Local Comedian Prepares New Show for CBS in Shuttered Venue

Laura de la Fuente gets in on the Ground Floor

Laura de la Fuente (Photo by Bonica Ayala)

Laura de la Fuente, the comedian known locally for her work with all-Latinx improv troupe Prima Doñas and all-queer sketch troupe Martini Ranch and especially for her solo show Liz Behan: One Woman at Dusk at ColdTowne, is the inaugural performer for Ground Floor Theatre's new artist-in-residence program. And, because sometimes good things come in pairs, she's also been chosen to be featured in the 2021 ViacomCBS Showcase, that network's annual tele-event highlighting diverse talent.

Yes, the two things are related. Because in addition to a place to perform, a performer also needs a place to create what the performance will be, to rehearse it, to hone what they'll eventually visit upon a waiting world. And so de la Fuente went to Ground Floor, a popular Eastside venue that's been shuttered, save for private rentals, since all this coronavirus crap came to town.

She was going to rent the space for herself, was the idea. "I'll be writing and creating sketch comedy with the Showcase cast and writers and directors virtually for four months from Austin, and – that's kind of all I know right now," de la Fuente posted on Facebook back in October. But instead, as if in some tired routine about Soviet Russia, Ground Floor rented her.

"We'd been thinking about an artist-in-residence program for some time," says Patti Neff-Tiven, Ground Floor's co-artistic director (with Lisa Scheps). "But as things happened, we never really found the time to flesh it out. Laura came to us about using the space and we realized this was the perfect opportunity to directly assist somebody who's not typically represented in the theatre world. So we flipped the script a bit and instead of her paying us rent, we pay her a stipend, give her the use of GFT's resources, and build a new program." At the conclusion of the residency in January, Ground Floor will host a two-day performance of de la Fuente's new work, either live or streamed.

"I am truly so lucky that I got hooked up – professionally – with Lisa and Patti," says de la Fuente. "While driving back from a road trip with my wife, I found out at the beginning of October this year that I'd been cast in the 2021 ViacomCBS Showcase. In previous years, those who were cast in Showcase had to move to L.A., but given the pandemic this year, all cast members were asked to create comedy out of their hometowns. So I started looking around Austin for some studio space to write in. I reached out to my network of friends in the comedy and theatre communities, and Kim Turner, who is amazing, recommended I reach out to Lisa and Patti – and the rest is history."

Near the end of a terrible year, that was a nice bit of "kismet," to use Scheps and Neff-Tiven's term. But starting in 2021, Ground Floor's residence program will have a formal application process and a panel of GFT staff and board and community stakeholders to make the selection of artists.

"Our mission," says Neff-Tiven, "is to produce works by and for underrepresented communities, so all we're sure of so far is that the artists chosen will be folks that don't typically get this kind of spotlight in the theatre world. We're still working out what the applying and scouting process is, but we do know we plan to work with a Black theatre artist next."

And after the pandemic's become just another dusty bit of history? After things have returned to whatever semblance of "normal" we can achieve in the coming years, will the GFT residence program still be a viable part of the scene?

"Absolutely!" says Neff-Tiven. "As long as we have the space and it continues to be helpful for the resident artists, we plan to continue this program forever."

And Laura de la Fuente, relentless fomenter of comedy in so many forms, is eager to start it all off on the right foot. "I will do my best to be as funny as possible," she says, deadpan. But you can totally infer a wink.

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Ground Floor Theatre, Laura de la Fuente, Prima Doñas, Martini Ranch, ColdTowne Theatre, Liz Behan: One Woman at Dusk, Lisa Scheps, Patti Neff-Tiven, 2021 ViacomCBS Showcase

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