Austin's Salvage Vanguard Theatre has been going through several changes the past few years. Despite losing its performance space in 2016, the company has continued to produce experimental work that gives voice to local artists, albeit at various locales across the city.
More recently, the company has undergone a transition in leadership, with interdisciplinary artist Kate Taylor taking over as the executive artistic director this summer. Now, audiences will be able to experience Taylor's curatorial debut as a producer, a two-week event of multiple works under the heading of "Three Headed Festival," running through Sunday at the Rogge Ranch House.
"Three Headed Festival" consists of three diverse solo pieces — Kriston Woodreaux' "brutal IMAGINATION" (with text by Cornelius Eady), Kelsey Oliver's "pp," and Crystal Bird Caviel's "SICK/Lionheart" — along with a movement class led by Oliver, a preshow interactive exhibit by artist Alyssa Dillard, and the "Rogue at Rogge Monster's Ball," a closing night celebration.
The Statesman spoke with Taylor, Woodreaux, Oliver, and Caviel to learn more about the larger festival, the individual contributions, and the ways in which the two coalesce.
American Statesman: Kate, how did you go about curating this piece? Did you start with a larger idea and then find the individual artists, or did you put together the artists and then craft the larger festival around them?
Kate Taylor: As I transitioned into leadership, I knew I wanted to start from a place of facilitation. I want to share resources and this platform. Identifying specific artists along varying longitudes in their cultivation of new work felt essential and helped clarify the shape. Each artist has wildly different approaches to the development of their work. I wanted to kick off my time at SVT with programming that launches and celebrates a breadth of new ideas in motion. I aim to experiment with a structure that supports various phases of development and includes components that engage beyond the sharing of the work. I chose the framework of Three Headed Festival with a slightly reconfigured format to honor the legacy of previous SVT leadership over the years as well as to give a nod to exciting news about an upcoming tasty trifecta of partnership (details will be announced at each show — you'll have to come on by to hear more).
Contributors, could you briefly describe your pieces?
Kriston Woodreaux: This iteration of "brutal IMAGINATION" is the second draft of an ongoing exploration into black American mythology. The source material and my praxis both derive from Cornelius Eady's anthology, "Brutal Imagination." Twenty-five years ago Susan Smith blamed the murder of her two children on an imaginary black man. Cornelius de-centered Ms. Smith from the narrative because it isn't just her story as it lives with every black person implicated. Comparatively, only on a few occasions have I been a part of projects featuring the work of black designers. My mission is to provide theatrical experience beyond the white gaze and since I can't afford to hire my dream team of black collaborators I've taken on the role of designing media, sound, as well as directing.
Kelsey Oliver: I will be performing a one act one wo/man show, "pp," the second weekend of SVT's Three Headed Festival, as well as teach a "Momentum Floorwork" master class to anyone interested in squirreling around.
Crystal Bird Caviel: My show "SICK/Lionheart" will be presented in a workshop setting, which means that my piece is in progress — so people have to go easy on me. Ha! I present what I have and then collect feedback from the audience. It's an invaluable opportunity to get the work on its feet while in its infancy, and collect some gems of wisdom from my peers who have been down this road.
How did you come to craft your particular piece, and what kinds of ideas were you hoping to explore?
Woodreaux: Cornelius's anthology has been on my mind since I first read it in 2012. The main character, Mr. Zero is an archetype for the presumed inherent criminality and savagery of black folks. It's difficult to explain but whenever I read it aloud my face, hands and body contorted. The pain and imagery are still that tangible. Our imaginations are tangible enough that Rodney Reed remains scheduled to be executed despite mounds of evidence supporting his innocence. Last week Atatiana Jefferson's life was taken because someone thought it better to shoot first and ask questions later. As comedian and author D.L. Hughley puts it, "The most dangerous place for black people to live is in white people's imagination."
Oliver: "pp" is a hefty collection of baby ideas, scenes and props that I've been percolating over within the last year. This past March I invited 50 friends into my living room over the course of a weekend to watch me flail new trials in the air and interact with them. The piece (for me) centers around messiness, maternalism, ownership, kink, cats and categorization. All of those underlyings are explored through a variety of impulsive and bazaar choices; sometimes dance, sometimes theatre, sometimes audience aided (or even provoked), sometimes comedy, stand-up, music, puppetry, and all spawning from a way of processing and sharing my actual memories, tendencies, copings and curiosities. The creation process inevitably keeps rolling as I have new impulses, metaphoric epiphanies, and reveal-themselves Easter eggs that unexpectedly loop the themes together. Concerning my play space, re-creating my living room in an extreme, over-trinketed way, and being able to manipulate the magic out of it is also a key element to the piece. My good bud Chris Conard is making that possible, along with SVT's killer team of collaborators. And of course, my Pepper cat is one of the biggest inspirations for the piece. She sits in my lap as I write this.
Caviel: My piece is about my life with chronic illness and how that illness is connected to unresolved ancestral baggage and trauma. It's an exploration of how those traumas that we carry can materialize, in our bodies and in our minds. And the importance of knowing who we are and who our people were because, essentially, it's one and the same. The story is still being written — it's a living, breathing thing — but it chronicles the journey from illness and depression to climbing the mountain up and out of that dark place, discovering the Divine in myself. It's the most vulnerable, honest thing I've ever done. My intention is to take control of my story, re-write the narrative, and write my way to freedom.
Kate, all of these pieces seem to have a similarity in the sense of how they reflect upon individual identities. How do they comment on one another with regard to this and other issues, and come together as a larger whole?
Taylor: The monster here has many forms and shows up in disparate manifestations in each work. I intentionally selected projects that are tonally dissonant in relation to each other. I think this contrast allows the thread of identity and obstacle to surface in both challenging and gratifying ways. The specificity with which each artist confronts and endures these beasts hopefully gets us thinking about our own or active role in in others.
This is just your first work as producer of Salvage Vanguard. What can we look forward to in the future?
Taylor: You can count on a commitment to providing kaleidoscopic access points to new work, for both the artists experimenting and the community gathering to digest that vital work. Salvage Vanguard will continue to be a haven for folks to reset via a process of communal wonder. Let's find some stillness together. Let's commiserate, let's rage out, let's laugh, let's shake our butts (a gentle nudge for you to join us at the "Rogue at Rogge Monsters' Ball" Saturday at 10 p.m. for our free closing weekend celebration).
You can count on permission for the mess. You can count on the absurd. You can count on opportunities for incubation to fail, flail, refine and flourish.
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