'I Had No Idea That I Needed This': A New Production Residency Project For Performing Artists

Sep 14, 2020

“This program is at the intersection of the very pragmatic and the very idealistic,” says Bob Bursey, the executive director of Texas Performing Arts. TPA has just partnered with Fusebox Festival to create a new production residency program that aims to give financial and practical assistance to local preforming artists. 

“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. “There’s a real lack of resources – meaning both financial and space and time and opportunity. 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.”

The program, which has just launched its pilot year, will give funding to four artists or artistic collectives, and also allow them to use many of TPA’s facilities and resources that would otherwise go unused during the pandemic. 

Gesel Mason, a choreographer and associate professor of dance at UT, is one of the first artists selected for the program. “It’s actually pretty exciting to think about,” she says. “Especially in this COVID-19 time, in some ways it’s been hard to even think about being creative, because there’s so much to think about.” 

For Mason, the residency program is exactly what her current project “Yes, And” needed in this moment. “The question in my project is who would you be and what would you make if as a Black woman, you had nothing to worry about?” she says. “And then thinking about that universally, we can all insert if you as blank didn’t have anything to worry about. If you didn’t have to worry about your health, if you didn’t have to worry about your finances, how would you be in the world and what would make and create? To be able to sit in that question – because I actually will have resources and space – is a real gift as an artist, to have some time to sit in that kind of imaginative and creative space.”

This production residency program should give Mason the time and space needed to create without worrying about a deadline or feeling pressure to present a finished product to an audience any time soon. For Charles O. Anderson – also a choreographer and the head of UT’s dance program – it offers something different. His project, (Re)current Unrest, is already completed. Or rather, he thought it was completed before the pandemic changed things. “I had no idea that I needed this residency as badly as I did,” he says. “I will say it’s slightly different in nature for me, partially because I was supposed to have started a national tour of the project that I’m bringing to this residency next week. But that’s not happening.”

Instead of launching a national tour, Anderson has pivoted, like many artists have in 2020, to the digital realm. “What we are doing with this is creating, basically, a film residency,” he says. “So we’re doing a livestream performance of my work. We really are using this residency as an opportunity to document the process of making a film.” 

Bursey says that while the residency program was created as a reaction to the empty theater spaces caused by the pandemic, he hopes to see it continue long after theaters are able to safely reopen. “This initial cohort of four artists – in addition to Charles and Gesel, we’re working with the Frank Wo/Men Collective and Rudy Ramirez, who’s an incredible director and playwright,” he says. “And we’re hoping that this becomes an annual program going forward.”

More information about Charles O. Anderson and Gesel Mason's work