You're listening to a men's chorale sing... say, a Bach cantata. The music is glorious and gloriously rendered but there comes a point at which the men's voices fall still and in that rest you catch the sound of another voice singing. This voice has a character different from the ones you had been hearing and the music it intones is different, too. It is beautiful, not in the way the Bach is but in its own, distinct way. Maybe it's a soprano winding upward in an Andean folk melody or a husky alto belting out a blues refrain. This other voice has been there all the while, but its presence has been hidden by the force of the great chorale.
There you have, in a grossly oversimplified form, an image of the American theatre. It is an institution which has traditionally devoted most of its energy to producing Bach cantatas, that is, works by European and American men. This is not offered in judgment but as fact. A simple look at what's being staged locally this season confirms it. Dramas, comedies, and musicals by the Shakespeares, Shaws, and Simons, the Gilberts and Sullivans, and Rodgerses and Harts, and Lloyd Webbers, and Rices, make up the majority of the theatre produced. Certainly, the "music" made by these artists is good, at times glorious, and worthy of production. It is simply that other music which is good and glorious in its own way is often lost in the sound of the ubiquitous White Guys, that there are dramas and comedies and musicals by young playwrights and women writers and artists of color and gay artists that are only heard, if they are heard at all, in the brief still moments of the cantata.
Well, this summer in Austin is shaping up to be one big long break in the usual music. All across town, theatres and independent companies are serving up plays written by women, gay men, African Americans, teens, and Latino Americans. To be fair, it isn't all that unusual in our theatre community to find productions written by folks other than Euro/American males. What is unusual is to find such works constituting more than half the productions on the schedule, and that is precisely the case in July and August. What we have on our hands is an explosion of theatrical work - much of it brand-new - that comes from different perspectives than we traditionally get, and that's exciting. It offers us the chance to go beyond ourselves, into lives with which we may have little experience. "One thing that theatre could and should do," says director Mark Ramont, "is broaden our world," and these productions provide plentiful opportunities to do that. If we needed one more compelling reason to see these shows, it may come from First Stage Productions' executive director Cynthia Taylor-Edwards, in words that are simple but which cut straight to the matter. "We've got to get to know each other. That's why we fear each other. We don't know each other."
Miss Mary's Trunk Show - Mary Lang (Esther's Follies, Jeffrey) and Roxy Becker (And Baby Makes Seven) put a new spin on some traditional folk and fairy tales in this comedy for kids, ages eight and older. Performances run through July 8 at the Dougherty Arts Center.
Aunt Rose - Georgetown writer Marc Bockmon penned this family drama shot through with comedy and mystery, which follows the citizens of a small town in East Texas in the 1940s as they puzzle over a murder and what the shadowy, slightly addled woman named Rose knows. Performances run July 13-22 at Frontera/Hyde Park Theatre.
Kuka - Distinguished, nationally known theatre artist Manuel Zarate directs the world premiere production of his tale of a Guatemalan artist who is imprisoned for the political nature of her paintings. Performances run July 14-August 5 at Capitol City Playhouse.
Tabula Rasa - A new Southern Gothic drama by Dallas writer Molly Louise Shepard in which a young woman in East Texas in the 1970s discovers her love of photography, her Christianity, and her fellow human beings. A staged reading will be held July 16 at Chicago House.
BREAKING & Entering - In his debut effort, Austin writer Chris Navarro weaves magical realism into the tale of a young woman whose contemplation of suicide is interrupted by a pair of small-time criminals trying to dispose of a dead body. Performances run July 21-August 12 at Planet Theatre.
The Sisters Rosensweig - Wendy Wasserstein's acclaimed comedy of three sisters mulling the meaning of success and love mid-life is given its Austin premiere by the Zachary Scott Theatre Center. Performances run July 22-August 27 on the ZSTC Kleberg Stage.
No Mo' Blues - Poet Sharon Bridgforth follows up her deeply lyrical and enormously successful celebration of African-American women Lovve/rituals & rage with a one wo'mn show of "backwoods herstory, by-the-water/between-time/urban madness, and all-the-time lovvn." Performances run July 27-August 5 at Frontera/Hyde Park Theatre.
The Warp Creed - Ignacio Lopez's time-shifting, culture-sifting tale of Depression-era millworkers, present-day politics of fear, and love in the age of AIDS, staged in May by the University of Texas, continues its development in a staged reading by The Public Domain. The staged readings will be held July 28 & 29 at The Public Domain Theatre.
Black Power Barbie in Hotel de Dream and Earthbirths, Jazz, and Raven's Wings - Two one-acts of African-American history and visions, the former by Shay Youngblood (Talking Bones), the latter by Daniel Alexander Jones (director of Talking Bones). Performances run August 9-September 22 at Frontera/Hyde Park Theatre.
The Young Playwrights Festival - Capitol City Playhouse produces three more works by teenaged playwrights: Ironic Obsession, a profile of a wild photographer by Andrea Reiter; Two by Two, a comedy of twins by Emily Topper-Cook; and For the Love of Death, a Poe-ish story of love gone bad by Beau de Lozier. Performances run August 11-19 at Capitol City Playhouse.
Occasional Fits of Insanity - Austin writer Antoinette Martinez's first play is a farcical comedy of sisters with guns dealing with fiancés and taking hostages in the Las Vegas airport Performances run August 11-19 at the Dougherty Arts Center.
3am. - Heather McCutchen, author of Alabama Rain, draws us into the lives of three generations of women as they struggle to comfort each other following the threat of a menacing intruder. Performances run August 14-29 at Frontera/Hyde Park Theatre.
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill - Lanie Robertson provides an evocation of one of the last performances by Billie Holliday, complete with jazz, blues, and pop standards that she made her own. Performances run August 30-Oct 7 at Capitol City Playhouse. n