Austin’s Fusebox Festival was started by Ron Berry over fifteen years ago, and every year since then, it’s brought together local, national and international artists to spend five days performing, interacting, and discussing performance arts of all disciplines. “They’re artists that are coming from all different kinds of artistic backgrounds, but usually there is some element of ‘liveness’ that’s being explored,” Berry says. “So live performance really is at the center of this festival.”
Live most festivals, there’s also usually a strong sense of community among the participants. “There’s talks and happy hours and workshops and these other kinds of things to help create different kinds of connections with the work,” says Berry.
So can a festival like this work in a world that doesn’t allow in-person performances or gatherings? Berry and the Fusebox crew will find out this weekend.
Fusebox will go on – a little later than originally planned, and for only three days instead of the usual five – as an all new, all online version of its earlier self, now titled Fusebox Festival 2020: Virtual Edition.
“We’ve had to do some quick pivoting, as so many folks have had to do in the community here,” says Fusebox associate artistic director Anna Gallagher-Ross. “And we’ve been sort of talking and collaborating with our artists to see what that would look like and how we can reimagine the live experience online. We’re kind of learning on a daily basis and teaching ourselves a lot about this new medium, the internet,” she adds with a laugh.
Both Gallagher-Ross and Berry seem to be approaching this fundamental change as both a challenge and an opportunity. “I think we were really interested in what that means, to put this festival online,” Berry says. “This sense of community, of belonging to a temporary community for a few days – how do you create that in an online situation?”
Not all the artists who were scheduled for Fusebox 2020 will be performing the same projects for the new virtual edition; some pieces will make the translation from live to digital performance more smoothly than others, according to Berry. “We’re open to really reimaging what form these projects take,” he says. “And in some cases, folks might just be like, ‘you know, actually, the project I was going to do for the festival doesn’t make sense in this context – I’m going to do something else.’”
This weekend’s virtual festival will also serve as a sort of test case for future online components of Fusebox. “We want to kind of ultimately set it up as like a fun sort of experiment,” Berry says. “And see what works, what doesn’t… and then maybe build on that in the future.”
“I think we absolutely embrace the creative challenge of this, and I think it’s such a part of Fusebox’s DNA to kind of try and be as experimental as our artists,” Gallagher-Ross says. “I think Ron and I feel really excited to kind of dream this thing up with our team and with the artists. It does provide an opportunity to kind of create a different kind of intimacy online, to create a different kind of community. It also presents opportunities for access that we might not have previously been able to do in theaters. So I think there’s a lot of excitement around this for us.”
“We’re approaching it with a sense of possibility,” Berry says. “What is the opportunity to connect with people? What is the opportunity to create community, to share ideas in a way that’s interesting or meaningful in this moment?”