Texas Performing Arts Partners With Fusebox to Advance Austin’s Avant-Garde

A still from Geoff Sobelle’s FOOD, an upcoming production copresented by Texas Performing Arts and Fusebox.

Now the 10th largest city in the United States, Austin is regularly spotlighted for its vibrant music scene, bustling technology sector, and lush green spaces. But residents know its quintessential weirdness runs much deeper. To see what’s “on the leading edge of where the arts are heading” in town, Texas Performing Arts Executive Director Bob Bursey says to look no further than Fusebox, Austin’s homegrown arts festival. Produced by a vanguard local performance group and hosted at venues around the city, the Fusebox Festival is puzzlingly amiss on Austin’s listicle guides, but the internationally renowned event series is a gem all the same. 

“It’s great for discovering the city and seeing how artists are enaging with the big questions of our time,” Bursey says. Bursey, who boasts years of leading theater nonprofits in New York, is still a fairly new fixture to The University of Texas campus, having only stepped into his role with Texas Performing Arts (TPA) in 2020. Regardless, he was familiar with the work of Fusebox long before he settled in Texas.   

Fusebox was started in 2005 by a group of local Austin artists who were particularly interested in using live performance to connect with their community. With 18 years of pioneering performance under its belt, the nonprofit organization’s acclaimed Fusebox International Performing Arts Festival has grown into a cherished curation of media spanning dance, theater, film, music and more at locales all over the city.

Texas Performing Arts Executive Director Bob Bursey.

“The Fusebox Festival has an incredible national and international reputation as a platform for exciting new performances,” Bursey says. “When I got to UT, one of the things I wanted to do was create more opportunities for our students to engage with the Fusebox Festival, and also see what we could do to support the incredible work they were doing in the community.”    

Under its core values, Fusebox lists “shaking things up” and “access,” two ideals that spoke strongly to Bursey when he first began exploring a formal partnership between TPA and the organization in 2020. Alongside Ron Berry, Fusebox’s artistic director, Bursey invited several Austin-based artists to become artists-in-residence at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Through the joint residency, Fusebox and TPA provided artists with staff support and space on the UT campus to safely create new performances—many of which are only now being seen by Texas audiences.  

“Fusebox is one of the things in the performing arts scene in Austin that really brings a lot of new artists and projects in. It’s something that makes Austin uniquely Austin. There’s no other city in Texas that has something like it,” Bursey says. “It’s known for cutting-edge performance—oftentimes projects that are blending different disciplines and forms together. It’s very experimental.”

After a fruitful start, the partnership between TPA and Fusebox expanded, culminating in this year’s venture into joint programming, which will feature three on-campus projects in the hopes of increasing student access, Bursey says. Additionally, the two organizations are partnering on coursework and internship opportunities—all aimed at supporting young, local artists. Twenty student percussionists from the Butler School of Music will have the chance to perform professionally in Raven Chacon’s Tremble Staves, a wordless water opera performed on the grounds of Laguna Gloria, a satellite location of Austin’s contemporary art museum.

Musician Andy Meyerson and a water-logged cello in the Sutro Baths for a Tremble Staves performance.

While Bursey champions all of the upcoming shows copresented by TPA and Fusebox, he speaks excitedly about Geoff Sobelle’s FOOD as a performance he’s personally looking forward to. According to the programming, FOOD is a “meditation on the ways and whys of eating” that relies on the audience’s senses of smell and taste in accessing personal memories related to food and consumption.   

“It’s a really intimate performance for just a hundred people. You’ll be seated on the stage at the McCullough Theatre here on campus around a large dinner table,” Bursey says. “Sobelle has made a really extraordinary, immersive performance where your experience as an audience member is part of the telling of the story of the show. That type of theatrical work I think is really exciting.”   

Although the experimental nature of Fusebox’s offerings might prove intimidating for some, Bursey emphasizes that there is no access threshold or exclusive in-crowd for these shows. TPA regularly offers ticket discounts, including those geared towards students, and aims to offer a range of ticket prices—often starting at less than $20. All they ask in return is that audiences keep an open mind.  

“Come to it with a sense of curiosity, and don’t worry so much about trying to ‘get it.’ When you’re seeing a new performance, you can think about what the artist is trying to suggest or what feelings you’re having when you’re watching,” Bursey says.

Performers in Raven Chacon’s Tremble Staves.

Although TPA and Fusebox are only a few months into their first year as formal program partners, the future looks bright for the organizations’ continued relationship. Bursey says the response to the pairing has already been positive, and, with eyes to next season, both groups expect the collaboration will be ongoing.  

“Texas Performing Arts is one of the 15 busiest performing arts centers in the country. We’re a big organization, and we have a lot of scale,” Bursey says. “This partnership allows us to provide Fusebox with additional resources to keep doing what they’re doing. As Austin grows and changes, it’s really important for us to look at what makes this an amazing city and continue to support the artistic culture in our community.”

CREDITS: From top, Ryan Curran; Robert Silver; Maria Baranova (2)


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