Fusebox Festival, now in its eighth year, has become a touchstone in the Austin arts community for programming innovative, contemporary work from the local, national and international scene. For two weeks every spring, Austin audiences get to experience theater, music, dance and visual art from all across the country and the world. We spoke with Managing Director Brad Carlin about why Austin is the perfect city to host the Festival, how they find exciting acts each year and how to make a life-like William Shatner puppet.
How did Fusebox get its start?
Ron Berry had a theater company in town called Refraction Arts and they produced their own work. They also ran the Blue Theatre over on Springdale and they had some time in the calendar to fill, and Ron wanted to bring down a couple of artists whose work he thought was interesting and thought people in Austin might like to see. It literally started with a couple of shows and a budget of about $5,000. It got progressively bigger from there to the point where Refraction Arts doesn't exist anymore — Fusebox absorbed it and become a much bigger deal.
Have there been any Fusebox events that could only have happened in Austin?
A couple of years ago, we had a kickoff event on the steps of the Capitol where we had two hundred two-steppers all dancing to music, with Graham Reynolds playing the piano and barbecue provided by Stubb's. It was a great, all ages happening — almost like a two-stepping flash mob on the Texas Capitol steps, which is just fun. It doesn't always have to be really heady, contemporary modern art; it was just a fun event.
There will be a panel discussion on Art in the 21st Century with William Shatner and it will be performed as this video puppet.
Who have been some of your favorite artists in years past?
Someone we're really proud of is Reggie Watts. He's blown up and become a big deal, and he was a part of Fusebox long before that. Audiences here feel like they've been a part of his rise... Austin audiences love to get to say, "I saw him when." It's a very Austin thing to be like, "I knew him before he was a big deal because he was in Austin."
Fusebox is a curated festival — most of the performers are invited to participate. How do you find the artists for each year?
To use a sports analogy, we go scouting. Ron will go to other festivals to scout performances and look at other pieces. In the grand scheme of these festivals, we're still really scrappy and relatively small and we have to be really strategic about our presenting budget. We have to be aggressive about going out to find people who are on the verge of making it really big. If people are already a really big deal, it makes it hard for us to fit them in without it impacting the density of the festival.
Who are you excited about for the 2012 festival?
We can't reveal our festival lineup yet, but we got out first MAP grant for this piece called "An Evening With William Shatner Asterisk." We are commissioning Phil Soltanoff, an artist out of New York, and he is making a William Shatner video puppet, with Shatner's blessing. They've developed this proprietary software and they're taking every bit of recorded sound with his voice that they can get their hands on, and they're breaking it down on a phonetic level so they can essentially make a William Shatner puppet that's actually using his voice.
As Austin has grown and become more metropolitan and a major destination city, the arts scene has worked really hard to step up to that. Austin is a great place to create your own work; it's a very DIY friendly city.
There will be a panel discussion on Art in the 21st Century with William Shatner and it will be performed as this video puppet. A part of it will be scripted and they're working on a way to open it up to questions and to live performance, so this video puppet will be able to respond to the audience and other artists on the panel.
Austin feels more and more like a big city — how does its continuing growth affect Fusebox?
As Austin has grown and become more metropolitan and a major destination city, the arts scene has worked really hard to step up to that. Austin is a great place to create your own work; it's a very DIY friendly city. Anybody from any part of the country can move here and for relatively less money, you can start your own company and make your own work. I think what really helps distinguish Fusebox and Austin is that, in the vast ecosystem that is Austin's cultural scene, Fusebox is serving as this connection to outside of Austin.
I don't think [the festival] would have been possible ten years ago. There was a time when, if you were to ask a New York contemporary artist to come down to Austin to do a show for a weekend, they probably would have laughed at you. But now people are really jazzed about coming here and wanting to experience the city and be a part of the culture here. They've heard about it — everyone's heard of Austin.
Fusexbox is offering a limited amount of discounted festival passes for $75.00 as part of their Save 2011 campaign. For more information and to learn more about supporting the festival, check out their website or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.