Come January every year, FronteraFest fans begin flocking toward Hyde Park Theatre and Salvage Vanguard Theater with the instinctive surety of swallows winging their way back to Capistrano. And why not? With HPT serving as the site of the Short Fringe for the performance jamboree's full 21-year history and SVT being a home base for Long Fringe shows for the last five fests, audiences have been conditioned to expect their annual fix of taking-a-risk, skirting-the-edge, what-in-sweet-heaven-was-that theatrics in those specific venues. But this year, regulars who rely on that reflex to get them to all of the festival's offerings risk missing some of the more intriguing projects on the schedule.
Now, nothing's happened to FFest's traditional stages (see "FronteraFest: The Basics," at right), but the number of entries in the category dubbed BYOV ("Bring Your Own Venue") is considerably higher than usual. Where most FronteraFests see one or two projects mounted somewhere other than SVT, the 2014 festival has six – and that isn't counting Mi Casa Es Su Teatro, the independently curated day of site-specific short pieces that's been part of FFest for more than 15 years. You can take your pick of a church chapel, a SoCo sidewalk, a dance studio, a bookstore, a warehouse, or a writer's residence for a performance adventure.
The decision to bring one's own venue to FronteraFest may be driven by practical needs – a dance studio's sprung floor for a movement performance, say, or a set that can't be disassembled and reassembled for the changeover from one Long Fringe show to another – but it's just as often led by the nature of the performance. The performers of Lucy Kerr's Bodies in (Public) Space are specifically interested in interrupting public activity, so a busy pedestrian area such as South Congress makes sense.
For TILT Performance Group's 45º, a work built around viewing contemporary issues from nontraditional, angled perspectives, the creative team needed a space in which they could take the time to "play with physically unconventional vantage points" and "flesh out certain components of the 'tilt' reflected in our design elements," says company co-Artistic Director (and Chronicle Arts contributor) Adam Roberts. "But we also knew that the show's central themes of emotional poverty, hope, and change could resonate with unique spirit inside a chapel, where soul-searching and meditation frequently take on a context with particular dimension. In First United Methodist Church's Murchison Chapel we have both the practical and creative ability to tilt a meditative space, something very much in keeping with the through-line of 45º."
The Sniper's Nest takes place during the summer prior to John Kennedy's assassination, when, according to Judyth Vary Baker, she and Lee Harvey Oswald carried on a torrid affair. Elizabeth V. Newman, who's directing the premiere of Lisa Soland's play, finds the Brave New Books bookstore "a very fitting environment" for the Last Act Theatre Company production. Since the source material was Baker's written memoir, Me & Lee, she chose "to incorporate the themes of books and of constructing narrative and of memory, as well as the act of 're-membering,' into the production elements of the show." A series of blocks, each covered with text and images related to Baker's memoir, will be used to create the settings. "In the same way that Baker is piecing together her memory of her time with Oswald, and the playwright, Soland, is constructing a play from Baker's memoir, the actors will be constructing a physical representation of the story. It was also very cool to see that Harlan, our contact at the bookstore, had not only already read Me & Lee, but also several other books referenced in Baker's memoir. All in all, an oddly perfect home for our show."
Rebecca Beegle's storytelling piece Inappropriate Touching delves into what she calls "the nether reaches of my romantic past," so "doing this show in my own home keeps things personal. Among my goals as a storyteller is to be honest – entertainingly so, one hopes – and to be myself, as opposed to performing a character, so it helps to have an audience of guests in my home and not nameless faces in the dark. As a host, I am beholden to the audience in a particular way. The show will have the feel of a conversation with the potential for mutual revelation." The performance caps a year in which Beegle and performance partner Annie La Ganga have been performing in other peoples' homes in Texas and on the West Coast as the Grownup Lady Story Company and marks the 10th anniversary of her first Mi Casa Es Su Teatro effort, Honey, performed by actor Chris Doubek inside a home. "Homes may very well be my favorite venues."
This inaugural work of TILT Performance Group, a company of adult performers with disabilities, explores the intersections of a technological world, physical and emotional poverty, hope, and change, and how a tilted perspective can reveal unexpected choices. Devised by company members and co-Artistic Directors Adam Roberts and Robert Pierson, Gail Dalrymple, and staff volunteers. Friday, Jan. 24; Saturday, Jan. 25 & Feb. 1; Thursday, Jan. 30, 8pm, at Murchison Chapel, First United Methodist Church, 1201 Lavaca. $10. Running time: 1 hr.
University of Texas student Lucy Kerr (The Way You Move Your Body, 2013 Cohen New Works Festival) directs this collaborative piece devised with a cast of mixed-ability artists to confront and redefine ideas of disability and the dancing body. Performers will interrupt the normal flow of SoCo, appearing in South Congress' 1500 block and dancing their way from bus stop to clothing stores to coffee stands.Friday, Jan 24, 6:30pm; Saturday, Jan. 25 & Feb. 1, 1pm; Sunday, Feb 2, 3pm, at the bus stop near Uncommon Objects, 1512 S. Congress, and other nearby locations. Free. Running time: 45 min.
Writer-storyteller Rebecca Beegle (The Grownup Lady Story Company) invites you into her living room to hear the entertaining lowlights of 30 years' worth of bygone boyfriends. Contains adult material. Developed with help from Annie La Ganga, Carlos Treviño, and Pilot Balloon Church-House, Rubber Repertory's artist colony in Lawrence, Kan. Friday, Jan. 24; Saturday, Jan. 25; Friday, Jan. 31; & Saturday, Feb. 1, 8pm, at 1514 Broadmoor (a home near E. 51st & Berkman, not wheelchair accessible). NOTE: Matinees at 2pm Sunday, Jan. 26 & Feb. 2, aren't part of FronteraFest; for tickets, visit www.rebeccabeegle.com. $10. Running time: 1 hr.
Punchkin Repertory Theatre mounts this new work by FronteraFest mainstay Max Langert in which a couple is struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic future where the sun is getting increasingly hotter. Their efforts are complicated by a surprise package and a dark stranger. Friday, Jan. 24; Sunday, Jan. 25; Friday, Jan. 31; and Saturday, Feb. 1 at the Museum of Human Achievement. All shows start at 8pm. $13. Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.
Playwright Lisa Soland draws on Judyth Vary Baker's autobiographical account of her affair with Lee Harvey Oswald for this drama set in the days before JFK's assassination. Elizabeth V. Newman directs for Last Act Theatre Company. Thursday, Jan. 30, 7pm; Friday & Saturday, Jan. 31 & Feb. 1, 2pm; Sunday, Feb. 2, 7pm at Brave New Books, 1904-B Guadalupe. $15. Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.
A program of original solos, duets, and group movement by Komo Danceworks. Music and dance have been created independently and occupy the same time and space to evoke a contemplative and ritual performance. The journey of transformation exists in space, time, and music, allowing an alive, awake, and fearless presence. Jan 22-29, Wednesday & Friday, 8pm; Sunday, 3pm, at South Austin Studio, 1700 Ashby. $15. Running time: 1 hr., 15 min.
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