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'We Could Make Bigger And Better Things': Texas Performing Arts And Fusebox Offer Artist Residencies

The artists selected for the first TPA/Fusebox residency programs
Gesel Mason, Charles O. Anderson, Frank Wo/Man Collective, and Rudy Ramirez

This year, Texas Performing Arts partnered with Fusebox Festival to create a new production residency program that aims to give financial and practical assistance to local preforming artists. Bob Bursey, the executive director of Texas Performing Arts, says the idea was both idealistic and pragmatic.

“The idealistic piece [of the program] is that for independent performing artists in our country, it’s a huge, huge struggle to get new work made,” Bursey says. “So we wanted to speak to that. And then at the same time, due to the pandemic, our stages are dark here at the TPA. Bass Concert Hall, the McCullough Theatre, and our rehearsal studios that would normally be engaged in presenting artists from around the world – those spaces are fallow. And we have staff who are really hungry to continue to contribute to artistic process and creative research. So we wanted to bring those two things together through this program.”

In September, we spoke with two of the artists chosen for the program, Gesele Mason, a choreographer and associate professor of dance at UT, and Charles O. Anderson, also a choreographer and the head of UT’s dance program. More recently, we checked in with the other artists chosen for the pilot year of the residency program: writer/director Rudy Ramirez and the Frank Wo/Men Collective.

Ramirez is using the program to create several new works. “Through this residency, I get to develop three new plays with three of my favorite playwrights,” they say. “Jesus Valles, who I worked with on (Un)Documents; Krysta Gonzales, who I worked with on Más Cara; and Victor Cazares, who I haven’t worked with yet but who is an amazing writer.”

The project they’re working on is an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Rural Trilogy. “This is an idea that I had with Jesus Valles on a bus,” Ramirez says. “The 10 bus, actually. And we started joking about imagining these really kind of absurd, hilarious, very, very Mexican versions of these very classic 20th century Spanish dramas. And the idea kind of never went away.

“The biggest difference that this residency makes is that we are being paid to develop work,” Ramirez says. “So the fact that we’re getting told ‘you are a good enough artist that we are going to give you money while you are developing a piece' is really fantastic because it allows us to keep ourselves motivated and honest with it and to know that the labor we’re putting into creating these pieces is going to be recognized.”

The Frank Wo/Men Collective has already started to present work created as a part of the residency program – their online show Kiddo was performed in mid-December. “That was really invigorating for us after kind of this lull, these months of adjusting and not creating as much or in the same way,” says Frank Wo/Men co-producer Kelsey Oliver. “And then to be given this pretty awesome opportunity was just like ‘Oh, okay. Well, I guess we can create art again. I guess we’re gonna. Yeah, let’s do it!’”

“We knew we were going to have X amount of dollars,” says co-producer Roberto Di Donato. “And that was the biggest… relief in a way.”

Alexa Capareda, one of Frank Wo/Men Collective’s other producers, says she’s happy to have the resources that come with the residency, but also happy that the added comfort hasn’t come at the expense of creativity. “I’ve been not surprised but pleased that the show we have at the moment feels as playful as the shows that we’ve had in someone’s garage,” she says. “So I’m glad that this has still very much bubbled up in the Franky way of making things.”

“They provided a venue and they provided the space to actually make,” says Frank Wo/Men Collective co-producer Chris Conard. “And from this point on, we could make bigger and better things with what we’ve built during the residency, which is really exciting.”

More information on the work of Rudy Ramirez and Frank Wo/Men Collective

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces and hosts This Is My Thing and Arts Eclectic, and also produces Get Involved and the Sonic ID project. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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