Institutionalized Innovation

In its 11th year, the annual Austin theatre event FronteraFest is as edgy as ever

Eleven years is a long time. Nowadays, most people don't work one job for 11 years or live in one place for 11 years. Most businesses don't last that long. Neither, it seems, do most marriages. If you can manage to stick with something for 11 years, that's almost -- well, institutional.

Referring to FronteraFest, Austin's annual performance festival, as an institution might seem in a way subversive, downright disrespectful even. After all, the people that started the fest -- the people that made up the company known as Frontera Productions -- were considered, at the time, to be among the most innovative, edgy, and accomplished of Austin theatre practitioners, and institutionalization smacks of tradition and respect and statues and the staid and the stodgy. But as institutions go, FronteraFest breaks the mold as a thriving, entertaining, and still quite edgy and innovative one, as only the most cursory glance at this year's offerings will easily show. While the company known as Frontera ended a couple of years ago, the folks at Hyde Park Theatre took up the fest gauntlet and didn't miss a beat.

There's no denying the creative impulse. Some will tell you that human beings were put on this blessed plot of earth to do nothing more than procreate. Three more powerful words than "in the beginning" cannot be found in the English language, and not long thereafter, the heavens and the earth appeared in the void. While FronteraFest is, and always has been, about performance first and foremost, the impulse for creation has always been riding shotgun, and this year, as the fest begins its second decade of providing a cavalcade of original performance to Austin, is no exception. Note that phrase "original performance." The "original" -- the creative impulse -- comes first. For example, on the first evening of the Short Fringe, four pieces will be presented, each written by the performer. Austin Script Works, an organization that supports Central Texas playwrights, has commissioned plays from some of its members, and a number of these original works will be premiered throughout the Short Fringe. If you scan the fest offerings, you'll find only two or three out of the 100 offerings that aren't original pieces.

For a while, during its infancy, FronteraFest was only "the Short Fringe" -- a four-week run of short theatre, dance, or other performance works scheduled in bills of four to five pieces every Tuesday through Friday evening, with a juried "Best of the Week" show on Saturdays and a "Best of the Fest" during the fifth week. But like many a good thing, people wanted more, so what has come to be known as the premier fringe theatre event in the Southwest sprouted multiple heads. Now, in addition to the Short Fringe, there is the Long Fringe (a dozen or so longer productions, 90 minutes or less, at the Blue Theater), BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue, in which participants provide their own work and their own space), and Mi Casa Es Su Teatro (intimate performances presented in homes throughout Austin).

It all starts on Jan. 13. So pick up the phone and make your reservations now. If you don't, then you most probably should be ... institutionalized.

For your viewing convenience, we present the following daily guide to the 2004 fest. All Short Fringe performances are at 8pm at Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd. Tickets: $10-15. All Long Fringe performances at the Blue Theater, 916 Springdale. Performances are subject to change without notice, so to get the latest on shows, times, and venues, call the FronteraFest box office at 479-PLAY or visit www.hydeparktheatre.org.

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