RAT Droppings
by Robert Faires

Well, the RATs are gone from our fair city, but like all good rodents, they've left a little something for us to remember them by -- in this case, a piece of guerrilla art on the Drag. These particular savvy scavengers are actually theatre artists, mostly with smaller, poorer independent companies around the country, who have formed an informal national network called RAT (it may look like an acronym, but the letters don't stand for anything). They assembled in Austin last week for their fourth- ever RAT Conference, this one christened the RatRave in the Heat Wave (for rather obvious reasons). Some 50 RATs made their way here from as far away as Minneapolis, Seattle, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Coney Island, and the Republic of Georgia. They were joined by an equal number of local artists, most of whom were getting their first taste of RAT.

Vicky Boone of Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre, Steve Moore of Physical Plant Theater, and Jason Neulander of Salvage Vanguard Theater -- all veteran RATs -- led the way in coordinating the four-day event, and Robi and Michelle Polgar gave over The Public Domain space to serve as RAT Central. Whenever the attendees weren't there or over at the State Theatre, Calle Ocho, Capitol City Playhouse, or 823 Congress filling up on workshops (the buzz was particularly strong for the session on creative process by Belgrade-based DAH Teatar and the one on writing by NYC playwright Ruth Margraff), you could count on finding them at Little City weighing the pros and cons of having your own theatre space over iced cappuccinos or at Ruby's swapping the names of hot young playwrights between bites of brisket. Much good info was shared (expect to see more out-of-town artists on local stages and local artists working out of town), many fine shows were seen (don't be surprised if productions of plays by local dramatist David Bucci pick up considerably after this week), and a decent amount of partying was done (ask Austin American-Statesman critic Michael Barnes if he's finished cleaning up his back yard yet).

The highlight of the RatRave, however, may well have been the renegade art action that occurred during the "Whim Vendors" workshop. The workshop leaders, longtime practitioners of politically-edged street theatre, had brought with them a 20-foot long painting with the specific intent of plastering it over an obnoxious local billboard. Ten RATs canvassed the city looking for a suitably odious piece of advertising and found it just north of the UT campus, at the intersection of Guadalupe & 29th Streets. At high noon on Friday, four members of the group climbed boldly onto the roof of Al's Formal Wear and slapped their renegade art on top of a Miller Lite billboard. Now, over those three women sporting "Life Is Good" across their collective busts stands a mutant mouse crying out, "Despite My Rage, I'm Still Just a Ratt at a Rave." While we don't expect the Miller folks to agree, we consider it a real improvement. Thanks, RATs, and y'all come back soon.

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