Picture yourself arriving at a busy coffee shop for a performance. You sit down at a table and slip on the headphones waiting there. Your partner-a friend or stranger-sits across from you, dons her headphones, and the show begins. A voice greets each of you and tells you to repeat what it says, creating a scripted conversation that nevertheless feels natural. Unbeknownst to the rest of the café, you and your partner are starring in the British company Rotozaza's "Etiquette" - as both the actors and an audience of two.
Or imagine entering an old power plant building after dark. In one dimly lit corner three performers quiz one another for six hours. The 2,000 questions range from the factual ("What is the capital of Lithuania?") to pure conjecture ("What is the purpose of silence?"). As you watch, you realize the questions are being chosen and the answers are being made up on the spot - there's no script. You're witnessing "Quizoola!,"a production of theater company Forced Entertainment.
If these events don't sound like any theater you've seen before, you're not alone. Ron Berry '95 had the same reaction, which is why he brought them to Austin, Texas, for the Fusebox Festival. As the festival's founder and artistic director, Berry assembles an annual smorgasbord of dancers, performance artists, visual artists and poets-all of them deliberately unconventional.
"A lot of traditional theater asks us to go on a magical journey somewhere else," he explains. "I'm interested in work that's actually asking you to be present in this space. In that sort of environment, exciting things can happen."
Now in its seventh year, the festival has grown from a small one with a couple of out-of-town performers to a major one involving 400 artists and 20,000 spectators. The events range in scale from a puppet show with 4-inch-tall marionettes to a performance featuring 200 country dancers on the plaza of the Texas State Capitol.
Berry refers to Fusebox as a "hybrid arts festival" because many of the pieces are hard to classify. A given event might be "sort of a play, sort of an installation." It fits the Fusebox mission of dissolving boundaries, both between disciplines and between audience and performer.
Originally from Houston, Berry has been active in Austin theater since graduating from Earlham. As artistic director of the Refraction Arts Company he created cross-disciplinary events that were the precursors to Fusebox. He also founded the Blue Theatre and gallery and ran them for almost 10 years.
He credits his Earlham semester in London with exposing him to a wide variety of performances, developing a perspective that helps him curate Fusebox. "It was extremely helpful to see shows in such a range of venues, from the large and traditional to much smaller, hole-in-the-wall spaces, and even pubs," he remembers. "It was also interesting to see a culture that still seemed to use theater as a viable platform for engaging with contemporary life."
Learn more about the Fusebox Festival at www.fuseboxfestival.com