When Ice Factory '99, Soho Think Tank's festival of fringe theatre, rocks the City That Never Sleeps this summer, three Austin companies will be in the thick of the action. Theaterless Theater Corps (Golem, Night of the Werewolf), Rude Mechanicals (don b.'s Snow White, Salivation), and KAIROS! Co. (No Safe Living Room, The All-Night Unlikely Teacup) will be taking over the Ohio Theatre for four nights to showcase theatre from our town.
The idea for an Austin assault on SoHo theatre came from Theaterless Theater Corps founder Josh Frank, who proposed it to Ohio Theatre artistic director Robert Lyons. He liked it, and soon, Frank had KAIROS!, the guerrilla comedy troupe, and Rude Mechanicals on board.
Both companies wanted to share their work with a wider audience. Rude Mechs company member Sarah Richardson says, "One of the great frustrations about producing new work in Austin is the limited audience that the work gets. We pour our hearts and souls into fostering a new play or, in the case of [playwright] Kirk [Lynn], a whole body of work, and only a handful of people get to see it. We've been talking about touring for a long time and this Ice Factory opportunity seems like a great way to get our feet wet."
Unlike some companies who would only consider exposing themselves to Big Apple scrutiny with proven material, all three Austin groups are hitting the Ice Factory with new work -- so new that their first real audiences will be in New York. Frank is premiering Snowglobe, which he began writing while in Germany last month. Subtitled "a modern Yiddish theatre with drum 'n' bass, in English with no subtitles, dubbed," Snowglobe is a ghost story set in a German techno-dance club on the site of a World War II factory. Rude Mechanicals weigh in with their new literary adaptation/deconstruction, Lipstick Traces, based on Greil Marcus' "secret history of the 20th century." As with curst & Shrewd, the group's collage musing on Taming of the Shrew, Kirk Lynn leads a pack of writers and performers in collectively creating a mosaic of ideas and set pieces inspired by the source text. Here, the company explores the links among medieval heretics, Cabaret Voltaire, and punk rock. KAIROS! premieres its latest round of scorched-earth sketches, If the World Ends Tomorrow, It's Your Fault. Among the comic terrors the group promises: My Little Ponies of the Apocalypse, The Believers, Jesus Christ, and Violent Sensationalism.
Both Theaterless Theater Corps and Rude Mechanicals will stage their Ice Factory shows in Austin in September.
Sundance Theatre Laboratory, Sundance, Utah
In her six seasons as artistic director for Frontera Productions (now Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre), Vicky Boone has proven time and again that she knows how to nurture new plays. When new dramas have emerged from Frontera -- and many have -- they have emerged full in content, ripe with emotion, potent and memorable, some of the finest theatre produced in the city. Now, the director of David Hancock's Race of the Ark Tattoo and the Erik Ehn/Frontera company collaboration Enfants Perdus has the opportunity to show off those skills in a national forum. This month, she'll be in Sundance, Utah, helping playwright Hancock develop a new work as part of Sundance Theatre Lab 1999. A three-week workshop held each July, the lab allows artists to develop theatrical projects without traditional pressures that go with production. Playwrights and directors may develop any work or part of a work with a full resource team of theatre artists or with creative people outside the theatre. Hancock and Boone will be at the Lab to develop The Invisible Medium, a site-specific tale of prospectors, drifters, and ornithology on which they have been collaborating for a year.
HBO Workspace, Los Angeles, CA
Industry interest in Austin comedy is heavy enough these days that every season sees a few local wits tapped for a plum showcase or gig to see who's ready for the Big Time. The latest to be so honored is writer, performer, and member of the troupes Monks' Night Out and Only 90% Effective Brently Heilbron. Heilbron was invited to bring his solo piece Wonderous Pudding of Joy to the City of Angels for a one-night stand at the HBO Workspace. The Workspace is one of those 99-seat L.A. spaces where a promising comic can be shown to good advantage for the Pro Humor Scouts. Heilbron should fit snugly there, having honed Pudding at cozy Hyde Park Theatre. The show has been favorably received -- Chronicle reviewer Robi Polgar called it "dark, nasty fun," in which Heilbron radiates "the soothing air of the boy-next-door -- if that boy were a gangly, Jewish Hunter S. Thompson" -- still, Heilbron enlisted the aid of Shirk Workers' Onion artistic director Anna Krejci to ensure that the Workspace version be as tight as possible. The two fly to the West Coast this week, and Heilbron performs Monday, July 12.
The Globe Theatre, London, England
Most American drama geeks grow up dreaming of playing the Great White Way. But a few -- the ones more inclined to swoon over a soliloquy from Othello than a chorus of "Oklahoma" -- fantasize about playing another locale: the Globe Theatre, in which Shakespeare plied his trade. Thanks to the recent completion of an amazing re-creation of Shakespeare's Globe, disciples of the Bard can see his plays there and a lucky few can even realize that dream of performing there. Last year, James Ayres, local Shakespearean scholar, UT professor, and founder of the Shakespeare at Winedale program, took 15 former students in the program to London to present a rarely performed version of Hamlet on the Globe stage. According to Madge Darlington, program coordinator for Shakespeare at Winedale, "it was a huge success," with approximately 500 people turning out to see what these Yanks were up to with their homeland hero.
Ayres found the experience so impressive that he's going back this year, taking the 15 students in the '99 summer class to present A Midsummer Night's Dream on the Globe stage at 6pm on August 23. The class will depart for London on August 9 and have nine days to adjust to the Elizabethan stage, rehearsing only in the early morning hours before the Globe's professional company uses the space. It's time the students will need, says Darlington, who points out that the stage at the Globe is eight times that of the Theatre Barn in Winedale.
Anyone wishing to see the August 23 perf in London must get their name on a guest list that Darlington has (call 409/278-3682). The rest of us can catch the students' Dream (or Macbeth or The Taming of the Shrew) between July 15 and August 8 at Winedale. A special "bon voyage" performance of Dream will take place on August 7. Call 409/278-3530 for info.
Heartland Theatre, Kansas City, MO
When it comes to musicals, Austin can import them, and it can produce them. But even with the powerhouse talents at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center and Austin Musical Theatre, who have dished up dazzling local stagings from Annie to Tommy, West Side Story to The Gospel at Colonus, Austin just hasn't been able to export many musicals. But that may be changing. Zach has been approached by Kansas City's Heartland Theatre about mounting a production of the born-in-Austin Rockin' Christmas Party there. The commercial playhouse, which is owned by the Hallmark Corporation, has a big audience for a holiday show and started looking for a new one last year. When someone at Heartland heard about the successful spin-off Zach developed out of Beehive, representatives from the theatre flew down to see it. They liked what they saw. They talked to Dave Steakley, Zach artistic director and Rockin' Christmas creator, and worked out a deal to have him and a Zach team devise a version for the Heartland. In June, Steakley, musical director Allen Robertson, and extraordinary designer Michael Raiford flew to Kansas City for their first production meeting and the initial round of casting. For the next four months, they will continue to develop the show, with an eye toward shaping a holiday staple the Heartland can revive year after year. And who knows? This may be just the beginning.
Theater Communications Group, San Francisco, CA
"The most amazing thing was being in a room with about 400 people like us. It's weird." That's how new Zachary Scott Theatre Center managing director Ann Ciccolella describes her first conference with Theatre Communications Group, a national association of more than 300 theatres from across the country. For people who are so shackled to their own theatre communities or even their own theatres, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that somewhere out there are people like you with passions like yours and hopes like yours, facing the exact challenges you face. Conferences like the TCG get-together or the RAT confab described below allow those arts makers to make contact with colleagues and get a very literal recharge out of it. "The energy is so incredibly high," says Ciccolella. "You felt like you were really in the thick of it."
Zach Artistic Director Dave Steakley, who was also attending his first TCG conference, echoes Ciccolella. "It's great to be part of the dialogue, to connect with theatres and artists that you've read about, to connect with colleagues."
RAT Conference '99, Los Angeles, CA
The institutional theatres aren't the only stage junkies who get together; the RATs meet, too. For the last several years, a movement among small-scale, low-rent, off-the-wall, and/or below-the-radar theatre companies and artists have also been congregating. Generally, referred to as RAT conferences, these meetings allow fringe and not-so-fringe artists the same opportunity to revel in the company of others as mad as they. Austin has had a presence in the RAT movement from the start, with several local artists and companies attending the early conferences and having hosted one in 1997. Salvage Vanguard Theater's Jason Neulander was a leader in organizing that RATRave and has used RAT to bring artists to Austin and get his company's work to other communities. If the RATs are gathering, you can bet Neulander will be there.
He will indeed make the Los Angeles conference on July 22-25, perhaps leading a panel -- "The Purpose of Art in a Complacent Society (Or, I Don't Care Enough About Theater to Hate It)" is one possibility -- perhaps co-directing a reading of a piece titled Stations of Desire. But his main objective, he says, "is to promote SVT by meeting new people and telling them about the company and to find a space for the Los Angeles leg of our 2000 tour of Wallpaper Psalm."
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