Austin has always been a laboratory of sorts, even if it is run by mad scientists. People aren’t afraid to try new things, ideas, outfits, or sexual identities in this town, always looking to push culture towards towards the liminal and unknown. There is no better incubator in which to see and perform your own artistic experiments than FronteraFest.
FronteraFest is a five-week, multi-venue extravaganza of fringe theatre. The programming at Frontera is bold and inventive, mixing and mingling performance art, puppetry, monologues, improv comedy, and “WTF?” in a blender and seeing what comes out.
One of the most striking features of the festival is its fervent support of artistic adventure, offering producers, directors, writers, choreographers, and maybe even yourself a space to tread new artistic territory.
“FronteraFest offers the most economical way for new and established producers, writers, actors, dancers, choreographers, and improv artists to try out new work in front of an audience,” said Hyde Park Theatre Artistic Director Ken Webster. “But just as important as this critical recognition that Frontera has received is the fact that FronteraFest’s $40 Short Fringe entry fee continues to make it possible for Austin artists with limited financial resources or from traditionally excluded groups to produce their work in front of audiences.”
Frontera’s low overhead allows it to be such a dynamic festival, cracking open the skull of what performing arts should be in Austin and rearranging the brains inside. Through its radical and adventurous programming, Frontera appeals to an audience that you usually wouldn’t see at the theatre.
“FronteraFest also draws new audiences to see theater and dance,” said Webster. “Every year, hundreds of people attend FronteraFest who have not attended the theater in years, or have never attended at all.”
If you’ve always wanted to dip your toes in the performing arts scene in Austin, Frontera is definitely the place to figure out what you do and don’t like. The Short Fringe shows are no longer than 25 minutes, and the Long Fringe no more than an hour.
“Especially at the popular Short Fringe, this under-served audience is exposed to a wide variety of styles, writers, performers, and media in each evening’s performance, increasing the chance that they’ll see something that draws them into further exploring the local arts scene,” said Webster.
Ostensibly, Frontera is an outlet for artists of all ilks in Austin to experiment with their crafts. At the same time, its low-budget, no-frills, D.I.Y productions seem to be furtively inviting the audience to explore their own artistic fantasies for twenty-five minutes or less.
One of the most promising shows that use the more traditional theatre format at Frontera is “Holier Than Thou.” Imagine the seamier underbelly of reality shows. The side of the reality television that the camera is unable to capture. The seething desires, jealousy and contempt, those strange and dangerous emotions that are unable to make their way out of the editing room.
“Holier Than Thou” reveals these unsanctioned emotions through a funny and perverse premise where the contestants compete for the powers of Jesus.
“It is a dark comedy about what we want, why we want it, and why wanting it isn’t so great,” said the show’s creator Bastion Carboni.
The show takes a sort of mixed media format. Structured like an actual reality show, the piece will be intermingled with candid video interviews of the characters. “Holier Than Thou” turns reality television inside-out in order to reveal the innards of popular culture at large.
“I am really excited about exploring the darker side of pop culture. What better way to explore the murky territory of desire than through the lens of reality television!” said Carboni.
Nevertheless, while the piece does explore some cavernous recesses, its dark humor will tickle your funny bones just as much as your brain.
“With all my plays I want people to be provoked and have something to talk about; I have succeeded if I foster a conversation,” said Carboni. “At the same time, I want people to walk away and think, ‘Wow, theatre is amazing, and I want to see more of it!’”
Presented by Trouble Puppet Theatre, “The Crapstall Street Boys” is a Dickens-like tale of monsters, evil parents, and little boys who are put in precarious positions by their parents. Trouble Puppet are Austin’s only all-puppet theatre troupe. While they traditionally wow audiences with Japanese-style table puppets, this show sees them stepping out into new territory with Marionettes. The ways in which Trouble Puppet tells a story with puppets is a sight to behold. One often finds themselves reincarnated into their childhood selves at Trouble Puppet shows. A sense of awe mingles with an eager enthusiasm for life, even if it is only for an hour.
No one tells stories anymore. Living in an age that is dominated by glowing screens and earbuds, the ritual of gathering in a circle to hear tall and short tales alike is unfortunately relegated to your Grandpa’s underwear drawer. However, performance artist, comedianne and monologist Annie LaGanga deftly reinvents the form for the 21st century. Having performed spontaneous improvised monologues on a boat, in a Hummer limo, and in other weird locations, LaGanga is a queen of her craft.
For this Frontera show, LaGanga will regale the audience with tales of the myriad of strange jobs and failed entrepreneurial ventures that she has taken on throughout her technicolor life while, at the same time, doing portraits of audience members.
For those unfamiliar with her personality, LaGanga’s shows are filled with tragedy, comedy, and everything in between, all while functioning as a sort of alternative life coach.
At the end of the day, though, LaGanga’s bottom line will always be entertainment.
“I want to make an entertaining show, that’s what I hope to accomplish,” said LaGanga. “And I want to experiment with adding visual art-making to my usual improv storytelling/conversation in order to see what it brings to the show.”
Whatever LaGanga brings to the show, the audience will no doubt be inspired to do their own thing. However strange, awful, or uncreative that thing might turn out to be, her message, and FronteraFest itself, is all about just going for it, no matter what that pesky Jiminy Cricket might have to say about it.
“I hope the audience will feel encouraged to draw or try drawing from life or just give in to their own strange creative urges more often, to feel excited to experiment.”