The concrete performance space was bare, with the exception of a well-lit mound of dirt that was three feet high and punctured with shovels. Ten ladders leaned against the walls. Everything was in place for Theatre en Bloc to perform their new play, Austin is a Place (You are Here).
Theatre en Bloc, which means “theater all together,” is a nonprofit project of the Austin Creative Alliance. The show received funding from the city through the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office. Fittingly, the main themes the production explores are growth and development in its hometown. With 125 people moving here every day, it’s a big topic for a once-small town.
Theatre en Bloc’s members conducted hundreds of interviews with Austin residents and used their findings to create Austin is a Place. Predictably, many were bitter about being crowded out of what Forbes deemed the fastest growing city in America for the third year in a row. Rising rent and gridlocked highways make it easy to curse population growth, especially for a city like Austin that is hopelessly in love with itself.
The play is a gentle means of expressing our growing pains, but it also points out the irony of complaining about tourists. We built the tourist attractions and our economy is fueled by them. It reminded me of a banner I saw at the end of this year’s South by Southwest. It said, “Thank you. Go home.”
The story carries audiences through generations of Austin life. Live guitar accompaniment, a talented and diverse cast, and moments of powerful singing made it a pleasure to watch. The manipulation of lighting in the cavernous, rectangular room was excellent, creating a set with a lot of depth. Still, it was the kind of intimate setting where you can enjoy an actor’s facial expressions from a few feet away. It’s peppered with inside jokes for the locals, poking fun at broke musicians, the new Formula 1 racetrack, and the miserable cedar fever that many of us endure.
By the end of the show, the whole stage was covered in dirt and over 300 pairs of donated shoes, which will be given to people in need (presumably after a thorough dusting) at the end of the production’s run. I left with two thoughts: 1.) I feel bad for whoever is on sweeping duty, and 2.) One of the characters had a good point about Austin: “This place doesn’t belong to us. We belong to it.”
Thursday- Sunday, April 18 – Sunday, May 12, 2013. All shows start at 8:00 p.m.
Theatre en Bloc
1107 N Interstate 35
Austin, TX 78702
ADMISSION: $15.00 for adults, $12.00 for students and seniors. Please click here to purchase tickets.