Vortex Repertory, Austin: Annual Report, 2020 - 2022


The VORTEX 2020-2022 Annual Report

Two performers pose during The VORTEX Odyssey, a masked, remote performance in The VORTEX neighborhood in late 2020.

Performers Laura Freeman and Blaise Ricin pose in Calypso’s Island during The VORTEX Odyssey.

As we enter our 35th year of Fearless Theatre, we have survived unprecedented challenges. The past few years were challenging for the whole world, and The VORTEX is still alive.

In March 2020, The City of Austin closed down. Theatre was deemed non-essential and The VORTEX was shuttered. Patrizi’s was able to stay open with carry-out. Everything else was quiet and the compound was empty. Folks were laid off, all pay was cut, and we lost benefits. Without box office and bar revenue, there was nothing to keep the business going. This was an existential crisis. We were able to get an EIDL federal emergency loan and then 2 PPP loans to help pay staff and pay the utilities. Patrizi’s sold our bottles of wine. In July, we launched Curbside Cocktails and then were finally able to re-open the bar with limited table service in the Garden when TABC changed up some rules. In July 2021, we finally re-opened The Butterfly Bar inside. We also received a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant in 2021 from a federal rescue program that helped shore up the losses of 2020.

While we were not making live performances, there was streaming, streaming, and more streaming. Managing Director, Melissa Vogt created events, combed the archives, hosted readings, classes, and Tías. The empty bar and theatre offered refuge during the Great Uprising, and the community donated first aid, water, gatorade, and snacks. I became a Deputy Voter Registar and registered folks to vote for the 2020 election. We even hosted a voting location inside the theatre for two elections.

Melissa Vogt streams a live performance at The VORTEX

Managing Director Melissa Vogt streams a performance during the shutdown. 
Check out this Austin Chronicle article.

As I went to the empty theatre to do the daily business of keeping things afloat, I began to envision theatre outside the theatre building–a sprawling event where people would stay in their cars and drive around the neighborhood to view some performers in masks and costumes performing something that had been pre-recorded. And so we made The VORTEX Odyssey and its online compliment, The VORTEX Odyssey: Underworld. Businesses in the neighborhood donated outdoor spots of their properties, and we transformed those spaces. Dozens of artists contributed their talents to make a 9-stop Odyssey for people to drive around and view from their cars. Production Manager, Teresa Cruz guided the many moving parts. That was October 2020, and we were all still masked with no vaccine. It was a ray of hope that we would still make theatre again no matter what.

Actor Michael Galvan performs as Hades in The VORTEX Odyssey.

Actor Michael Galvan performs as Hades in The Underworld during The VORTEX Odyssey.

In February of 2021, we were all traumatized by “Snowpocalyse”. Immediately after that week, business picked up briskly for Patrizi’s and The Butterfly Bar. It seems that folks had had enough of isolation, and the hardship of surviving during those bitterly cold days made us seek the comfort of belovéds and comradery in the Garden.

We received an NNPN Bridge Grant to support workshops of Valoneecia Tolbert’s Tales of a Blerd Ballerina. After several months of dramaturgy with Florinda Bryant, we presented a limited workshop in Spring 2021 which we streamed every night in and allowed masked audiences of 15 inside the theatre. The play went on to debut at The VORTEX in July 2022 and will tour to other cities over the next few years.

There was some sort of denial in the state of Texas that the pandemic was ongoing, and thus the Texas Commission awarded us a District Grant supporting work in Six Square Austin’s Black Cultural Arts District for the 2021 production of Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven by Reina Hardy, the largest production grant we had ever received. The vaccine was just rolling out, and it seemed unlikely/unwise that we would be able to do the show inside the theatre on the Eloise Brooks Cullum Stage. Associate Artistic Director Rudy Ramirez put together an extraordinary team and we moved the show outside, figuring out a way to do it with Patrizi’s and The Butterfly Bar all around the production. We sold tables and groups and people stayed socially distant. We toured the show to The Carver (they were still closed) and did it outside there too.

Actors Christina Blake and Oktavea LaToi check out the alien 8 ball in our production of Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven.

Our Summer Youth Theatre created its first devised project Pandemdem Edition: Another Great Depression which they performed in mask. Charles P. Stites did his one-man show, Straitjacket. We were crawling back towards theatre. But Delta was surging, so we moved Rap Unzel to the Garden Stage. It was hot. And challenging in all the same ways that Annie Jumphad been. I was eager to work within the controlled space of The VORTEX if we could find lower risk ways to work in rehearsal and performance.

We also successfully applied for and received three substantial TCA Cultural District Grants as collaborators in Six Square Austin’s Black Cultural District, 6 other small TCA grants, an NNPN Bridge Grant, and a Shuttered Venues Operator Grant. We pivoted our shuttered Butterfly Bar to curbside cocktails and table service for a year until we reopened inside in July 2021. We built a new, legal deck and have finally received a distinct Certificate of Occupancy for the Butterfly Bar. And we paved the parking lot after 27 years.

Financial Director, Krystle Cline, had two baby boys during the pandemic and Managing Director, Melissa Vogt is getting married in November. Many artists have moved away from Austin, while lots of new folks have graduated from college programs or arrived in Austin to pursue theatre.

Our new bar manager, Emma Robertson, is doing an excellent job training and retraining bar staff, and our sales continue to climb.

We have hired seven UT Workstudy students to assist in Administration, Technical, Box Office, and Butterfly Garden. We are thrilled to have so many students supporting our mission and learning job skills.

We hosted a Company Town Hall in September and plan to continue that work quarterly. The Fire and Brimstone Awards for the past 3 seasons happened October 1, 2022.

Meanwhile, the Austin theatre community, connected on-line, sharing resources, and supporting one another through an existential crisis of a time with no theatre. ATX Theatre arose strongly from the ashes, and we are making theatre again all around town as audiences return to live performances with hunger. https://www.atxtheatre.org/

It is an honor to help provide a cultural harbor for the magic that is happening here.

See you in The VORTEX.

Bonnie Cullum
Producing Artistic Director

The VORTEX Mission: We conjure urgent, unashamed art to create action in a shifting age. We embrace diverse communities, break down barriers, and elevate inclusive discourse from our cultural harbor in Austin, Texas. We enliven humanity with magical green new theatre at our Butterfly Bar and Sanctuary.

The VORTEX Core Values: Our core values are encompassed by the Pentacle of Integrity: Transformation, Magic, Community, Diversity, and Earth. Integrity lives at our core. We engage in radical transformation through edge-walking artistic creations and innovations. Magic emanates from our cultural harbor, engaging Spirit. Our space and our culture support expanding circles of inclusive community. Our art reflects diversity of people and voices from the global majority. Sustainability and environmentalism center Earth at our foundation.

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