News / Theater & Performance

How three production companies are trying to change the lack of diversity in Austin theater

Performance Park at the Vortex
Photograph: Courtesy the Vortex Performance Park at the Vortex

At the Austin Critics Table Awards last year, playwright and performer Zell Miller III used his induction into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame to call out local theater companies and critics for inaccurately representing the diversity found among Austin’s artists. His words hit home with the crowd and reinforced a commitment to elevate inclusion in the city’s theater scene—starting with Miller himself.

In December 2017, Miller launched his own company, ZM3 Live Productions, to highlight the city's African-American community. “[ZM3 Live Productions] is going to give you this culture that you can absorb and then walk away thinking, This isn’t what I hear on the radio or see in the news,” he explains. The company’s upcoming schedule includes works by Miller and variety shows that present the best of local hip-hop, comedy and dance; one of ZM3’s recent productions, Oh, Snap! My Alien Children Are Trying to Kill Me, was a humorous and insightful look at the joys and challenges of raising kids of color in today's landscape.

Another new Austin company has focused on making performances accessible. The Filigree Theatre, a female-driven company cofounded by locals Elizabeth V. Newman and Stephanie Moore, provides affordable ticket prices and creates resources for visually impaired audience members. “We hope that by making different elements of the theatergoing experience accessible—physically, financially, psychologically—that Filigree will nurture and grow diverse audiences and theater lovers,” says Newman.

And then there’s the Vortex, which has been a champion of inclusion for more than three decades, but now finds itself rededicated in response to the current political climate. Many of the Vortex’s productions are written by the company’s multicultural members, dissecting topical issues that speak to its audience and performers. Its next big work is Performance Park (Mar 23—May 12), which artistic director Bonnie Cullum describes as an “immersive theatrical scavenger hunt featuring a diverse cast of magical performers who portray the Major Arcana and Queens of the tarot.”

She adds, “Our cultural climate and the need for social justice demand thoughtful discourse through lenses of heritage, identity, race, religion, ability and gender.” Let’s hope that audiences at the Vortex—and at theater companies across Austin—are listening.

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