Heather here. I’m in Austin performing Mad & a Goat at the Cohen New Works Festival. M&G is a show I’ve been working on for a few years now and it actually premiered at the first ever Fort Collins Fringe Festival and we remounted it at the Fringe Benefits this past January! ANYHOO.. my trip in Austin overlapped with a performance festival called Fusebox and I’ve had a chance to see and be a part of some very cool experiences I’d love to share with you.
I want to first talk about the structure of the festival and how they have worked hard to cultivate a creative atmosphere. On Saturday, I was a part of the Discussion Series part of the festival. This one was called the Idea Jam. It is so simple and so brilliant. Just like it sounds people get up and have 3 minutes to share their ideas. Anything goes, we heard about yoga in the airport, an art installation exploring self love and value, a hammock self instalator, a taco of the day, and a theatre piece based off of old voicemails from teens in 1985. It was wonderful to see the ideas coming from strangers that spark inspiration in your own imagination. I even got up and shared a site-specific idea I’ve had bouncing around in my head for a while. As a presenter there was so much exhilaration in hearing my baby-idea out loud and seeing people nodding their heads or making thoughtful expressions as they digested my concept. Afterwards we chatted with one another, offering responses to their ideas. The encouragement was incredibly validating. Hearing someone say “I would love to see a piece that explores x,y, or z” made you realize your idea was worth sharing and pursuing. And I had some great feedback about the process I should take to collect material, which was a huge barrier for me before. I’m sure several of these ideas will never come to fruition (self setting up hammock for example) but seeing the human inspiration was more formative to my imagination than the real thing anyway. All night I couldn’t stop thinking of all the other ideas i wanted to share. For the Austin community I think this event is the beginning phase of play creation and I wish I could come back next year to see if any of these ideas will come to light. But either way I know I will continue to be influenced by the ideas shared with me and the hearts and passions behind them for some time to come.
Fusebox also has a Machine Shop series that is the next step up from the Discussion Series. This series is for pieces that are purposely in process. They are experimental and need an audience to test drive their concept and narrative. This was interesting to me because they were clearly well rehearsed and memorized but there was a definite risk involved. It was exhilarating as an audience to know that they were really watching your reaction for how to move forward with the work. For instance there was this very weird portion of the piece i saw that was disjointed and fell flat. A man on a bicycle came in with a unicorn hat to represent a magical land in the world of the play. It was confusing and random and did not fit the world of the play. From their performance they recognized this trouble spot and started discussing with audience members how they felt about it and if x,y, or z, would have felt more inline. That was fun to see people really working the craft and being incredibly bold with choices. As an audience member seeing unpolished work made me feel so much more apart of the work and I would love to see the next version as they continue to hone in on their message and narrative. It is exciting to see such bold risk taking, the vulnerability created a very fruitful environment for discussion.
To finish out my weekend with Fusebox I saw a very polished piece that I cannot stop thinking about, Integrator’s Manual by David Alexander Jones. This piece was a 2 person, minimalistic, vignette show. There were 4ish acts to the play. Each act consisted of 3 scenes. The 1st scene was an autobiographical monologue of David Alexander Jones about his childhood and his experience of having a black father and white mother and trying to integrate into his environment. The 2nd scene was a narrative of the Egyptian god of Justice and Light. These scene were carried almost completely by their vocal shifts and tiptoe movement on a stark white roll of paper. It was stark and aggressive. The 3rd scene would be completely random. They would read from a magazine from 1977 or sing a list of things that seemed to be stream of consciousness from a little boy, or play out a telephone conversation by middle school girls. Then these scenes would start over and we would get the next chapter of each story. These scenes were seemingly disjointed from the narrative and much more impressionistic but incredibly engaging. The play was maybe the most text heavy I’ve ever seen, you were berated with a flow of words and ideas, the the sense of repetition lulled you into the pace of the play. When they would stop talking you almost couldn’t breath for sake of disturbing the abrupt and heavy silence. The two actors were incredibly capable performers as they guided the audience through this experience with remarkable vocal work, beautiful stage images, 4 white rolls of paper and a disco disco ball (that was IT). To me the play highlighted the power of text and the human spirit. The lack of set, elaborate costumes, and effects was not to the plays detriment. Rather, it forced the two actors to use their entire bodies, entire voices, entire range of emotions to articulate the message of the play. We delighted so much when they made the sound of deities, telephone rings, or harmonized in the space. The only sound effect was this poignently placed sound of flooding water at the end. The audience sat in a sudden blackout with the overwhelming sounds of the water getting louder and louder. It must have gone on for 3 solid minutes. As I sat there trying to process but being pummeled by sounds I kept recalling two lines from the play, “I am steeped in Survior’s Guilt” & “My name is David Alexander Jones and I AM FADING”. It was a testiment to the power of a play to leave you speechless and transfixed by the human spirit and the power of performance and language.
Okay now it is time to channel all this creative energy and inspiration into my Mad & a Goat rehearsals!
Over and out from Austin,
Heather Ostberg Johnson
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