Remember public access television, the pre-internet anybody-can-have-a-show medium?
Public access TV is how Fusebox organizers describe the feel of the virtual edition of the international performance arts festival, a pivot after the live event was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While in truth a fair amount of production work will go in to the live online festival scheduled for April 24-26, Fusebox artistic director Ron Berry said they wanted to capture the DIY sensibility of public access television — and now the same sensibility of the livesteaming events many artists are producing themselves in our era of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
“We see this as chance to really explore and try to understand how live performance and being together can happen on a digital platform,” said Berry.
The festival begins at 6 p.m. CDT on April 24. The last program is scheduled for the evening of April 26. The streaming wraps up around midnight on Friday and Saturday, starting up again late morning on Saturday and Sunday. Everything will be presented at
While typically individual live performances at Fusebox ran to 90 minutes long, online most everything is relatively short, sometime just two minutes. And not everything is a staged performance per se. There are workshops, artist talks, cooking classes, dance parties and a sing-along, virtual studio visits, and a few things for children too. A couple of durational projects are 24-hours long; viewers can pop in on their own time.
Toronto group Choir! Choir! Choir! will start things off with “The Don’t Mess with Texas Social Distan-Sing-Along,” a virtual version of Fusebox’s typical big festival kick-off.
Austin theatre collective Rude Mechs will be hosting a call-in program, inviting the public to ask questions.
From his home in Tokyo, Indonesian dancer Rianto will teach the art of Indonesian cuisine. He’ll also hold a workshop on Lengger — the ancient Javanese cross- gender dance. Dancers under lockdown in Oslo, Norway, will individually perform choreography by Ingri Fiksdal for a virtual take on what would have been an outdoor dance piece.
Unlike public access television, the Fusebox platform will allow for live interaction. Fro example, “Alexa…” invites viewers to ask dancer Austin dancer Alexa Capareda to do things like dance to a certain song, read a poem or draw something.
While Fusebox has seen a few festival sponsorships drop off, its big fundraising gala took place in February before the coronavirus closures. Business sponsor Sourced Cocktails has put together signature cocktails that can be delivered, with some proceeds going to Fusebook. And given that since 2014 the festival has been free to attend, there’s no lost ticket income.
About the only non-digital remnant of the previously-planned festival is the catalog, a companion project filled with specially commissioned art, interviews and essays by writers including Eileen Myles. (It’s available for purchase here.)
As the social distancing and stay-at-home orders drag on, a kind of screen weariness has settled in. The new barrage of hastily put together digital offerings from arts groups has started to feel all the same. It’s something Berry is keenly aware of.
“We wanted something that would be meaningful, fresh and inviting. Something that would feel social,” said Berry. “Of course, we wanted to fun too.”