FronteraFest's 'Mi Casa es Su Teatro' invites audiences to see their community with new eyes
“Mi casa es su casa” is a common Spanish phrase which is used to tell a friend that they are welcomed into your home. It denotes an open door, intimacy and warmth, exactly what FronteraFest's Mi Casa es Su Teatro was all about.
On Saturday, Austin's theatre community members opened up their houses to an afternoon of site-based performance. Curated by Sam Webber and Shobie Partos, the full day of performance takes place in six sites in and around the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood.
At the first house on Alta Vista Avenue, dancer Margery Segal and theatre artist Jason Phelps presented a three-piece dance performance titled The Collective Hue, performed over Peter Stopschinski’s new classical compositions. The first piece was a solo by Segal and took place in her studio where dressed in black workout clothes, Segal moved
serenely extending her extremities and traveling around the space as if the music was caressing her.
The second piece took place in the house’s kitchen where Phelps, dressed in a casual brown suit and hat, frantically engaged in domestic chores. In the last piece, a duet, both dancers literally and metaphorically negotiated their different styles and qualities as they sailed around an old station wagon in the front yard, sometimes leading, sometimes following each other’s movements.
From there, we drove to the second house on St. Annie Street, where we were warmly received by poet and UT professor Deborah Paredez, who announced we would all be taking part in the rest of the day's performances. She would play the role of the tour guide, "to illuminate the detail, to excavate the unseen, to tune the ears” of her followers; and we would play the role of the tourists. She advised us to "observe from within," to be sensitive to the performance and surroundings, and to take care of the group.
The tour began as Paredez herded us through houses and across alleys to arrive at each performance. Paredez also made stops to share interesting facts about the history of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood. Thanks to our tour guide, we learned that Bouldin Creek, (then called Brackenridge) was an African American neighborhood until the 1940s when Mansfield Dam was built, slowly changing the demographics.
In the master bedroom of the house on Annie Street, we squeezed our way in, literally invading the bedroom and flooded into the balcony to watch The Becomings performed by Jennymarie Jemison, Jeffrey Mills, Adriene Mishler, Rosalyn Mandola, and Cyndi Williams. This short intense play told of the unusual encounter of a talented young singer, her opportunistic uncle and her sweet younger sisters. The intimate story was funny and touching and thoughtfully performed.
Next, we moved to the nursery, where performer Catherine Berry shared a heartfelt monologue entitled "Squishies," about how her young daughter taught her to love her plump
arms, a part of her body she never valued before. Then we were taken to the garage, where we encountered a video from performance artist Christina Houle wearing an unusual sculptural costume made out of stuffed animals and knitted fabric snippets.
From there, our guide took us to the next site, the bleachers of the Boy’s and Girl’s Club baseball park. There, writer Robert Faires, dressed in 1940s fashion, and speaking in the dramatic style of a sports radio commentator of the same era, narrated his own version of shortstop Willie “The Devil” Wells' last game. Mixing facts of this amazing baseball player’s life with his own out-of-this-world fiction, Faires kept the audience on the edge of their freezing seats.
To complete that performance, our guide took us to a home on Newton Street where Wells himself was waiting for us, immortalized in a beautiful mural by Tim Kerr. There we learned more about the athlete and the sounds that surrounded him in Eliot Haynes’ Your Name Here installation.
We went next door to St. Annie African Methodist Episcopal Church where we were warmly greeted by Rev. Janelle Curlin-Taylor, Rev. Granyon Perry and the Youth Choir. We were introduced to the church community and history, and treated to Sister Bernice Satterwhite’s delicious cookies.
From there we parted for our last stop, the tower house on St. Mary Street, where we were invited to make art with Jamie and Louis Rhodes at their Blind Painting table, have our portrait drawn at Aaron Taylor's Quick Draw Photo Booth, or play the guitar with Adam Sorenson. In small groups, we climbed to the tower to encounter actress/writer Kathy Catmull, who wrote individualized poems on cards for each of us. At the backyard patio, beautifully decorated by Jodi Odness, the afternoon came to a satisfying close with cupcakes and magical music by Shakee Graves.
The intimacy of this year’s Mi Casa es Su Teatro came not only from being in others' houses, but from the closeness of our bodies due to the limited space and the cold weather. Most
importantly, the feeling of connection came from the affection that surrounded the entire well-thought event, the collection of creative voices, and the kindness that held it together in the form of goodies, kind words, and bravely vulnerable performances.