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foolsFURY Turns Annual Festival Into Digital Brainstorm For the Future of Ensemble Theatre

Wednesday, September 9, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Nicole Gluckstern

For over twenty years, San Francisco-based foolsFURY has been investigating the many facets of ensemble creation, through play development, training, conferences, and their signature biennial festival, the Fury Factory. This year—after pulling together a phenomenal lineup of companies to perform in their 8th festival—foolsFURY found themselves confronting the unexpected reality of the COVID-19 shutdown. Like so many other theatremakers around the country, foolsFURY’s approach to reimagining their programming has been multi-faceted. Not only is the company making the necessary shift to digital presentation, but it’s bringing the emphasis on education and conversation to centerstage.

Under the guidance of guest festival director, Claudia Alick, and artistic director Debórah Eliezer, foolsFURY has postponed Fury Factory until 2021, focusing their energies this year on a convening of ensemble artists and visionaries from around the country on September 12 and 13. Drawing from the collaborative strategies of ensemble performance-making, this weekend will provide a space for artists, administrators, and audiences to reimagine the field from the ground up, artistically, and operationally.


Presenters at BUILD.

With a two-pronged focus on racial and economic justice, BUILD will provide space for important conversations about the future and direction of ensemble theatre—and how inextricably tied to principles of equity, justice, and anti-racism that future must be. FoolsFURY is also leading the way in demonstrating the potential of digital platforms as necessary and lasting for theatremakers.

“We didn’t know that the transmedia digital practice would be completely vital in this moment,” Alick says, reflecting on her role as festival director pre- and post-pandemic. “I didn’t know that me bringing in my ‘but I want us to be connected all the time, all over the country’...energy was actually going to be one of the driving creative forces of what we’re manifesting right now.”

Day one of the convening focuses on racial justice and features San Francisco-born performer and comedian Kristina Wong—whose buoyantly radical work has long addressed race, politics, gender, and the machinations of privilege—as keynote speaker. Participants will split into anti-racist action breakout groups in the morning and then spend the afternoon engaged in discussions about artistic alliances and equitable creation models.


Kristina Wong. Photo by Annie Lesser.


One major topic being presented that afternoon will be aesthetic equity—in a session facilitated by NET’s (Network of Ensemble Theaters) Alison De La Cruz. Alick first encountered that term in 2019, at a workshop given by Liz Lerman and Paloma McGregor (presented by HMD’s The Bridge Project and Yayoi Kambara), and the concept of aesthetic equity has been gathering momentum in dance performance circles for a few years. As a dancer and a senior, who works collaboratively with dancers from many backgrounds, Lerman explores ways that certain bodies and certain stories get pushed to the side by those that fall within the parameters of certain imposed standards. These explorations have helped to inform an approach of consciously bringing equity as an aesthetic value to the creation process. After hosting its own conversation on the topic in November 2019, foolsFURY has actively worked to apply this principle to the company’s work—and is eager to share its ongoing discoveries with the greater ensemble theatre community.

Simply put, Alick underscores, “if you don’t have equity, the aesthetics are bad. You have something that’s not pleasant.”

Day two’s programming will expand on the conversations of day one to include discussions about economic justice and equity. In these discussions, BUILD will tackle the inequities present on an institutional level, and focus the conversation on financing and artistic alternatives to the “nonprofit industrial complex,” asking: How can rethinking the way theatres operate also change who gets represented within the field? There will also be a timely presentation on digital platforms and accessibility—work already being instigated by Alick and her production company, Calling Up Justice.


Alison De La Cruz. 


Because it simply would not be a foolsFURY production without a theatrical element, BUILD will also present a roster of six performances by artists and companies originally slated to perform in the Fury Factory. Each performance will contain multiple components—including an innovative collaboration with the LMDA (Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas). Matching each company with a dramaturg for a one-hour session of “microturgy,” the collaboration has given each artist the opportunity to reconceptualize their work for a four-and-a-half minute digital presentation. Among the featured artists are Dell’Arte’s Pratik Motwani, solo performer Lacresha “Berry” Berry, and Bay Area rising star and member of the Forum Collective, Julius Rea.

“We had 64 applicants for this microturgy program,” marvels Eliezer. “So it kind of shows you how...the field of dramaturgy is super interested in new models...and it also promotes this longheld inquiry that foolsFURY has had around the relationship around dramaturgy and the field of ensemble.”

As a collaborative and inquiry-based practice, the ensemble model has long prized process, iteration, and resiliency. By applying those principles to rebuilding, not only to the “industry” of theatre, but the methods by which theatre is created and evaluated, ensemble artists have a real opportunity to decolonize and revitalize the field. The power-sharing dynamic between Alick, Eliezer, and the company-at-large is part of foolsFURY’s push to model new methods of diversity and aesthetic equity in the company’s leadership and curation.

“I would say about the model of ensemble, because it’s deeper...and focused on relationships, we are braver at taking risks,” Eliezer emphasizes. “In truly looking at each other, ourselves—putting a focus on how we do things, not just what we do—these are skills that the world needs right now.”

BUILD From Here runs Sept 12-13, register here: www.foolsfury.org/build


Nicole Gluckstern is an arts journalist and theatre-maker in San Francisco. You can read her most current work in KQED Arts, or stalk her on twitter at  @enkohl