BBQ & Final Rehearsal with The Austin Pig Pile

Gazebo outside the OffShoot (Photo Courtesy of Aaron Sanders ©2013 )

Gazebo outside the OffShoot (Photo Courtesy of Aaron Sanders ©2013 )

Fusebox Festival blogger Aaron Sanders reporting from Austin, TX.

So the day started like any self respecting 4/21 would start, with a heaping helping of sleep the hell in and then some coffee around ten. I stumbled around casa de Sanders, wrote a bit, and when lunch seemed unavoidable I grabbed the car keys and headed out into an unreasonably beautiful day in Austin Texas. We’re talking mid seventies, light breeze, and big ‘ole blue skies. I was delivered by a well flowing if somewhat sleepy amount of traffic into the friendly bosom of the Fusebox Family BBQ at Live Oak where a two meat, two sides plate did its best to spackle the self inflicted damage of Saturday night. The combination of white bread, wet brisket, and lone star beer soon had me feeling less cro-magnon and Dusty the magical Australian shepherd helped me finish what my body could not take. And so it was with fresh legs and an appropriate amount of the hair of the dog that I headed over to the final River of Gruel rehearsals to have a look at what a week had done for the upcoming workshop.

My first thought was honestly, ‘Wow’. The core was much the same, but so much honing, building, and perfecting had been done in only a matter of days all while most of the cast and crew were engaged in more than one show. There is still much to do, but I am more than confident that it was well in hand. It is nearly impossible not to give any of the show away. It’s like keeping a pregnancy a secret from your family and friends, but I will not be the spoiler of this amazing event. You have to come. I mean it. I cannot overstate how much I think you will enjoy this workshop. They have done a really incredible job crafting an evening with the audience in mind. Today the writer Sibyl Kempson was there and seeing much of the staging for the first time. I had so much fun watching her reaction to what the Austin contingent of the Pig Pile (SVT, the Rude Mechanicals, Rubber Repertory, Trouble Puppet, and Physical Plant theater et al) had created. This must have been a big, fun step on her ongoing journey of pushing herself collaboratively and letting go. I imagine that seeing it on Monday with a full audience will be no less charming and hilarious.

As I sat there in rehearsal part of my brain kept asking what is this that I am looking at. What are the pillars or parts of this new sort of collaborative process and presentation? Can it be defined and is it even necessary? So I snuck off unnoticed amongst the hubbub of the honing of one final run to look over what I had written and make my first stab at a list. I invite any and all to mock this list, take any part and disagree, and/or add to it as you see fit. These are thoughts, in no particular order, borne from notes and a lazy Sunday afternoon, on this new modern theater in Austin (and perhaps other places I have not yet seen):

  • Informal formality – be it dogs and kids at rehearsal or elevated text and operatic style in a warehouse.
  • Multi-disciplinary hyper professionals – With some specialization but imagine if all of your friends had committed to tireless ongoing training and exploration in several areas of art for at least ten years.
  • Smaller Audience – This work does not aspire to big stages it is kept intimate for artists and audience alike in order to facilitate the experience.
  • Longer creative process – most of these works take years not months to complete with intervening workshops iterations and plenty of time to delve into the ideas, presentation, style, and messaging
  • Music/musical – There is almost always a musical aspect to the show that is created as an intrinsically necessary component and is often the vessel of the ‘message’.
  • The process is consensus driven – there is no head, there are many heads and everyone has an equal voice
  • Site specific – even when produced in their own spaces the creators make the best use of the space at hand molding experience and space until what is most appropriate for the show is arrived at.
  • Requires an active audience – This is not Our Town. You cannot just show up and live tweet your boredom. The audience has to bring their own willingness, experience, and active process to the event in order for a connection to occur.
  • Experiential – This might be a matter of degrees, but I feel like the new performative arts take more of the audiences sense into account, they try to engage the whole person rather than a typical theater show that stays behind the fourth wall and engages less of us. There is also an element of the happening that is folded in to newer work that goes beyond the static ritual of theater going.
  • There is a heightened sense of danger or of the unknown – not like a haunted house per se, but there is a definite sense that no one knows exactly what is going to happen. There is a thing and it will happen, but many things are as yet undecided and can only be decided by interaction between artists and audience.
  • There is no 4th wall – it is obliterated there is no safety net behind which the audience may sit – this may be repetitious but I thought it could stand some emphasis.
  • The experience begins when you arrive – There is no curtain, or curtain speech, or curtain time once you are there it has begun.
  • We do not forget that we are audience and/or artists – this is a new and kind of infatuating form of suspension of disbelief that just works.
  • DIY/can do/Up for anything attitude – Austin is a maker town. We are triers and builders and learners. If we can’t do it, we’ll figure it out or find someone who can.
  • Cross company collaboration – There is a pretty large degree of this. Competition has been replaced by an attitude that what helps one helps us all. This is true theater company to theater company, but also across genres where different types of art give rise to more diverse audiences and more interesting work.
  • and finally for this list
  • Risk – we as artists and audience are willing to take big risks. Failure is not a fear of ours but rather a hallmark of our willingness to push ourselves into the scary or unsure places in order to get at something new and interesting. Failing here is just not that big a deal.

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