the topics at hand beyond analysis and next plans for the telescope, but promises a fresh look at a never-before-seen image. Whatever the agenda, hearing from the Webb Telescope team lead Laura Betz, astrophysicist Dr. Knicole Colón, planetary scientist Dr. Stefanie Milam, and Astrophysicist Dr. Amber Straughn will give fascinating insight on working on this cutting edge technology.

“We are honored to host a Keynote Session featuring members of the James Webb Space Telescope team,” said SXSW chief programming officer and co-president Hugh Forrest. “They join an impressive group of Featured Speakers who have consistently strived for progress and discovery across a diverse range of industries, including healthcare, technology, transportation, food, and the arts.”

This round of speakers (following the second round announced in November) included the festival opener, Simran Jeet Singh, executive director of the Religion & Society Program at the Aspen Institute. Singh’s ideas can be found in his book The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life.

As the term “featured” would suggest, the remaining speakers make up a smaller group than, say, the music showcases (now totaling nearly 500 after two rounds of announcements).

Featured Speakers Announced include:

  • Comedian, actor, and creator and host of The Eric Andre Show, Eric André
  • Billboard R&B / Hip-Hop Rookie of the Year and multi-platinum artist, producer and co-founder and CEO of EVGLE, Blxst
  • Disney Parks, Experiences and Products chairman Josh D'Amaro
  • Actress, writer, director, producer and founder and creative director of CURRAN, Tommy Dorfman
  • Creator and host of the podcast Crime Junkie and founder and CEO of Audiochuck, Ashley Flowers
  • Drag queen, makeup artist, author and trans rights activist Gottmik
  • Singer, songwriter, actor and member of the Grammy Award-nominated band Jonas Brothers, Nick Jonas
  • Chairman of the board of the Drum Major Institute Martin Luther King III
  • Primetime Emmy Award-winning creator, writer, executive producer and showrunner of Lost and Watchmen, Damon Lindelof
  • Emmy-nominated director, producer, actress, entrepreneur and activist Eva Longoria
  • Seven Seven Six Founder and former executive chair of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian
  • Activist, eco-entrepreneur and founder of Upenndo! Productions Maya Penn
  • Founder and CEO of Luminar, Austin Russell
  • Record producer, director, screenwriter, rapper and composer RZA
  • President and CEO of PayPal, Dan Schulman
  • Best-selling author (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) Cheryl Strayed
  • COO of Reddit, Jen Wong

For a full schedule and more information on featured sessions, visit SXSW.com.

Austin Film Society focuses lens on diverse "emerging professionals" for 2023 career program

To the foreground

Good luck on LinkedIn as an aspiring filmmaker. Some industries just don’t use the same career standards job seekers recommend until their last breaths, and some are stuck in a cycle of notable people who all look basically the same. Although film can be difficult to break into, the Austin Film Society (AFS) has created a springboard for underrepresented aspiring creatives, accepting applications for 2023 through January 20.

The Creative Careers Program covers creative media in film and television, especially aiming to hear from LGBTQ+ and disabled “emerging professionals”, as well as women and people of color. In return for these diverse perspectives, AFS offers training, mentorship, and networking with a finish line of hopeful job entry in the industry. Like a gym training Olympic hopefuls, AFS hopes some of its applicants will go on to work in competitive film.

Because the program seeks to serve creatives early in their careers, it offers three pathways for different levels of experience. They all offer different levels of pay: the AFS Internship Pathway pays a stipend for the full six months, and is available for 18-24-year-olds in media production; the Immersive Training pathway pays for three months, and moves on to shadowing, mentorship, and training; and the Continuing Education Pathway for industry professionals does not mention payment at all, but it does offer more in-depth courses in production and professional development.

The program considers 2023 its second year, even though it started in 2021 in partnership with the City of Austin. (It spent the time in between getting a steadier footing.) Its funding initially came from the Grant for Technology Opportunities Program (GTOPs) grant, a city fund that gives in tiers between $10,000 and $15,000, and perhaps a surprising choice for a creative endeavor even if technology is at the heart of the work. Now it draws from donors like Texas Commission for the Arts, the Burdine Johnson Foundation, and Texas Capital Bank.

Since the beginning, 30 participants have experienced the program, run through Austin Public, a non-exclusive and content-neutral media studio headed by AFS director of community education Rakeda Ervin. "AFS Creative Careers offers tools for those who might not otherwise be able to pursue their dreams," she said in a press release. "By developing diverse talent and perspectives, we are strengthening the workforce and helping emerging creatives break into the industry."

Although the program details are broad, applicants will likely find the most value in the reputation of AFS, which has been active in Austin for 37 years thanks to the initial contributions of famous Houston filmmaker Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Boyhood). The society has regular contact with the broader Austin community through lighthearted screenings, the Texas Film Awards (coming March 3), and collaborations with other major cultural organizations.

AFS Community Education staff will host a free informational webinar about the program on January 12. (Interested creatives can also access a recorded webinar from November 30, 2022.) More information about the program is available at austinfilm.org.

Courtesy of the Neill-Cochran House Museum

9 enticing art exhibits to whet the appetite in Austin this January

State of the Arts

As a new year rolls in and annual resolutions reset, the Austin arts beckon with exhibits to motivate, inspire, and ignite a new year of creativity. Peek behind the scenes with the Ransom Center’s moviemaking exhibit, or see the works of glass and oil on canvas from Austin artist Rejina Thomas at t he Neill-Cochran House. There’s also Print Austin’s annual “5x5” exhibition at Link & Pin, and a a multi-disciplinary exploration of what’s behind the “Façade” at the Visual Arts Center. It’s a smorgasbord of arts to energize the start of your year!

Mexic-Arte

“El Nacimiento” — Now through February 5
If you aren’t ready to say goodbye to the holiday season just yet, visit Mexic-Arte to enjoy the largest museum display of Mexican nativity scenes in Texas. Each year on December 16th, nacimientos are set up in homes throughout Mexico, demonstrating the diversity and richness of cultural ancestry. Mexic-Arte Museum presents a variety of nacimientos from all over Mexico, including Chihuahua, Izúcar de Matamoros, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Metepec, Santa Maria de Garcia, Tlaquepaque, and Tonalá. Over 400 pieces reflects how nacimiento-making has transformed over the years, integrating uniquely Mexican motifs, styles, and iconography.

grayDuck Gallery

“Renee Lai: In The Water You Become” — January 7 through February 19
Renee Lai is an Asian American artist working in painting and drawing whose latest oeuvre focuses on the line between representation and anonymity. The exhibit demonstrates, “traces left behind by my body — silhouettes, records of movements made while swimming, a doubling of myself in a painting,” says Lai in an artist statement. “The large scale of the work imbues my body’s outlines with a mystical power. The reductive shapes of my body form an imposing collection, body after body confronting the viewer.”

Women & Their Work

“Jade Walker: Wayfinding” — January 7 through February 23
In this large-scale installation, sculptor Jade Walker uses color, weaving, rope, tools, notions of signage, and found objects to articulate questions around how we engage with our environment. “Wayfinding” asks whether we embed in our landscape or attain places to hold as our own. Influenced by the modernist writer and poet, Nan Shepherd, nature writer and linguist, Robert Mcfarlane, and textiles as a form of universal language, Walker’s exhibition includes architectural interventions as well as intimate embellishments of familiar tools and found natural elements. Walker's art identifies the need for wayfinding as we navigate the environment for ourselves and for future generations.

The Neill-Cochran House Museum

“Signs and Symbols: The Trees are Talking” — January 11 through August 13
This one-woman show features the work of longtime Austin artist Rejina Thomas, whose graphic glass studio became the first East Austin hub for many Austin creatives. Featuring more than 40 works of glass and oil on canvas, this exhibition explores how signs and symbols constantly surround us in both the natural and built environments. Her work blurs past and present, reminding us that we are all connected — not only to one another, but to those who came before us and those who will follow. Navigating both America and Austin as a Black woman has given Thomas a unique perspective on her own heritage, as well as the cultural ties that bind us across races and ethnicities.

Old Bakery and Emporium

Walking in My Shoes: The Art of Robert R. Jones” — January 14 through March 18
"Walking In My Shoes" is an artistic exploration of walking in someone else's shoes. This perspective shift provides a different angle from which to experience love, entertainment, and empathy. “Many ideas and themes come from my observations of daily life and spirit filled activities in and around my community,” Jones says in her artist statement. “Things I experience, see, and feel passionate about. Growing up was a simple pleasure and continues to lend nostalgic memories to many of my paintings.” Bright and colorful images bring a joyous feeling of visual contentment, even where there is pain or sorrow deep within.

Link & Pin Gallery

“Print Austin’s 2023 5x5 Exhibition” — January 19 through February 11
Starting in 2021 as an online exhibit, the concept for “5x5” was to have five artists judged on five submitted works. Artists drawn to submit to this call have at least five pieces of work, presented together and chosen from among all the entries.

The Visual Arts Center, The University of Texas at Austin

“Façade” — January 20 through March 10
“Façade” brings together the work of artists from various disciplines and backgrounds to explore the truths within any given object, historical narrative, or identity. Through sculpture, works on paper, video and painting, these artists question outward appearances, both personal and communal, addressing the notion of an idealized self, replicas, false control, and performative interactions. In doing so, they attempt to uncover the motivations behind our drive to conceal, perform, and play pretend. The artists in this exhibition consider façade an undeniable reality, encouraging visitors to take a critical view of façadism and examine how our attachments to performance and deception influence our experiences of the world around us.

Lydia Street Gallery

“Daniel & Marjory Johnston: The What of Whom” — January 21 through March 5
This exhibit presents new, never-before-created works of art by the world-renowned outsider poet, writer, and musician Daniel Johnston. In collaboration with his sister, artist Marjory Johnston, these works created contain lyrics from some of his over 900 songs, depicted in over 100 watercolors and collages. Each piece has the song and CD title identified on the piece.

Harry Ransom Center

Courtesy of the Neill-Cochran House Museum

Reji Thomas, Untitled (2020). Oil on Canvas, 25 x 18 in. Collection of the artist. From “Signs and Symbols: The Trees are Talking”.

“Drawing the Motion Picture – Production Art and Storyboards” — January 28 through July 16
Explore the beauty and complexity of moviemaking through sketches, storyboards, and designs that illuminate history of film production from the silent era to the present day. Rare concept paintings, set designs, film stills, and more tell a visual story of some of our favorite films, bringing a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the creative process of filmmaking. See production art associated with iconic movies like Rebel Without a Cause, Raging Bull, Top Gun, Apollo 13, and Lawrence of Arabia — many connected with innovative directors like Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Mike Nichols, Michael Powell, Nicholas Ray, Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, King Vidor, and more.

Austin Public Library/Flickr

Austin's Central Library announces open call for artists for future gallery exhibits

Beyond Books

People can learn a lot at the library. Besides all the books, magazines, online resources, and in-person programming, Austinites enjoy a buffet of rotating art exhibits that populate the gallery at the Central Library downtown, publicizing local artists and teaching visitors about the culture around them.

Now the ever-changing Austin Public Library is looking for another new exhibit sometime in 2024 between January and September, and inviting artists to apply through February 28.

Good news for artists who crave freedom, and frustrating news for artists who love something to bounce off of: This engagement offers few to no parameters. There is no explicit theme, but the library does claim a mission in a press release about the call for artists.

“The mission of the Central Library Gallery is to support local artists and art communities, raise awareness of contemporary and diverse forms of art, and to provide exhibitions in which a wide variety of identities and interests are represented,” said the release.

The Central Library website lists four current exhibitions: Hannah Hannah lends some expressionist portraits, Release the Puppets tells stories in a classic and playful medium, the Austin American-Statesman explores Austin communities of color through photographs, and a traveling exhibition documents Pride parades of the past.

The call is addressed to “artists, collectives, curators and beyond,” further widening the possibilities, but still restricting them to applicants residing in Texas. Applicants should consider the size of the gallery (2,700 square feet) and a few logistical stipulations, including that pieces may not be hung from the ceiling, and that walls may be painted.

When the jury — made up of local artists and others in the industry — announces a winning proposal in March 2023, the artist will be offered a stipend to complete the work. All project costs are the exhibitor’s responsibility, so this stipend is not unlike an advance, except that the project will not continue to generate revenue at the library.

Applications are open now through 11:59 pm on February 28, 2023. Applicants may make their proposals via submittable.com.

Rendering courtesy of Waterloo Greenway

How 'Portal Potties' became the unlikely opening installation for Austin's celebrated Creek Show

Dimensional Trans-port-ation

Kristen Gunn — one of the only two Creek Show designers not on a company team and, not coincidentally, one of the only two Creek Show designers who stayed up working all night — appears on a video call upside down against an ethereal white background. It looks like she’s calling from bed, but it’s reflective and glittering. Less glamorous than that, it’s a porta potty floor.

Gunn and Laura Salmo, “mom friends,” teamed up to create the most subversive Creek Show installation of 2022 (and possibly its entire history), dropping $10,000 and purposefully marring the entrance to the path with seemingly unremarkable worksite commodes.

This year's Creek Show, running from November 11-20, doesn’t have one official theme, but it's easy to see threads in the use of Day-Glo colors, neon or faux-neon tubing, and lots of reflective light. Waller Creek itself ties everything together, with a clearer path than the more meandering one through the architectural portion of the park in 2021. The water moves under glowing pieces like self-supporting pants under blacklights, giant glowing dragonflies, and abstract shapes.

By nature of following a stream, a visitor is bound to run into liminal spaces. Sculptures are tucked under and around bridges, lit only in the dark, as the water rushes away and tens of thousands of visitors pass. This impermanence takes root in “Portal Potties,” in two ways. First, the inspiration.

“The state of downtown Austin right now is construction,” says Salmo. “I look out here, and all I see is porta potties on every corner. More than Starbucks.” This elicits a surprised laugh from Gunn, who Salmo later scolds for impropriety, offscreen from inside the Portal Potties. Irony abounds. (If the Creek Show has any year-to-year theme, it’s the environment, and Salmo points out that these durable structures are also commonly associated with disaster relief.)

The second liminal element is in the name. During a preview the night before the show opened, Gunn dressed up as a custodian and handed out paper refraction glasses. She manned the single door in the back that opens up into the “portal” — a line of five porta potties with no interior borders, brightly lit and austere inside — invisible from the entrance.

It really does look like a row of temporary event amenities, except that no one walks in the doors spilling white light out toward the entrance. But people do walk out. It is figuratively a portal to an altered mental state, and literally the transition from the regular world to the show.

“[When] I first decided that we wanted to try to put in a bid for the Creek Show this year, I told [Salmo], ‘The only way I want to do the Creek Show is if we get to open the show, and we do something totally insane,” says Gunn. Both women are creative professionals, but this is the team’s first major project together, and it’s not representing a company with resources, tools, and training to build avant-garde structures.

“It's such an honor to have been picked,” she continues. “[The first meeting] was very humbling. Like, ‘I'm an impressive architect! We're the architecture conglomerate of Hootie-Hoo, whatever it is.’ I think of weird things in my hammock in my backyard.”

A stipend from the Creek Show helped, but the Portal Potties went significantly over budget. Gunn calculates the damages as equal to “multiple house payments,” although, at the same time, muttering she does not want to know. In addition to being the underdog team, so to speak, they accidentally chose a nearly impossible task — instead of constructing something from scratch, they learned to alter structures that are designed to be nearly indestructible. (Even a company assembler struggled to fulfill their initial vision.) The portal also had to hold up under 70,000 visitors walking through, by Gunn’s estimate.

Aside from the campy concept and deceptively difficult installation, the Portal Potties are beautiful. Lined with mirrors and diffraction grating, and viewed through disorienting glasses, the portal turns into a high-concept funhouse or a low-budget infinity room. The white light and white walls shimmer with rainbows, and it fully removes the viewer from downtown Austin, before they step out into the show.

The house payments have not gone wildly astray, since the team hopes the structure will be rented out after the show, or perhaps bought by “an eccentric tech millionaire-billionaire.” It’s about the size of two teardrop camper trailers combined, and there’s no place like Austin to toss it up on Airbnb.

In fact, as the team continues working together, Gunn and Salmo are forming grand plans for more immersive works including a house to rent out. Instead of selling tickets to an immersive experience, to be rushed through among strangers, visitors will get to live in the space. Gunn imagines refashioning the Portal Potties as an elevator entrance in the Airbnb house, now a mansion. “What's in the sub-basement of a porta potty? “I guess it would be, like, the rainbow factory.”

The Creek Show is open at Waller Creek through November 20, from 6-8 pm most days. A full schedule and more information about each installation is available at waterloogreenway.org.

Rendering courtesy of Waterloo Greenway

A rendering of the “Portal Potty” installation that comes to life at Creek Show.

Photo courtesy of Modern Rocks Gallery

David Bowie career retrospective lands at Austin art gallery with rare prints

Let All the Children Boogie

As Austinites explore hundreds of studios on the Austin Studio Tour, the Starman peers out from behind glass. Modern Rocks, a gallery featuring rock and roll photographs and very often organizing rare collections, opens a new David Bowie exhibition on Friday, November 11, as part of the tour. The collection will display prints from across Bowie’s career, known for its many pivots and distinct phases.

The images in this collection are equally valuable to a music fan and a fashion devotee. Some of the prints in “David Bowie: Starman,” curated by gallery owner Steven Walker, are album covers, well-known but obtained directly from the original photographers as an alternative to hanging a record sleeve on the wall.

To honor the shapeshifter and get visitors involved beyond a quick peek inside, Modern Rocks has declared a costume contest. Tim Palmer, the record producer who collaborated with Bowie himself on “Tin Machine” (the eponymous debut for the band Bowie founded and fronted in 1988), will host and judge the contest. His pick will determine which impersonator or vision expander brings home a framed Aladdin Sane print. The runner up will take home a copy of David Bowie Icon, a comprehensive photography book documenting the artist’s entire career.

Contest onlookers and tour visitors are invited for themed cocktails by distillery consultant Mark Shilling. The exhibition can be viewed through the end of 2022, when it will relocate to the David Bowie World Fan Convention in New York City.

Bowie was always interesting to look at, to put it mildly. As a teenager, he repped long hair and an otherwise sharp presentation in a TV interview with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. He went through a few iconic mullets, an outward fascination with fascist design elements, and a whole lot of rouge.

Other shots from cover sessions appear alongside the more famous images in the exhibition, including limited edition, signed prints from the cover shoot for “Diamond Dogs” by Terry O’Neill (Bowie dressed foppishly, yet working class); “Pin-Ups” by Justin De Villeneuve (Bowie with culture-shifting model Twiggy); and “Heroes” by Masayoshi Sukita (Bowie incredibly coiffed and austerely incredulous). Also included are Brian Duffy’s “Aladdin Sane” and “Scary Monsters” shoots — the former so iconic it became the visual shorthand for anything Bowie — plus early prints from Alec Byrne, Brian Aris, Kevin Cummins, Jake Chessum, Markus Klinko, and more.

The opening reception for “David Bowie: Starman” takes place on November 11, from 7-10 pm. RSVP on Eventbrite. More information about the Austin Studio Tour, including an interactive map, is available at austinstudiotour.org.

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2 Hollywood celebrities tried some of Austin’s best sushi this week, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. 2 Hollywood celebrities dined at one of Austin’s best restaurants this week. While most Austinites cozied up at home this week, these famous spouses ate at an award-winning restaurant before a screening of their new film.

2. Austin's flagship Kendra Scott store transforms into mini-Museum of Ice Cream for Valentine's Day. Here's one sweet collaboration you won't want to miss — and it launches this weekend!

3. Texas scores top ranking among best states for dating, says new report. This Valentine’s Day is for the unattached, and it turns out Texas is a pretty great place to be single.

4. This Tesla rental service got me from Austin to Houston, despite my best efforts. A Tesla is a smooth ride, and the UFODrive self-service process ensures a smooth trip — if you pay attention.

5. Here are the top 5 things to do in Austin this weekend. Festive (fictional) funerals, demon barbers, live podcasts, and more reasons to venture out as the weather warms up this weekend.

Documentary Turn Every Page deep-dives into historic publishing partnership

Movie Review

There have been many famous partnerships in the world, from musical ones like Hall & Oates to business ones like Bill Gates and Paul Allen. But one of the more underrated partnerships is that between authors and editors, a relationship that can be mysterious for those not well versed in the process.

The new documentary Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, takes deep dive into the ineffable bond between Caro, author of The Power Broker and four (and counting) biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson, and Gottlieb, his longtime editor at publishing company Knopf. Caro is notorious for taking his time with his books, releasing only one about every 10 years since 1974.

The film, directed by filmmaker (and daughter of Robert) Lizzie Gottlieb, features a variety of “talking head” interviews from people as diverse as Conan O’Brien, The New Yorker editor David Remnick, and President Bill Clinton, but cedes the majority of its time to hearing from the two men themselves. Both have lived extraordinary lives, but – despite their strong connection – in very different ways.

It would be fair to call Caro “obsessive,” as his career has focused on hefty non-fiction tomes devoted to just two men. The Power Broker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning, 1,300+ page book about urban planner Robert Moses, goes into great detail about how Moses shaped the landscape of New York City, and not always for the better. He has also published four volumes of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, all detailing Johnson’s life before he was president. The yet-to-be-published fifth volume is highly anticipated, to say the least.

In addition to the books of Caro, Gottlieb has edited books by Joseph Heller (famously providing the title number for Catch-22), John Cheever, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Ray Bradbury, Michael Crichton, Bill Clinton, and many others. Astonishingly, he has also had time to write eight of his own books, serve as editor of The New Yorker, program both the New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet, and more.

Lizzie Gottlieb gives each man plenty of space to tell their own story, with perhaps a slight bias toward her father. Caro is 87 and Gottlieb is 91, yet neither shows any significant mental decline. In fact, their ability to recall the many important moments of their lives and continue to ruminate at a high level is intimidating, and a testament to their intellectualism.

Among the many amazing stories that made the cut of the film are how Gottlieb had to get Caro to cut 350,000 words – or around 700 pages – from The Power Broker just for it to be small enough to be bound, and another about how Caro, in his extensive research about LBJ, discovered just how Johnson literally stole a primary election in his first run for the Senate.

The mark of any good documentary is its ability to engage viewers who may not be intimately familiar with its central subjects. While it’s the professional lives of Caro and Gottlieb that are most notable, the film includes just enough information about their personal lives to make them into full human beings, unlocking what for many have been mysterious figures.

Turn Every Page may be most interesting to those who have read and loved Caro’s books over the past five decades, but there’s enough there to open the film wide for the uninitiated. The lives of Caro and Gottlieb are large, and the documentary provides a great glimpse into how they became that way.

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Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb is now playing in Austin at AFS Cinema.

Photo by Martha Kaplan / courtesy of Wild Surmise Productions, LLC and Sony Pictures Classics

The young author and editor in Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb.

Austin arcade plans a trailer park murder, and it's your job to solve the mystery

Is this a game to you?

We would say there’s been a murder at the arcade, but it hasn’t happened yet. Pinballz, an arcade, bar, restaurant, and overall gathering place for Austin nerds, is planning a crime for one guest to commit at its Lake Creek location on February 9, and many others will be implicated. Guests will gather in character for a sit-down Southern meal, learn about the crime, tease out the clues, and eventually apprehend one of their own in “Trailer Park Tragedy,” a murder mystery dinner game.

Dinner is a form of theater in itself, bringing together a cast of southern classics: barbecue brisket and ribs, charro beans, corn bread, potato salad, house salad, and Texas toast. This trailer park is vegetarian friendly, with black bean burgers available to swap out. A recent Halloween event featured “feetloaf” and spider sliders.

“Last Valentine's Day we did a really fun murder at a wedding,” says food and beverage manager Mitch Alloway. “And we kind of wanted to go a different direction with Valentine's Day [this year] … We thought this would be more fun and spunky and goofy. We decided to go trailer park status with a ‘PBR-sponsored event,’ basically. It's going to be barbecue; it’s going to be some fun cocktails … and it'll be a fun time.”

A downloadable game book of the same name and similar details appears in game company Night of Mystery’s catalog, but Pinballz is taking the game to the next level, allowing up to 60 guests and ensuring that everyone has a unique character; not so easy at a friend’s house, but no big deal for the Pinballz staff member who will be hosting the game.

Although it’s a little different than the role-playing games patrons may be used to during the bar’s weekly Dungeons and Dragons sessions — since there is a prescribed series of events and a place to land at the end of the game — this event also gives visitors a chance to get into character and even costume.

“We get a good 80 percent diehard fan base that come in and they deck out, they dress up; They really get into their characters,” says Alloway. “And then there's usually that 15-20 percent that … it's their first time coming in or they're just not sure how to really feel the vibe.”

Characters from the original game sheet include a smooth-talking motorcycle buff, a few harried mothers (including a hairstylist and a grifter), and a security guard who never made it through the police academy but still wants to brag about his position of power. The game includes a disclaimer that offending players is high on its list of priorities.

Regardless of crime solving or method acting prowess, this kind of event exists to get people out of their shells and social circles. With a goal to work on, it’s a rare opportunity in a growing city to connect with others on a night out with none of the herculean sense of initiative it otherwise takes. Alloway guesses that 12-16 people come to every murder mystery, having met as strangers and progressed into friendships through enjoying the event together.

Pinballz, in addition to flooding the senses in the way only an arcade can, is a believer in this kind of night out and puts special effort into planning more throughout the year. There are murder mysteries about once a quarter, and starting at this event, each location will be staggering its mysteries. After the Lake Creek trailer park mystery, Pinballz Kingdom in Buda is hosting a Mardi Gras-themed mystery (February 23), and the original in North Austin is planning an '80s prom theme for April.

“We don't like to drench our calendars with these, because it does take time to plan, coordinate, organize — and we want to make sure that it's not something [that happens] every single week and then it takes away the creative aspect that our team members get involved [in],” says Alloway.

Aside from regularly scheduled murders and D&D adventures (spiced up with dice rolls to find out what $8 drink a patron will receive), the bars are also embarking on more comedy nights, and have started a popular live wrestling series. The chain also organizes whiskey tastings and tournaments for widely-played video games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Brothers.

“We are a very eclectic group of nerds,” says Alloway. “I'm a nerd for food and beverage, and events. We have some nerds that are for drama. We have some people that are nerds for Pokemon. We're basically a massive mob of nerds that have decided how we want to create this venue of like-minded people … where we can kind of take our passions and bring it into one weird unique setting.”

Pinballz will host “Trailer Park Tragedy” at its Lake Creek location (13729 Research Boulevard) on February 9 at 7 pm. Tickets ($35) for the 18-and-up event are available at pinballz.com.