Photo courtesy of Republic Records

When Billy Porter arrives in May, Austinites will know. Not much of a wallflower, the singer and actor (just an "O" away from "EGOT"), is known for bombastic entrances, vulnerable and groundbreaking characters, and red carpet showstoppers.

In case anyone is drawing a blank on any part of Porter's decades-long resume when the "Oh my God, there's Billy Porter" whispers start circulating, the star is coming to Texas with a career retrospective in the form of a pop concert. The Austin stop of the Black Mona Lisa Tour: Volume 1 will be at the Paramount Theatre on May 9.

Porter's early fame was mostly on Broadway, first as Teen Angel in the 1994 revival of Grease and later as drag queen Lola, star of Kinky Boots. Now audiences' freshest impressions of Porter are likely from Pose, a fictional TV series about ballroom culture and gender identity in the 80s, in which the actor played a barbed, but loyal and passionate emcee called Pray Tell.

The show garnered praise for, among many other achievements, bringing the AIDS epidemic to the forefront in an art — drag — that is becoming more and more mainstream in TV adaptations. Porter later shared that his personal experience with HIV, which he had kept quiet for more than a decade, motivated parts of his performance. On April 12, the Hollywood Reporter announced that Porter will play writer and activist James Baldwin in an upcoming feature film.

Queerness, Blackness, and shades of masculinity are nearly always at the center of Porter's work, and music binds it all together. Porter's first album, Untitled, announced the singer to the pop world for the first time in 1997, but since then, most of his musical achievements have been singles, covers, and original performances of works written by other composers. This retrospective tour shares a name with an upcoming album, Black Mona Lisa, that will re-introduce the iconic singer to the pop music space. Things there are warming up already with the release of his new single, "Baby Was A Dancer," a contemporary disco track delivering an uplifting allegory about Porter's personal trajectory.

CultureMap spoke with Porter about the show at the Paramount Theatre, the single and upcoming album, and the healing he hopes to contribute through his music.

CultureMap: How many costumes do you have for this tour?
BP: Oh, I don’t know. [Laughs.] I’m still working on that. I’ll be changing a couple of times, but … I’m focused on the music.

CM: What do you identify with in the Mona Lisa?
BP: Mona Lisa is past, present, and future. She’s relevant always and forever. That’s me — that’s what I do.

CM: You’ve shared that the goal of this album is to provide healing. What are some of the healing elements of the music itself?
BP: Well, the intention is in the writing, in the lyrics, in the hope of the lyrics, in the joy in the lyrics, and in the melodies; this album is very intentional. And I love it. So I hope everybody else is gonna love it too.

CM: Can we expect more original music like "Baby Was A Dancer" in this album?
BP: Yeah, it's all original music. It's a new pop album. Everything is new, everything is original, and I wrote all but one song with amazing writing teams [including] Justin Tranter, the late, great Andrea Martin, and MNEK.

CM: That single is in the third person. What inspired that angle versus something more confessional and raw?
BP: There's a lot of confessional and raw on the album. ["Baby Was A Dancer"] is about transcending the haters and dancing your way to heaven anyway. So it's just fun to speak in third person because you're sort of presenting [the story] — it's presentational that way.

CM: The show references a lot that people will recognize, and you have a memoir already out called Unprotected. Is there anything that you're telling audiences for the first time?
BP: Well, not really. However, because I exist in so many different creative spaces, those spaces don't always speak to each other. I spent the first 25 years of my career trying to get people to take me seriously as an actor. And now that I have, I've read comments online, like, “Oh, I didn't know Pray Tell could sing.” So it's a bit of an education that's getting ready to happen — for some people.

It’s not a musical theater show even though I'm a theater artist. My very first album came out in 1997 on A&M Records. It was an R&B soul record. The industry was very homophobic at the time, so it didn't work out for me [then]. And now I get a second chance in the mainstream [pop] music industry.

CM: Is there a moment where you felt that switch happen, when you felt like you were in the mainstream?
BP: My whole career has sort of built on itself, and the tipping point — Malcolm Gladwell talks about the tipping point — came with the convergence of everything that had happened before. And then Pose. Pose was where I cracked open beyond the 10-block radius of Broadway.

CM: When you were putting together this show, were there any memories that you regained or connections you made?
BP: I wrote a memoir — I've been connected and reconnected, and been searching and finding things and stories to tell for … four years to write my book, so it wasn't anything new for me. The concert is going to be a retrospective … [and] a celebration of life, and love, and joy, and hope, and peace. My plan is to give the world a big bear hug, and try to help in the healing of our civilization, because we've all been through a collective trauma. We're all still in the middle of it. None of us are okay, and that's okay.

I'm going to do 10 songs from the new album. Then I go back to the 90s. I'm going to do some stuff from my first album, Untitled — I haven't performed anything from that live in decades. There was a lot of trauma connected to that, so I'm releasing that, then I'm doing a lot of the Broadway stuff, Kinky Boots, some political stuff, and some gospel stuff. The last 20 minutes, half hour, is a dance party.

CM: To me, you're known for camp, but you also embody really earnest emotion. How do you find the line between camp and earnestness?
BP: Well, I call it fabulous and serious. Camp is very specific. I'm actually not camp unless I need to be camp. But I'm fabulous; fabulous and serious at the same time. That's my brand. And that's what I'm trying to remind the world: The two things can coexist. One can be fabulous and serious at the same time. And that's what I am. It can be confusing sometimes. But I'm here to let you know, don't be confused. [Laughs] I'm very intelligent, I’m very smart — yes, I wear dresses. Yes, I can be silly. And I know what's going on in the world, and I can go and sit in front of Congress and speak. I'm proud of that.

CM: We saw a lot of that recently at the Capitol, here in Texas. We had some drag queens on the senate floor. You said on a news show that you were “one of the beneficiaries of a government that actually cared about its people,” and talked about the government “pouring into” you. What do you want to pour into Texans who are facing [identity and expression] restrictions right now?
BP: First of all, it's about us coming together as a collective. We're always better together. And we've been siloed in our own spaces because of COVID for years, and that has been exploited. [Then], it's the education. Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it. The young people weren't here for the civil rights movement; The young people weren't here for the AIDS crisis. Life is cyclical … and love always wins. It takes time.

Being 53 years old, I can look at this and go, I've been here before. I've seen this. And I know how it works out. We win. Look at Tennessee yesterday, and last week. We won't be silenced. We're back in a conservative era; We were in a very progressive era for decades and decades and decades. It's just a moment, and this too shall pass. But we have to engage and take “scary” and “terrified” out of the lexicon. No room for that.

CM: What kind of people do you really hope to see in the audience?
BP: Anybody and everybody. I don't have any definitions of who can be there. I want anybody and everybody who wants to be there, to be there.

This Q&A has been edited for length and readability. Tickets for the Paramount Theatre show are available at austintheatre.org.

Courtesy of Susan Hilferty

San Antonio museum displays Broadway's 'Wicked' best costumes in new exhibition

Costume Party

As Glinda the Good Witch says in the iconic Wicked opening, let us "rejoiceify" with the McNay Art Museum's newest exhibit — Something Wicked/Susan Hilferty Costumes.

Hilferty is the costume design mastermind behind the Tony Award-winning costumes in the hit Broadway musical, from Glinda's resplendent blue ballgown to Elphaba's magical finale dress. They're just two of the incredible array of Hilferty costumes currently on display at the McNay. Other costumes spotted were vibrant Ozian outfits, Glinda's pink 'Popular' dress, the Wizard's green suit, and more.

McNay guests can also immerse themselves in the worlds of other musicals Hilferty has designed costumes for, including Annie, Wonderland, and Lestat. There are thirty of Hilferty's brilliant costumes to view in total.

Hilferty has also been confirmed as a guest at the McNay Art Museum's annual Tobin Distinguished Lecture, which will take place on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Guests can purchase tickets for the lecture on the McNay website closer to the event date).

The Tony Award-winning costume and set designer collaborated with R. Scott Blackshire, Ph.D., curator of the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts to create a truly enchanting experience that will officially be housed at the McNay until Sunday, March 26th, 2023.

Dr. Blackshire had nothing but praise for the exciting collaboration, noting in an official statement that, "Helping [Hilferty] honor the makers, artisans, knitters, fabric painters, and others who bring her designs to the stage was a privilege. Susan relies on creative collaboration for every production she designs."

The importance of the exhibition for San Antonio's local prosperous theatre community was not lost on Dr. Blackshire, who also stated, "The community of San Antonio theatre makers who visit the exhibition will find many of their art forms represented and reflected in the costumes."

Something Wicked/Susan Hilferty Costumes is now open to the public in the Tobin Theatre Arts and Brown Galleries at the McNay Art Museum until March 23, 2023.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Austin earned top 10 rank for highest number of build-to-rent homes last year


With the increasing demand for housing and rising popularity of constructing homes for rent, Austin has earned a top 10 position in a new analysis of American metro areas with the highest number of single-family rentals built for all of 2022.

A total of 324 build-to-rent homes were completed in Austin in 2022, which is a 10-year high, according to the study by RentCafe. The newest findings put the Texas Capital three places higher than in 2021, when the city ranked No. 13 in the nation.

"Austin was named the second fastest growing city in the U.S. by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise," the study's author wrote. "That came after the city recorded a 4.3 percent rise in its GDP in 2022 to $216 billion, following the Bay Area."

The study analyzed build-to-rent data from RentCafe's sister site, Yardi Matrix, for communities that had at least 50 single-family rental units.

Dallas nailed the rankings this year by earning the top spot with nearly 2,800 single-family rental units completed last year. Phoenix (which outpaced Dallas last year) ranked No. 2 with only 1,527 units completed. After Phoenix, single-family rentals in other American metro areas only went into the triple digits, with Atlanta, Georgia (No. 3) at 808, Greenville, South Carolina (No. 4) at 584, and Charlotte, North Carolina rounding out the top five with 475 units completed.

The metro areas that complete the top 10 for the most build-to-rent homes in 2022 include:

  • No. 6 – Detroit, Michigan
  • No. 7 – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • No. 8 – Panama City, Florida
  • No. 9 – Charleston, South Carolina
  • No. 10 – Austin, Texas

Austin had the seventh highest number of single-family rentals completed in the country within the last five years, totaling 1,096 units. The Texas cities that ranked higher were Dallas (No. 2) and Houston (No. 4). San Antonio ranked below Austin at No. 8. Phoenix took the No. 1 spot with over 6,000 build-to-rent homes completed in the same time period.

The study's findings support a growing demand for flexibility among renters who may not want the high cost and maintenance associated with home ownership, RentCafe says.

“More and more people are deciding they want the best of both worlds: the flexible lifestyle of the renter, with no maintenance commitments and costs, and the comfort and privacy offered by living in a house,” the study’s author wrote. “In this case, build-to-rent homes check all of the boxes, while high home prices and rising interest rates make them even more appealing.”

The number of single-family rentals is expected to continue rising dramatically in 2023. Currently, 945 units are under construction in Austin. Overall, there are 44,700 build-to-rent homes being built this year throughout the nation; three times more than the number of completed homes in all of 2022, the study says.

Shuttered Salvation Army shelter in downtown Austin will get new life

Salvation Army

When the Salvation Army shelter on East Eighth Street shut its doors back in April, Austin City Council member Zohaib "Zo" Qadri (District 9) said it was unfortunate to see as an Austin resident and leader.

"The Salvation Army kind of abruptly stated that they were pulling out without much of a notice to the residents of the shelter in the district – a shelter that largely houses or housed women and children," Qadri said. "So, you know, that was a huge disappointment for us."

Now the City of Austin has reached a compromise and solution that Qadri believes will help those experiencing homelessness. The Austin City Council on Thursday, June 8, approved a 12-month lease agreement for the former Salvation Army shelter that will cost more than $1 million.

The site will be operated by California-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy, which also provides services at the ARCH, or the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. The council also approved a contract for Urban Alchemy to add more funding, extend the ARCH program and run the former Salvation Army shelter, providing 150 beds.

Urban Alchemy will get more than $4 million.

Later this summer, City leaders will also consider a temporary emergency shelter that will provide around 300 more beds for people experiencing homelessness.

ECHO, or the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, estimates there are thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Austin. Since the city's camping ban was reinstated in May 2021, many of these individuals have spread out throughout the city or gone into hiding, making it harder to connect them with services.


Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Tenacious D will play the best song in the world in Austin this fall

Spicy Meatball

America's favorite (only?) comedy rock duo is back on tour, and lucky for Austinites, they've announced the addition of three Texas dates this fall. Of course, we're talking about none other than Tenacious D, comprised of Jack Black and Kyle Glass.

The duo's Spicy Meatball Tour is currently underway this month in Europe, with newly extended dates including Houston (September 13), Grand Prairie (September 14), and Austin (September 15).

Supporting acts are yet to be announced, but tickets are on sale as of Friday, June 9, at 10 am. Fans can purchase tickets HERE.

According to a release, the tour dates come on the heels of the recently-released recorded version of Tenacious D’s viral, fan-favorite live cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” The single is accompanied by a video directed by longtime D collaborator Taylor Stephens, and features our dynamic duo in a glorious, romantic romp by the sea. Last month, they released their first new song in five years, “Video Games,” which has been streamed over 18 million times across all platforms in less than a month. The animated music video, created by Oney Plays, brings video game-ified versions of Black and Glass to life in classic and hilarious ways.

In addition to the single releases, Tenacious D will be the special guest at this year’s Video Game Awards, happening on June 25 at the Hollywood Bowl, where they will perform their new single.

But of course the burning question remains: Will Black perform his equally viral "Peaches" from the recent Super Mario Bros. movie? There's only one way to find out.

Full Tour Dates are below (new dates in bold font):
6/7/23 Berlin, Germany @ Zitadelle
6/8/23 Nickelsdorf, Austria @ Nova Rock Festival
6/10/23 Milan, Italy @ Carroponte
6/12/23 Zurich, Switzerland @ The Hall
6/13/23 Brussels, Belgium @ Forest National
6/14/23 Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Ahoy
6/16/23 London, England @ O2 Arena
6/18/23 Clisson, France @ Hellfest Open Air Festival
6/25/23 Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl (Video Game Awards)
9/6/23 Charlotte, NC @ PNC Music Pavilion
9/7/23 Franklin, TN @ Firstbank Amphitheater
9/9/23 Indianapolis, IN @ All IN Music Festival
9/11/23 Rogers, AR @ Walmart AMP
9/13/23 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
9/14/23 Grand Prairie, TX @ Texas Trust CU Theatre
9/15/23 Austin, TX @ Germania Insurance Amphitheater