A special visit to Austin by Theatre Communications Group executive director Ben Cameron.
Welcome to Austin
Some of the movers and shakers on the old Austin arts scene just aren't content to let our light shine under a bushel. They want the rest of the country to know what a busy, productive, creative, happ'nin' cultural community we have, and they'll get the word out if it means collaring folk on the national scene and draggin' 'em here to see the arts here for themselves. Case in point: Zachary Scott Theatre Center managing director Ann Ciccolella, who had the ear of Ben Cameron, executive director for the Theatre Communications Group, a national membership organization for professional theatres (and publisher of American Theatre Magazine), and took the opportunity to ask him, "So, when are you coming to Austin?" Apparently, this sort of request is not uncommon to Cameron, as he promptly pulled out his appointment book, found an open date in October, and said, "How about the 13th?"
So it was that last Wednesday, the head of TCG was getting a crash course in local theatre. Besides getting a good look at Zach, Cameron met with Vicky Boone, artistic director of Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre, which has been the recipient of some TCG funding; got a tutorial from the old professors of the local arts press, yours truly and the Austin American-Statesman's Michael Barnes; rubbed elbows with a couple dozen members of the theatre community at a reception at Flatbed World Headquarters; made connections with Russ Wiseman, Ciccolella's successor as executive director of the Austin Circle of Theatres; and topped it off with a performance of Zach artistic director Dave Steakley's millennial revisioning of The Rocky Horror Show.
Sounds like it could have been a rather overwhelming day, but Cameron showed no signs of stress during his meeting with Barnes and me. He was so casual, he could have passed for one of the natives. And according to La Ciccolella, who hung with Cameron from breakfast through some post-Rocky libations with Steakley and members of the cast, he retained that easy air. So did this visit accomplish what she hoped it would? Says the Austin-pusher, "My purpose was really to get him to see the vibrancy of the theatre scene, and I think he did." He did indeed if we can judge by one comment she reported. At the reception, when he was asked what he thought about Austin lacking a major professional resident theatre along the lines of a Dallas Theatre Center or an Alley Theatre, Cameron answered, "You don't need a [League of Resident Theatres] theatre; you've got a live organism here."
Speaking of American Theatre, are we already so far along as a hot little theatre town that we're already ho-hum about coverage in the country's only serious theatre mag? Surely not, and yet Austin's presence in the publication's September issue nearly came and went without any buzz locally. If you missed it, the issue, which focused on theatre of tomorrow, included an essay on playwriting by Frontera-affiliated playwright David Hancock and a couple of paragraphs from Frontera's Vicky Boone, who was one of seven artistic directors asked to define the challenges facing their theatres at the dawn of the new century. Then, as if that weren't enough, in the listings for September productions across the country, there's a big ol' shot of a boa-bedraped, thickly lipsticked Joe York for Zach's Rocky Horror. Congratulations to all. Is there more coming?