Home is a Moment
Over the last fifteen years I have tried to create a practice for myself wherein I write about the situations I find myself in so that I remember more clearly how I handled it and so that like-tempermented people may find some advance warning if they are headed toward the same trials. I did it with producing and over the last 4 years with my performances. I planned to write about the process of finding a new artistic home here in the Twin Cities, what concept of ‘artistic home’ meant to me and how in the world to you go about creating or finding a replacement. There is a sort of permanently transitioning layer in the American theatre made up of freelancers and of the short term permanent (if you’ll forgive the oxymoron). I thought the conversation would be a useful one and maybe the collective brain could create some tools for each other to use to make those transitions less painful.
Before I even begin finding a new home it appears I must eulogize the passing of my former home.
If you had ever tossed out a pop quiz on artistic homes I would have spouted off about my artistic home being a group of people rather than a place. Not a theatre building or company per se, but a collection of places, companies and theatremakers who overlapped to underlay my personal practice. My own triumvirate at Cambiare Productions with Will Hollis Snider and Amanda Gass, the folks at 7 Towers, Poor Shadows of Elysium, Last Act Theatre Company and Trouble Puppet.
But more importantly my creative home is a moment when all of those things combine. Asked a few years ago about about my creative home, I would have simply replied that Austin was my creative home. So much of the spirit of the city refreshed me, energized me. The people seemed interested in making a wide range of interesting things in interesting places and I loved it. But that answer was indeed a simple one. This was outlined neatly for me when I was asked to curate Austin Week for the theatre journal Howlround. The editors at Howlround wanted to add a piece Daniel Alexander Jones had written to the posts I was able to glean from community members. He wrote about an Austin that bore little resemblance to the Austin I had arrived in and was very different from the Austin I was living in at the time. Perfect. My Austin, like everyone’s, was the confluence of specific versions of people and places and projects and that river only moves in one direction.
The Austin I left was a blur of performance rather than production. Over the last few years my schedule has been roughly… do a meat theatre show, an early modern play of some sort usually, with one of my bands of brothers, and then do a show with Trouble Puppet. The alternation has allowed recovery time for my knees and meant that, given the intensive rehearsal periods for Trouble Puppet shows, I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in the puppet workshop in the back corner of the warehouse of Salvage Vanguard. This in addition to the hours spent hanging and focusing light plots, performing and producing in the main space. If you were looking for me in Austin you were more likely to find me at SVT (or the Dougherty Arts Center) than at my house. I saw the first show in the space. I produced my first show in that space. The feel of Salvage Vanguard is a large part of my creative home over the last ten years. In this moment of Austin theatre I think that’s been true for a lot of people. As the #SVTGuardian Corps has gathered in the weeks since the end of SVT’s time at 2803 East Manor Road was announced it’s become pretty clear that my experience is far from unusual.
The center that Jenny Larson and her team created in the former dead zone on Manor over the past decade has been special to a lot of folks. I wrote upon a time about my desire for an Arts Depot big box space that served as a big tent for high quality community art and interaction. Salvage Vanguard as it evolved over the last 10 years is the model of the beginnings of that space. You can see how valuable that is.
Because here’s the thing…
The Austin arts landscape takes a lot of in-community heat for being cliquey and overdifferentiated with the walls of each groups’ silo being mostly unimpregnable. You work with who you work with until you quit or move on, there’s little mixing. This sort of high hedge garden is a by-product of the DIY non-industrial arts environment that is Austin. But, regardless of causes, it means that the connections between groups and between artists are cursory.
That’s part of the magic of Salvage Vanguard in this moment. Those doors are affordably open for a broad range of people and groups. I am not friends with the SVT team. They aren’t my people. I have never and will never be part of an SVT show. But the thing that they worked day and night to create served as part of my home. Their day-to-day work subsidized my artistic life in a substantive way. That is the sacrifice and the grind that needs to happen in small arts communities in the next moment; In all moments. Without the courage it takes to do the hard work, not just the fun work, these communities will simply fail.
Salvage Vanguard will continue. Whether it is immediately in June or not, that team will find a home and carry on. But this moment is passing. I would love it if you had the means if you would contribute to help them move and store. Any thrust you can help provide toward escape velocity will mean easier reentry and that’s huge.
But what I would really love is if you would help sell out every damn thing they have in house for the coming months. Pack them out. Make Naked as a Gaybird a celebration. Let’s help SVT take a victory lap for the success this location has been and celebrate all of the work they have sacrificed so many waking hours to subsidize.
Start this weekend.
My Trouble Puppet family is opening Frankenstein.
Go have fun and a beer or two.
Celebrate my old home.