The Vortex Theatre – like all theaters right now – is closed for an undetermined amount of time, but the folks who run the theater are doing what they can to continue providing their unique brand of entertainment to the Austin community. They’ve wasted no time in putting together a wide variety of programming online.
“We’re doing a mix of like rebroadcasting older, vintage, and more current Vortex productions,” says Melissa Vogt, Vortex’s managing director. “And then we’re also doing some individual live performances – we’re doing some play readings… there’s some live music, there’s some burlesque.”
And that streaming content isn’t only coming from Vortex’s regular company members. “I just kind of put it out to the general artistic community – both our company members and beyond – that if they want to partake in… being an artist in the Vortex virtual programming that they could,” Vogt says. “All they really need is some way to have video and audio that can go into the internet.”
All of the new content being produced by the Vortex is being created in the homes of the artists and streamed online. In some cases, it’s a solo show and in some cases multiple performers are collaborating in virtual space using videochat technology (much like the way I’ve been interviewing artists recently). One of the projects underway is shepherded by Vortex associate artistic director Rudy Ramirez. He’s calling it “The Covid Decameron,” and it’s inspired by The Decameron, a 14th century collection of novellas by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio. “The idea behind [The Decameron] was that this group of people were hiding out from the plague in Florence,” Ramirez says. “And they decide that... every day they’re going to tell each other stories. And I kind of immediately started thinking about it, because we’re denied that right now. We’re denied the sort of, let’s all hunker down in a room together and tell stories face to face. But we now have these online platforms to do it.”
Ramirez reached out to a number of local playwrights, and they’ve been creating short plays inspired by the current quarantine. “And they’re all designed to be performed online, so the online platform is part of the storytelling and part of the story,” Ramirez says. They’ll be presenting the first of these new works online this weekend, with more to come. “My hope is that this keeps going, you know, as long as we have to stay inside, and [we’ll] do a couple of new pieces each week.”
While the Vortex is taking this time to create some challenging new works, they’re also planning some material that is just for fun and stress relief. “So Rudy Ramirez, Andreá Smith, and Jennifer Jennings are getting together – virtually, from their separate homes – and they’re going to have some drinks and then, from memory, they’re going to do Steel Magnolias!” Vogt says, unable to contain her laughter. “It’s kind of “Drunk History” style.”
“You know, we quote it all the time,” Ramirez says. “I certainly think it’s one of those movies that I saw enough times as a kid that I can… we can probably quote the majority of it from memory, so we’re gonna try.”
You can stream all sorts of archived and live content at the Vortex website.