Saving Performing Arts in Texas, One Artist at a Time

by Julie Tereshchuk on September 10, 2020 in Entertainment, Theatre, Austin,
Fusebox TPA collab banner e1598381958977

What does it take to bring two dramatically different arts organizations together? Simple. A pandemic that has roiled theater and the arts across the globe.

Rolling up their sleeves to give vital support to artists in their own backyard—namely central Texas—Austin’s Fusebox Festival and Texas Performing Arts recently announced a unique collaboration to launch a clear-sighted new residency program.

Both organizations believe there is vital work to do to ensure the performing arts industry has not only a future, but a sustainable one. The ultimate goal is to put resources directly in the hands of Austin artists.

One of the four artists/collectives chosen to participate in the new residence program, Gesel Mason is Artistic Director for Gesel Mason Performance Projects and Associate Professor of Dance at University of Texas at Austin. Mason utilizes dance, theater, humor and storytelling to bring visibility to voices unheard, situations neglected, or perspectives considered taboo. Photo Josh Coe

The program provides four individual artists or ensembles a total award of $50,000 each. The aim is to make this an annual opportunity. Selected to be the first four artists are Gesel Mason, Charles O. Anderson, Rudy Ramirez and the Frank Wo/Men Collective. 

We asked Texas Performing Arts’ Executive Director, Tony Award-winning producer Bob Bursey, to tell us more insight into the program, the process of choosing artists and what theater will look like post-pandemic.

Following a national search, Tony Award-winning producer Bob Bursey was appointed Executive Director of Texas Performing Arts in January, 2020. TPA operates University of Texas at Austin campus venues including Bass Concert Hall and McCullough Theatre. Photo Lawrence Peart

In a nutshell, what is this Texas Performing Arts and Fusebox collaboration?

Two adventurous arts organizations coming together to create a new opportunity for Austin performing artists. Specifically, we’re partnering to put funds, theater and studio space, and technical support at the disposal of Austin artists to create powerful new works. 

Why did Fusebox and TPA choose to partner together? Aren’t you two very different entities?

Completely different. But we share a commitment to pioneering new approaches and supporting bold and challenging projects. I hope that one of the lasting effects of this terribly difficult time for arts organizations is that it spurs more partnerships.  We’d like this to be an example.

Artist in residence Charles O. Anderson is head of the University of Texas at Austin’s dance program and artistic director of dance theatre X, a critically acclaimed afro-contemporary dance-theatre company. Photo Gabriel Bienczycki

What’s the significance of the residency program?

There are precious few programs in the U.S. dedicated to supporting the creation of new contemporary performing arts projects. And the devastating effects of the pandemic on artists and arts organizations only make those resources more scarce.

This is the first program of its kind in Austin. Launching this new program now is a direct response to the moment as well as an investment in the future. As other organizations pull back, we are doubling down on our mission to connect people with performance.

Rudy Ramirez (they/them) is an Associate Artistic Director of The VORTEX Theatre and the founding artistic director of Avante Theatre Project, a company dedicated to producing new and avant-garde Latinx performance. They have worked with numerous theatre companies in Austin and around the country, have won 6 B. Iden Payne Awards and an Austin Critics Table Award as a director, and were named Best Director in the Austin Chronicle Readers’ Poll in 2017.
Photo Steve Rogers

How were the artists chosen and who chose them?

I started at Texas Performing Arts in January and was in the early days of learning about our local arts community when the pandemic shut everything down. Our partners at Fusebox have been an integral part of the community since the mid-2000s. So they took the lead on identifying adventurous Austin-based artists who are pushing the boundaries of performance and on the cusp of new projects, especially those furthering the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the local performing arts community.

The only collective selected for the 2020-2021 residency program, Frank Wo/Men Collective is an ever-evolving group of interdisciplinary artists from various communities. Frankie collaborators co-produce a multitude of forward-thinking, highly physical pieces which are at times fervid, contemplative, or idiosyncratic. Photo Sarah Annie Navarrete

How long will the program run for?

2020-2021 is a pilot year.  We hope to learn from it and make this a regular part of what we do going forward. In the future, we plan to offer an open call for artists and appoint a group of Austin arts leaders to make the selections. 

What does the future hold for theater in central Texas? Will it rebound/survive?

Absolutely. Theater has been around for thousands of years and has survived grave threats before. I want to continue to invest in exciting artists and ambitious projects so there are powerful new performances to see when we can come back together in the theater. That’s one of the ways we will not only survive but thrive in the future.

Cover photo courtesy Texas Performing Arts

Julie Tereshchuk is the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Lifestyle Magazine.