Austin, Texas

August 8-11, 1996

At the Austin Rat Conference, spectacularly organized by the Austin Rats, we decided to put more emphasis on working with and performing for each other than on talking together, while still leaving unscheduled time ("terra incognita") to get together with each other informally. To that end, workshops where scheduled during the day -- some of them overlapping so that one couldn't attend everything -- while the evening was left open to see performances around town (and to go to various very cool parties afterwards). Group meetings took place only at the beginning and end of the 3-day conference.

The following is a listing and description of the workshops that were held:

Friday, August 9

  • What Everyone Wants/Expects from Producers. A roundtable discussion for producers and individual artists. Geared towards creating stronger ties between producers and the artists they produce. Led by Dominick Balletta, Performance Associates, New York City.
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Poverty. Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhart, Zen, and the idea of voluntary poverty (as a spiritual value, aesthetic principal, and management tool). Led by Erik Ehn, playwright, San Rafael, CA.
  • Whim Vendors. Site specificity, Theater of Infiltration. A workshop geared towards performance in the streets from the perspective of Late Capitalism. Led by Nick Fracaro and Gaby Schafer, Thieves Theatre, New York City.
  • Improvisation for RATs An amalgam of games and exercises, mostly Chicago-style with some buffoon stuff (Le Coq) thrown in and who-knows-what-else. Previous improv experience might spice it up, but not required. Led by Mike Shapiro, Annex Theatre, Seattle.
  • Producing a Top-of-the-Week Show on Someone Else's Set. More Theater of Infiltration! The ins and outs of how to produce a show on another set. Promotion and audience development will be discussed. Led by Rosalyn Rosen, Remembrance Through the Performing Arts, Austin.
  • Traces of Memory. The Dah Teatar directors and actors demonstrate and talk about their working process in making a performance. The "secret" of the actors' and directors' skillfulness is becoming revealed in the presence of audiences, enabling them to find out and deeply understand the meaning of performance. Led by Dah Teatar, Yugoslavia.
  • Reading: new work by Erik Ehn, presented by Ten Thousand Things, Minneapolis.
  • Reading: new work by Physical Plant, Austin.

Saturday, August 10

  • How to Be a Man in the 21st Century This workshop is geared toward the development of a new piece by Kathy Randels which will be performed in New Orleans this fall. This workshop will focus on gestures, finding gestures that are typically male or ideally male and were-once-male-but-no-longer-male, etc. Come be part of developing this brand new piece. Be prepared to move, bring an instrument. It is a movement-heavy workshop, words are few and far between. Led by Kathy Randels, ArtSpot Productions, New Orleans.
  • The Director in Performance. A workshop for actors, directors and writers which explores the freedom of creativity as it evolves around the basic tenet, "The performer is always right but the director is responsible." Manuel Zarate's work with regional theaters and universities around the country using this simple idea is slowly changing the way actors, writers and directors create and interact. Led by Manuel Zarate, Third Coast Repertory Theatre, Austin.
  • Production on the Cheap. A roundtable discussion about how to create something out of nothing. Continuing the exploration of Big, Cheap Theater. Led by Christina Giannelli, Zocalo Theatre, Houston.
  • Writing to Jazz.Using jazz aesthetics to inform character development, participants will riff creatively to create text. Led by Daniel Jones, Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre, Austin.
  • Pseudofinal Dance and Marginal Out-of-Arena Pseudostart Dances Rehearsal. Peripheral text drama etudes and wide smell performance of drama "Alpha and Omega". Participants will work with unconscious filling patterns to choice creative ways in an event. Led by David Chikhladze, Aditi Theatre, Republic Georgia.
  • Creating Site-Specific Work. Theater of Infiltration at its finest. A great way to explore the boundaries of what makes theater theater (and to explore a strange city, and try not to get arrested). Led by Pat Gabridge, Chameleon Stage, Denver.
  • Practical Revolution. The Catholic Worker as one model for a decentralized, enduring organization with an impossible mission. A speaker from Mary House, an Austin worker cell, will discuss the group's work in town, their local basis of support, and their relationship with other worker houses around the country. This isn't about dogma, it's about sharing strategies for developing viable, socially challenging experiments. Led by Erik Ehn.
  • Reading: new work from Undermain Theatre, Dallas.

Sunday, August 11

  • Strange Fruit. Songwriting for the voice in Spatial Time. Moving from gleam to time to rock and roll/anthem/lullaby/folk/willow/swan song, etc. Led by Ruth Margraff, playwright, New York City.
  • A First-Step Developmental Workshop of Soul Searching, an unwritten play by Emily Ball Cicchini. Workshop will use Movement-to-Music techniques (an offshoot of Grotowski work developed at Goodman School of Drama) to begin initial explorations of theatrical devices, salient images and perhaps text in a new piece about love, war, and reincarnation. Be prepared to be on your feet. Led by Emily Ball Cicchini, Capitol City Playhouse, Austin.
  • Critical Response Workshop. The process is a series of steps based on questioning both from the artist and responders. This creates an in-depth dialogue with those involved in the method. The workshop version involves two to three short presentations which are critiqued in a laboratory setting. The process is analyzed and discussed throughout the workshop but the artists presenting the work also get a good critique. Led by Steve Bailey, Jump Start, San Antonio.

Group meeting on Sunday afternoon: comments/critiques of the weekend

  • would like more group meetings; not enough chance to meet and get to know new people otherwise; maybe one at the end of each day to recap for everyone what happened; missed hearing people's stories; missed making connections and finding out what has gone on in the past year.
  • would like more suggestions of playwrights/scripts
  • wish that participating in workshop didn't mean having to leave the building
  • workshops good, not intimidating, not condescending; mostly, workshops were "facilitated" not "taught"
  • would like more designer/artifact maker input
  • would like to find another way of communicating besides the notes on the bulletin board that accumulated
  • Mitchell Gossett's (Bottom's Dream, L.A.) experiences concerning touring Rat theaters and using some host theater people in cast/crew: it's advisable to keep it small; rehearse it in your own town, then get together a week before opening and put it together.
  • bringing works/ideas in progress vs. complete entities was good; nakedness is good; "this works, this doesn't" is good vs. a competitive atmosphere.
  • would like to keep in the failure workshop -- how we failed and why
  • need to figure out how we can address everyone's needs, first-time Rats and veterans; how not to go over and over same territory, yet how to keep subjects open for comment by new members. We should maybe have oral history sessions: what do you remember about Iowa City, Seattle, Minneapolis... conference. Emphasized importance for new attendees to make effort to inform themselves (like reading web pages, journalism, etc.)
  • wish expressed - again - for multiculturalism of conferences; some would like more cultures represented; others point out that Rat is open to anyone and excludes no one; thus, recruiting is artificial.
  • would like to compile and discuss collective list of challenges facing us
  • would like to raise practical questions as a theater or individual and maybe get insight from the group.
  • would like to find less demoralizing alternative to submitting proposals: i.e. using them as a tool vs. a threat.

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