All Over Creation: Crossbred and Circuses

Fusebox's hybrid artworks get more exhilarating as they get more innovative

Gob Squad's <i>Super Night Shot</i>
Gob Squad's Super Night Shot

Is Ron Berry the Luther Burbank of Austin's creative community?

'Cause I don't know anyone on the scene as impassioned about hybrids as he is, and after this year's mighty, mighty Fusebox Festival, I can't imagine anyone working harder to introduce Austin to them. Berry's hybrids, of course, are cultivated on the stage and in the gallery – natural soil for the performing and visual arts – although they're increasingly found in the bar and restaurant, and on the street as Berry and his creative colleagues attempt more crossbreeding of traditional artistic disciplines with the culinary arts and architecture. I managed to see only 10 of the more than 50 events on tap this year, but within that sampling were many that left me exhilarated, both from the quality of the work and the freewheeling efforts to graft disparate forms onto one another and create something new.

Watching the four concurrent video feeds of the Gob Squad artists working their way along South Congress, interacting with locals and hastily shaping a narrative – and meta-narrative – on the fly in the hour before screening it for an audience, I was giddy. Super Night Shot was a hit of the purest essences of theatre and cinema both: improvisatory, in the moment, and of the street. Bottled-in-Bond: The Decline and Fall of a Thug as Told in Five Drinks left me likewise light-headed, and not just from the blue-chip cocktails crafted by Bar Congress' Jason Stevens. It was the way scent and taste unexpectedly played with my other senses just as we audience members played with one another when actor Zeb West conscripted us from our bar stools to act out the sweetly goofy Damon Runyon romance he and Steve Moore had concocted. Drink and drama entwined in ways I'd not experienced before, each enhancing and elaborating on the other. Ditto for Sweet Betrayal, where David Fruchter's text, Jodi Elliott's pastries, and Kaci Beeler's paintings of the same blended in a complex, Proust-worthy remembrance of curdled love imprinted on every sense. The elation evoked by these and other Fusebox events resembled what I've felt at the circus, where the atmosphere engages all my senses, including my sense of wonder, and the level of daring intoxicates.

That's not to say Fusebox was the first to mash-up film and theatre or food and music or to credit Berry with such innovations. (Though may we say how much we miss the creative sensibility that generated Water back in 1997, and all those memorable shows by Refraction Arts?) But in devoting the past eight years to Fusebox's interdisciplinary experiments, Berry has been making Austin fertile ground for crossbred creative work, and the more he works that ground, the richer the results. With a Super Night Shot, we get the best of both art forms it blends, but Fusebox's creative crossbreeds are headed toward heterosis. That's the biological term for a hybrid that's stronger than either parent line. Luther Burbank would've known that, and Ron Berry might want to learn it, too.

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Fusebox Festival, interdisciplinary art, Ron Berry, Gob Squad, Jason Stevens, Steve Moore, Zeb West, David Fruchter, Kaci Beeler, Jodi Elliott

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