Arts Eclectic

Errich Petersen

“We haven’t seen each other in six, seven, eight months,” says Bonnie Collum, the producing artistic director of the Vortex Theatre.

The Vortex crew has produced some online streaming content during the pandemic, but they haven’t put on a show for a live audience since before the lockdown started. That’s just about to change, though – Collum and company are currently working on The Vortex Odyssey, a fundraiser and live performance piece that’ll include an online component and, in a first for the Vortex, a drive-thru theater experience. 

“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. 

Maestro Peter Bay of the Austin Symphony has been ready to pick up his conducting baton again for a while. It’s been months since the orchestra has performed, and not conducting is a strange and unfamiliar thing for Bay.

“I don’t ever recall a time where I had five months without conducting,” he says. “Not since the late '70s, when I was in high school, so we were off for the summer months. But that would [only] be three months.”

Thinkery & Verse

Like most theater artists in 2020, the folks at Thinkery & Verse have had to rethink how they create and share content with their audience. “The best artist you can be right now is the artist that doesn’t demand that people be with you in the same room,” co-artistic director John Meyer says. “And that you fly your spit at them while you say some lines.”

Pease Park Conservancy

“You know, it’s hard to explain,” says Pease Park Conservancy CEO Heath Riddles-Sanchez. “I mean, it doesn’t necessarily have a label. When I first learned about it, I thought ‘Well, it’s a public art installation.’ But it’s more than that.”

Kate Taylor

Writer and actor Taji Senior has spent some of her time in lockdown creating a new version of her solo show amendment: the making of an american myth, or the slow sipping of a peacock tea. 

“Originally, I wrote this three years ago,” Senior says of the piece. “And it’s the very first solo thing I’d ever written. And each time I come back to this piece … it becomes something drastically different. It went from like three monologues to an hour-long show.”

“I was experimenting with a new painting style and I liked it and it was fast and a little bit more urgent and I thought I would just go with that,” says artist Valerie Fowler about her new body of work, Habitats and Pathways. The collection is based on the natural world Fowler sees on her regular hikes and bike rides around the city.

Christopher Zebo

When the coronavirus pandemic made large gatherings a dangerous thing, artists and performers of all kinds had to find new ways to connect with audiences. For Justin Sherburn, the leader of the band Montopolis, the natural pivot was to move from performing in traditional venues to working exclusively in drive-in theaters. It made sense for Montopolis because their shows always feature the band playing along to a film or multimedia presentation. 

“It wasn’t easy,” says aGLIFF president Casandra Alston about the decision to move the venerable film festival online. “[Because] the whole point of having a queer film festival is the community and coming together and being able to share with each other, and fellowship.” 

The podcast Yeah, But Are You Happy has been in production for a couple of years now, and has branched out to include live performances with special guests. That’s continued during the pandemic, with hosts Lane Ingram and Katie Stone producing livestreaming shows every Wednesday night on Coldtowne TV’s Twitch channel. 

Arius Holifield, Tyeschea West / Courtesy

Last year, the folks at Northern-Southern gallery started a project called Where Is Here, which is both a document and celebration of the residents of East Austin. It’s a large exhibition of photographs, including portraits of eastside denizens from ages 0 to 100.

Artist Benjamin Muñoz loves to create art, but he might like talking with people about the art he has created even more. It’s the dialogue he enjoys, he says – simply giving an artist talk to a crowd often feels too one-sided for his liking. “I think I get the most out of my own work when I hear how other people react to it,” Muñoz says. 

UT’s Blanton Museum of Art, like the rest of the university, closed its doors to visitors on March 13 and has remained closed ever since. But the museum still has art on display and a staff full of people who want to share that art with the community, so the team quickly began planning ways to share their exhibitions and permanent displays in a virtual way. 

Even a couple of months ago, the organizers of Stay Black and Live were hoping to put on a traditional Juneteenth event, complete with a parade and lots of people gathering together to celebrate. “Like a lot of nonprofits and organizations doing signature events, we kept thinking okay, let’s not call it yet, let’s not pivot yet. It could happen,” says Pamela Benson Owens, the acting executive director of Six Square and a member of the team that’s creating the festival.

During the early weeks of lockdown, Tom Booker of the Institution Theater noticed a facebook posting from his friend  Jeremy Moran, which recounted a dream Moran had the night before. In the dream, there was a big party at the Institution that was broken up because everyone was breaking quarantine. The story of that dream quickly inspired Booker to create Quarantine Dream: The Movie, a collection of short videos submitted by anyone who felt inspired to create something.

Leon Alesi

“At Forklift Danceworks, we make dances with people you don’t think of as dancers,” says Forklift’s associate artistic director Krissie Marty.

That’s very true: Over the years, Forklift has created large-scale dance pieces centered around workers from Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, city sanitation workers, and firefighters, just to name a few. 

With their gallery space still closed for the foreseeable future, the folks at Northern-Southern have been looking for ways to continue to share art with the people of Austin without asking those people to gather together in a room. The result of that quest is the new group show Left in Leaves. “

You know, we have to keep working,” says gallery director Phillip Neimeyer. “This is what we do. So [this is] a way to contextualize, a way that we that we could all work and do what we do and have an effect, a positive effect.”

Dana Stringer

Seventeen years ago, while living in New York, pianist Peggy Stern attended a jazz festival and was surprised to discover that it was an all-male lineup. “There were no women performing, and certainly no women leading bands,” Stern says. “And so a friend and I got together and created the Wall Street Jazz Festival in Kingston, New York, where all the leaders are women.”

Charlie Pearce

With her new web series Do Better, Amie Darboe is living a childhood dream. “Essentially I’ve been writing since I was probably 7,” she says. “[I] always knew I wanted to write for TV, but I didn’t do anything about it until I was an adult.”

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.”

courtesy Trinity Street Players

“One of the things that is very important to us at Trinity Street Players… [is] to build community amongst artists in Austin,” says Trinity Street Players artistic director Ann Zárate. So when the theater closed its doors in March, Zárate started looking for new and different ways to keep the Trinity Street community connected.

Courtesy of ColdTowne Theater

“We had a staff meeting on March 13 and the consensus was that we were closing the theater,” says ColdTowne Theater’s artistic director Will Cleveland. “And without batting an eye, the owners of ColdTowne – Mike Jastroch, Dave Buckman, [and] Rachel Madorsky – told us their plan to pay us through this crisis.”

Austin Playhouse was supposed to open their production of Paula Vogel’s Indecent this week. That didn’t happen, of course, because the theater was closed along with most other gathering places in town (they are now hoping to mount Indecent in the fall). Like many local theaters, the playhouse began looking at how they could continue to connect with their patrons during a time when they couldn’t perform onstage. Without much of a back catalog of recorded plays to share online, co-producing artistic director Lara Toner-Haddock began thinking of another upcoming project, Today’s Gratitude.

Lisa Scheps

“Theater by its very nature sort of needs the gathering of humans together to make it work,” says Ground Floor Theatre co-artistic director Lisa Scheps. “And so, as theater artists, we have got to, during this time, find other ways to create that same magic without having people physically with us.”

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.”

Steve Rogers

In the new reality we’re all living in now, heading over to the local bar and/or going out to see live music isn’t really a thing anymore. So pianist and musical director Ammon Taylor is doing what he can to bring a cocktail lounge directly into your own home.

Looking for some way to encourage people to stay inside, he’s created the Social Distance Piano Lounge, a sort of virtual cabaret show performed live in his apartment and streamed to anyone who wants to tune in from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Kaci Beeler

The members of Parallelogramophonograph, the in-house improv comedy troupe of the Hideout Theatre, love performing together but also respect the CDC’s current social distancing guidelines. That’s why, this past Saturday night, they decided to put on a show even though the Hideout was closed to the public.

Jenna Cockburn

When Jo Carol Pierce wrote and performed the semi-autobiographical one-woman musical comedy Bad Girls Upset By The Truth 30 years ago, she became a local legend and the show became a cult classic. That might be a little surprising, considering Pierce says she never even really wanted to perform the show herself.

Actor John Christopher says he’s been preparing for his current stage role for years, starting long before he even auditioned. He’s starring as Martin Luther King Jr. in The Mountaintop, the 2009 play by Katori Hall that imagines a fictionalized vision of Dr. King’s last night on earth.

“Being able to carry the weight of such a significant figure in American history – world history, really – it’s an honor and it’s a burden,” Christopher says. "But it’s a burden I’m happy to carry, because it’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life.”

The Tin Woman, by playwright Sean Grennan, is currently being staged at Wimberley Playhouse. The play centers around a woman who’s received a heart transplant and who is currently going through a bit of an existential crisis. And, according to Wimberley Players executive manager Simone Corprew, despite the heavy subject matter, it’s really funny. 

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