“Are we live?”
“I don’t know.”
And with that, kicked off the first virtual performance of Fusebox Festival 2020. It’s a common question in our collective arts pivot to the online in the wake of a fake new “normal.” To stream or not to stream has echoed across lagging Zooms internationally.
But with Fusebox Festival, Austin’s premiere performance arts event, the team felt especially up to the challenge as a space for the experimental and boundary-less. In a welcome from Artistic Director Ron Berry and Associate Director Anna Gallagher-Ross, we gained insight into Fusebox’s decision to press forward — both with the programming and the compensating of international, national, and local artists.
It was heartening to hear this behind the scenes. In its 16th year, Fusebox endeavors to curate meaningful exchange between art and place. But what happens when the bounds of place are shifted due to shelter-in-place? For Fusebox, this means leaning into a program that functions like broadcast public access television. On Friday night, this looked like a main stream from Facebook Live and YouTube Live with concurrent programming via Zoom and Twitch.
All links are accessible via the Fusbox Festival page, even if it can be daunting to navigate. It’s also important to note which engagements will continue to “live” on the site (like the gorgeous premiere of “No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers” by dancer and scholar Gesel Mason) or others that are solely in the moment (like the one-to-one Zoom interview session “Show of Hands” by the Austin theater collective Rude Mechs).
With many folks experiencing screen fatigue due to the increased demands of jobs and school or virtual happy hours and family nights, it’s difficult to imagine streamed theatre would be a point of fuel rather than continued drain. But here, Fusebox has curated a choose your own adventure (one where you could even be joined by a cocktail kit) that allows for floating and dipping between programs.
Choir Choir Choir opened up the evening with a Texas-themed sing-a-long facilitated by Toronto-based artists Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman. Billed as “equal parts singing, comedy, and community-building,” this duo streamed from Goldman’s home. Sense of place was strong as the pair sang and vamped in front of a staircase up to where Goldman’s two-year-old was being put to sleep. This added to an already present sense of intimacy, one that truly encapsulated the nature of working, being, and playing from home. They made their way through Willie Nelson, Steve Miller, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton. Interluding the songs were drunk-history-esque ruminations of how the songs came to be. In moments, I found myself wishing they’d get back to the music and leave the frat boy comedy of errors improv behind.
Tonality shifted as we were gifted with a loosely themed talk titled “Impulse and Utterance” with theatre artists Sharon Bridgforth and Daniel Alexander Jones. With the reality of our current moment always within reach, we were gifted with reminders to slow down and listen. For Bridgforth, she reminisced on her youth growing up within a community ample with elders and later ancestors. Here, her healing is tied to communication, not just in the giving but in the receiving. In the back of my mind I hear, “Not everything needs to be a Zoom call.” I wonder, where are we giving each other more space?
When introducing the Festival, Berry and Gallagher-Ross were quick to acknowledge that an entire genre of online and video performance is already in existence. And so, Fusebox features some performances ranging from one to five minutes. In a delightful interlude came performance artist Dickie Beau, donning a pink bobbed wig, bright red lip, and envious lashes. Beau lip-synching a voice overlaid with an echo as he offered us a note from the dream world. “The Flight of the Limericks” was a charming/disturbing example of possibility in the DIY and experimental aesthetic.
For its first day, the festival showcased a wide range of practices, perhaps wider than if it were physically on its feet. For those overwhelmed by online offerings, this programming gifts us with a bit of a breather once you figure out your schedule. FOMO is almost nonexistent as the archive is ever-growing and accessible if you can find the right link. This bodes well for the future of online theatre and art, but let’s not forget what we gain when we are gathered again in person.
The festival continues through April 26 at virtual.fuseboxfestival.com/