It’s never easy being the new kid on the block when you're a theater company. Austin already has more production companies than it does performance venues, and in a town where both physical space and audience attention is at a premium, it’s only getting more difficult for new companies to get their start.
That’s not a deterrent for two companies that staged their first productions within the past few months: the Filigree Theatre and Permanent Record. Filigree’s Betrayal and Permanent Record’s Dry Land were each dynamic, evocative shows that helped make the latter part of 2017 so strong for Austin theater. And now, with 2018 underway, both companies are eyeing continued growth in the new year.
The Filigree Theatre was co-founded by producer Stephanie Moore and director Elizabeth V. Newman, in an effort to connect Austin to theater communities in New York and Los Angeles (both women have worked in all three cities), and to incubate emerging theater artists in Austin. So far, Newman finds that “as a city and as an arts community, Austin is, on the whole, very welcoming to, and supportive of, Filigree as a female-driven production company.”
Permanent Record is also a female-driven company, inspired in part by out-of-town connections. The company’s founder, actress Lindsey Markham, is originally from Austin, and worked in Chicago for a time as the literary manager of a theater company. As she discovered, though, “the Chicago theater scene is extremely competitive, and companies pounce on the rights to new shows the second they hit New York. After doing some research, I found out that the majority of plays that were off the table in Chicago hadn't been produced in Austin yet.”
So Markham founded Permanent Record in order to expose Austin audiences to powerful and provocative new works, explaining that “with Permanent Record, I want to focus on plays that cut through the ideological debate loop we often get stuck in to the human beings at the heart of it. A play that's genuinely innovative, surprising and thought provoking can't be too concerned with playing it safe.”
As for the constrictions imposed by the limited amount of performance space in town, both companies feel hopeful for the future.
“Working within constraints can sometimes lead to surprising creative choices and inspiration,” says Newman. Markham, meanwhile, believes that, “the silver lining to the venue crisis, like with most challenges, is that it's forcing us to come together to talk about why this is happening and what we can do to change it.”
Both companies have big plans for the coming year, with a focus on premiering new and challenging works: Filigree Theatre will produce the Austin premiere of Anna Ziegler’s A Delicate Ship on Feb 15-25 at the Santa Cruz Theatre, while Permanent Record will soon be announcing plans for two full-length productions in 2018 (check back on their website for more details).