The aggressive dolphin has been spotted at North Padre Island, which can mean only one thing: it’s summer in Texas. Over the next few months, Texan artists of all stripes will sing opera, perform Shakespeare, and in the case of Ethan Hawke, debut as an all-around terrifying magician. This season’s lineup of books, film and television, and performing and visual arts ranges from the esoteric (such as two Old Testament–inspired paintings on view together at the Kimbell Art Museum) to the comedic (Dallas filmmaker Cooper Raiff starring as a bar mitzvah hype man in Cha Cha Real Smooth). No matter your taste or preferred medium of entertainment, there’s no reason to be bored with this roster of happenings around the state. Free or donation-based activities, of which there are many, have been denoted with an *.


The Last Gangster in Austin: Frank Smith, Ronnie Earle, and the End of a Junkyard Mafia, by Jesse Sublett (6/7)

For a native Austinite, I know embarrassingly little about Ronnie Earle, the city’s legendary former district attorney of more than thirty years. Sublett’s book, about Earle’s fight to bring down alleged criminal mastermind Frank Hughey Smith in the seventies, promises to get me up to speed. It’s a true-crime book set against the backdrop of Armadillo World Headquarters–era Austin. What more could a girl want? —Emily McCullar

The Crane Wife, by CJ Hauser (7/12)

Like countless others, I was blown away by Hauser’s essay of the same title, which went viral after it was published by the Paris Review. It wasn’t so much the subject matter that gripped me. Hauser’s trip to study whooping cranes down by the Texas Gulf Coast in the aftermath of a devastating broken engagement was interesting enough, but it was her raw, aching prose that really drew me in. This collection, coming three years after the namesake essay’s publication, expands upon that story and includes additional works of memoir. —EM

Saltwater and Driftwood, by Anna J Walner (8/30)

Historical fiction is risky. It can be fluffy and dull, or it can do its job, transporting the reader to another time and place. In this novel, Anna J Walner attempts to deliver her reader to Galveston in 1901, on the cusp of a hurricane that would turn the booming metropolis into a wasteland. —EM

The Old Place, by Bobby Finger (9/20)

Card-carrying Wholigan here! That means I am an avid listener to journalist Bobby Finger’s pop culture podcast, Who? Weekly, so I’d probably buy the San Antonio native’s debut novel even if it were a dystopian adaptation of the phone book. Thankfully, this looks far more interesting. The Old Place tells the story of retired schoolteacher Mary Alice Roth, whose decades-old secret threatens to unravel the social fabric of her small town. From the podcast, I know that Finger is a Golden Girls superfan, so I assume his main character is basically Bea Arthur. Count me in! —EM

Film and TV

Cha Cha Real Smooth (Apple TV+, 6/17)

Give Dallas wunderkind filmmaker Cooper Raiff credit for his gumption: there aren’t many filmmakers in their early twenties with the courage to write, direct, and star in a movie in which they play a character so effortlessly charming that Dakota Johnson finds him irresistible. That Cha Cha Real Smooth, which premiered at South by Southwest in March, sells that premise is a testament to the heart that Raiff brings to his work, and makes him one of the most exciting young filmmakers in Texas, or anywhere else, at the moment. —Dan Solomon

The Black Phone (Theaters, 6/24)

The Ethanaissance continues with Ethan Hawke’s latest collaboration with Sinister director Scott Derrickson (and Austin screenwriter Robert Cargill), an adaptation of a short story by horror writer Joe Hill. Unlike in his previous horror outings with Blumhouse, in The Black Phone Hawke doesn’t play an everyman stuck in a nightmare scenario—this time out, he’s the monster, a welcome shift into villainhood for one of our most reliable screen presences. —DS

Bullet Train (Theaters, 8/5)

At the SXSW premiere of The Lost City, Sandra Bullock announced her intention to take a few years off from acting to focus on being a mom. Before she goes, however, we’ll see her costar with frequent collaborator Brad Pitt in what looks like one of the summer’s most frenetic action movies, set aboard a bullet train in which a whole bunch of assassins are trying to kill one another in order to obtain a mysterious briefcase. —DS

Mo (Netflix, 8/24)

Houston comedian Mo Amer came to the U.S. from Kuwait as a child in 1990, at the onset of the first Gulf War. He’s found the humor in his journey as an immigrant in the past—most recently in last year’s Netflix comedy special Mo Amer: Mohammed in Houston—and he’ll be anchoring a scripted series for the streamer based loosely on his own life (and costarring Houston rapper Tobe Nwigwe) in August. —DS

Summer Arts Preview Mo Amer
A still from Mo Amer’s Netflix series Mo.Courtesy of Netflix

Performing Arts

Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (Bass Performance Hall and TCU, Fort Worth, through 6/18)*

The latest edition of this quadrennial event named after Kilgore’s classical music megastar was delayed for a year, thanks to the pandemic. But thirty virtuoso pianists from fourteen nations (Russia and Ukraine among them) are in Funkytown now for a marathon of Mozart and Chopin, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. The packed slate of recitals and concertos—including final-round performances with the Fort Worth Symphony and famed conductor Marin Alsop—can be streamed for free. In-person tickets (not free) are available too. —Marilyn Bailey

Born With Teeth (Alley Theatre, Houston, through 6/25)

Who doesn’t love a good Shakespeare origin story? Born With Teeth time-travels to Elizabethan England, when Christopher Marlowe was the preeminent playwright and the Bard was just getting started, and imagines the duo collaborating in a London pub. Winner of the 2021 Edgerton New Play Award, Liz Duffy Adams’s latest work pulsates with themes of religious persecution, sexual tension, and political intrigue and has been described as a “delicious fantasia . . . with a quick-witted punk sensibility.” —Amy Weaver Dorning

Innominate (Match Theater, Houston, through 6/19)*

Innominate is an experimental dance-theater performance created, directed, and designed by acclaimed local multidisciplinary artist Afsaneh Aayani. Dually inspired by Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica and Iran’s Green Revolution, Innominate combines puppetry, live original music, mixed media, and movement to create a surreal journey through Aayani’s personal experience as an immigrant from war-torn Iran. All tickets are pay-what-you-can. —AWD

Ballet Concerto’s Fortieth Annual Summer Dance Concert, (The Shops at Clearfork, Fort Worth, 6/23–6/26)

Bring chairs and blankets and relax on the lawn for the Ballet Concerto fortieth annual summer dance program. With four nights of professional dance ranging from the traditional Spanish choreography of Bolero to the classical ballet of Les Sylphides, this popular event has been bringing Cowtown out since 1983. —AWD

Motherland/I Belong to You (Bates Recital Hall, Austin, 6/25)

Austin-based vocal group Inversion Ensemble will be premiering the oratorio Motherland/I Belong to You. The multimedia performance features an autobiographical libretto by Greg Pak, a comic book author who grew up in Dallas, that “explores the history, culture, and natural wonders of Texas.” His text has been musically adapted by three of Inversion’s founding members, and the show will involve projections of original artwork from a comic book version of the text. —Anna Walsh

Houston Symphony Orchestra, (Miller Outdoor Theatre, Houston, 7/1)*

The program for this free outdoor Houston Symphony concert includes Mighty River by Errollyn Wallen, a Belize-born British composer. While the 2007 composition may not be familiar, audiences will surely recognize the melody from “Amazing Grace” that Wallen wove throughout the piece. Another recognizable tune on the program: “Hoe Down,” the number from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo that was the soundtrack for the “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” ad campaign from the nineties and whose melody was adapted for the below-decks dancing scene in Titanic. —AW

Shakespeare at Winedale (Winedale Theater, Round Top, 7/22–8/14)

This University of Texas at Austin program has staged low-tech and artistically charged performances of the Bard’s work for 52 years. Performed exclusively by students, this summer’s offerings include Much Ado About Nothing, Two Noble Kinsmen, and The Winter’s Tale. The setting—a converted nineteenth-century barn—creates just the right intimate and rustic vibe. —AWD

Newsies (Zilker Hillside Theater, Austin, 7/8–8/13)*

Back in its famous outdoor amphitheater for the first time since 2019, Zilker Theatre Productions’ free, family-friendly event has been an Austin tradition for 62 years. The professional productions always dazzle, and an easygoing Austin vibe permeates the whole event. Free, no reservations required; bring your own blankets and stake out a spot early. —AWD

The Odyssey, (Dallas Theater Center, 7/8–7/10)*

Lear deBessonet, known for her work at New York City’s Public Theater, conceived this musical version of Homer’s The Odyssey as her third show in DTC’s innovative community-involvement program. Local nontheater types round out the cast and help with box office, childcare, and meals—as well as with costumes and other design, which this time means sirens, a cyclops, and raging tempests, whew, for a production inspired by early-twentieth-century pageants. —MB

El Paso Opera Presents: Frida, (Abraham Chavez Theatre, El Paso, 8/27)

For one night only, composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s kaleidoscopic music is a perfect match for iconic artist Frida Kahlo in this “mesmerizing fusion of opera, Mexican folkloric and mariachi music, and Broadway musical theater” performed in Spanish and English with projections in both languages. Through music, monologue, dance, and visual spectacle, the opera showcases the major events in Frida’s life. —AWD

Summer Arts Preview Kehinde Wiley at Kimbell Art Museum
Kehinde Wiley’s Judith and Holofernes.Courtesy of Kimbell Art Museum

Visual Art

“Black Every Day: Photographs From the Carter Collection” (Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, 6/11–9/11)*

Some of the most appealing exhibits at the Carter happen when it pulls gems out of its own vast collection of American photographs. “Black Every Day” sidesteps images of struggle (the Carter has shown us those too) and invites us into the “fullness and richness” of Black life, with scenes of family, community, worship, and achievement. More than one hundred unidentified “vernacular” photographers (read: just like you and me) are featured alongside acknowledged masters including Gordon Parks and James Van Der Zee. —MB

“Leandro Erlich: Seeing Is Not Believing” (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 6/26—9/5)

The MFAH’s annual immersive summer attraction this year features two room-size environments by Leandro Erlich, a South American conceptual artist whose visual paradoxes and optical illusions seem to defy basic laws of physics. His psychological subversions challenge viewers’ sense of balance, space, and the absolute. —Molly Glentzer

“Hugh Hayden: Boogey Men” (Blaffler Art Museum, Houston, 6/10–9/4)*

The Blaffer presents a suite of monumental new works by a Dallas native known for his laborious material processes, architectural background, and examinations of social dynamics. The show’s title work will be a talker: a stainless-steel depiction of a police car draped in a white cover, it projects a cartoonish, anthropomorphic quality that evokes the ominous silhouette of a hooded Klansman. —MG

“Baseera Khan: Weight on History” (Moody Center for the Arts, Houston, 6/3–8/27)*

The multifaceted Khan, a Denton native and self-identified femme Muslim American, makes wry, visually alluring works about discrimination, identity, and gender. Her first solo exhibition in Houston features new and recent works in a range of media, including video and a specially commissioned monumental sculpture. —MG

“Tony Parker’s Heroes & Villains” (San Antonio Museum of Art, 6/10–9/4)

Superhero alert: this display of 41 life-size sculptures from the collection of former San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tony Parker includes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, and figures from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Avengers. Need we say more? —MG

“SLAY: Artemisia Gentileschi & Kehinde Wiley” (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 7/19–10/9)

It’s only two paintings, but they’re wildly engrossing depictions of the same subject, made four hundred years apart: the Old Testament story of Judith and Holofernes, which involves a beheading. Any painting by the female Italian Baroque master Gentileschi or the twenty-first century American superstar Wiley is an event; seeing these two pieces side by side will be revelatory. —MG