With its stages empty and its scene shops idle, Texas Performing Arts, in collaboration with Austin arts organization Fusebox, is launching a new residency program for Austin-based performing artists.
The flexible, year-long residencies will offer artists a combination of direct financial support, as well as professional and technical assistance and access to the stages, rehearsal studios and production facilities of the University of Texas performing arts presenting.
“It’s essential that we make radical investments in new work with what we have rather than retrench now,” he said. “What the world needs is more art, and more investment in artists rather than less.”
Choreographer Charles O. Anderson, performance collective Frank Wo/Men, choreographer Gesel Mason and theater artist Rudy Ramirez will each receive up to $20,000 in project funding for technical support and artist fees. Additionally they are offered free access to the Texas Performing Arts (TPA) facilities, an arrangement valued at $30,000, making the total award of each fellowship $50,000.
While performing arts groups have been among the cultural institutions most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas Performing Arts executive director Bob Bursey said that despite deep budgets cuts within his own organization, the new program is urgent.
“Like every organization we’ve had just breathtaking revenue losses from not being able to present performances like we normally would,” Bursey said. “And we’ve had to make difficult decisions about how to sustain the organization going forward.”
“But it’s my belief that now is not a time to pull back when it comes to offering direct support to artists.”
Bursey, who won a Tony Award for his role in producing a reinvention of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” before he arrived at UT last year, said the new fellowship program was born of a mix of the pragmatic and the idealistic.
“We have empty stages now we can’t use in the ways we traditionally do. And idealistically, we want to provide dedicated resources for the creation of new work in Austin,” he said. “Across our entire field it’s so hard for artists to find that, and especially here in Austin.”
Like many performing arts presenters, TPA is currently planning to resume live shows in early 2021, though that’s subject to change given the ever-evolving pandemic.
Supporting the creation of new work by local artists would reorient TPA not only as a major University of Texas arts institution but among its local peers. With some exceptions, major Austin arts organizations are more inclined either to showcase performances or to commission exhibitions from artists that are part of the national and international circuits.
“Since I came here, I’ve observed that there isn’t a lot of recognition of the nationally significant work being made by artists in Austin,” said Bursey. “I’m interested in what we can grow here.”
Bursey said the fellowship program is funded from a combination of re-directed budget lines and some endowment funding. Fusebox did not contribute money to the program, but will be offering its professional expertise to the residency fellows. Fusebox artistic directors Ron Berry and Anna Gallagher-Ross also made the selection of recipients.
“These are such difficult times for the performing arts field, and the goal of this new program is to get real resources and institutional support directly in the hands of artists in our city,” said Berry and Gallagher-Ross in a statement.
Recognized for their boundary-pushing content, all the fellowship recipients have seen new projects derailed or because of pandemic or thwarted by a lack of resources.
Anderson, for example, saw the tour of his immersive, performance installation (“Re)current Unrest” — which previewed as part of Fusebox Festival 2018 — cancelled due to the pandemic. Inspired by James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” Ta-nehisi Coates’ “Between The World And Me,” and current and historical Black protest movements, the performance will now be converted into a dance film project which will tour virtually.
With their highly physical, multi-media dance pieces, Frank Wo/Men Collective has been struggled to find the rehearsal and technical space to create. The collective is working on new production that will merge entertainment mediums through virtual interactions combining live gaming, television, and theatre.
With “The Ruining Lorca Trilogy,” Ramirez plans to collaborate with fellow queer-identifying Mexican American writers Victor Cazares, Krysta Gonzales and Jesus Valles to reconsider Federico Garcia Lorca’s iconic “Rural Trilogy” into three comedies that revel in our tragedies, contradictions and survival.
Mason’s “Yes, And” is a performance project that recenters Black womanhood as the norm and operating force in the creative process. As her creative starting point, Mason posits the question: Who would you be and what would you do if, as a Black woman, you had nothing to worry about?
“The inspiration is to make our space a laboratory for artistic creation,” Bursey said. “And with all the appropriate health safety measures, and rigorous planning and care, we can offer bring artists in to create and rehearse even if we can’t share it now with a public.”
Bursey said plans are to make the residency program a permanent institution with TPA and the College of Fine Arts. An Austin-area call for submissions would be likely with participants selected by an invited committee of Austin artists and arts leaders. And while performances of the work developed in the residencies will certain be a possibility in the future, the currently no plans on the schedule now.
“This is about building on TPA’s reputation so far which have been to bring a wide possible range of artists from all over the world,” said Bursey. “That’s really valuable. But the next step is to be increasingly generative, and contributing to the field by offering direct support to artists.”