The opportunity to write, direct and act in an original play outside of an academic setting is not easy to find in El Paso. Addressing the need to foster local creativity for individuals of all backgrounds, actors Austin Savage and Carlos Rubalcava created the Border Theatre to do just that five summers ago.
Rubalcava and Savage agreed that they didn’t want their company to follow a conventional format, and the formation of the Border Theatre itself ensured that the organization wouldn’t be your average performance company.
We found ourselves with 17 people who for the most part did not come from traditional theater backgrounds, so we built a system around their strengths,” Savage said. “Our process is developing process, so we adjust and re-mold depending on the members.”
Border Theatre’s home, the Glasbox, also helped shape the company. Its warehouse setting means that there are no traditional stage lights, auditorium seats, giant red curtains or a raised platform to serve as a stage.
“We don’t have the facility or the necessary structure to perform conventionally, so for us, it’s always been a matter of adaptation and survival,” Savage said. “And adaptation and survival has spread our creativity. It has forced us to think about things differently.”
The first production was Exhibitions in Dis/Connection, an annual performance that showcases original short plays. From having the plays performed simultaneously in different parts of the Glasbox one year to the concept of a human zoo in which cages separated performers from spectators another year, Exhibitions in Dis/Connection broke the mold of the type of theater El Pasoans were used to experiencing.
This past July, the show featured plays written by the Rio Grande Writers’ Room, a subgroup formed by the Border Theatre that is open to the public and explores individual story ideas and scripts at the Glasbox every Wednesday evening. At the show, audience members were prompted to migrate to every corner of the Glasbox as each play began, inducing laughter, tension and curiosity.
Productions such as Exhibitions in Dis/Connection gave Rubalcava the chance to take on endeavors outside of acting.
“I never tried my hand at writing or directing before,” Rubalcava said. “I’ve gotten much better. It’s been a playground to try new things that I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to do in other places.”
The company’s first full-length play, Vultures at the Well, was written by four of its members and follows the journey of a mother who defies the gods as she ventures through a wasteland to find her son. The story was portrayed in an abstract manner, leading the audience to interpret the story through symbolism and poetic implications. While the nature of the play challenged the audience’s very understanding of the story, Savage said the intention of the work created at Border Theatre isn’t to draw specific feelings or moral conclusions from audience members.
“I’m more interested in the process,” Savage said. “I think if you have an idea worth exploring, then you explore the idea. You don’t go in with a pre-existing answer.”
Last year, The Fall of Wallace Winter, a play that satirizes traditional American ideals and egoism, was chosen to be a part of the El Paso Community Foundation’s Jewel Box Series, which showcases regional work at the Philanthropy Theatre. The play received such positive reception that UTEP Associate Professor Ross Fleming will revive the play at the Fox Fine Arts Studio Theatre from Sept. 16-20.
The Border Theatre was also selected to once again participate in the Jewel Box Series, returning to the intimate Philanthropy Theatre on Nov. 13-15 with a production of The Lovely Rain, a story about an isolated prodigy who looks after his sister while keeping up with a mysterious woman who visits him every week.
As the Border Theatre pushes forward through every project, more locals learn what it has to offer.
“That’s the basic idea: you stick around long enough and you earn your reputation,” Savage said. “People will eventually come on board and the company will build a niche for everybody.”
To learn more about the Border Theatre, visit BorderTheatre.org &
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The Fall of Wallace Winter
Adults $13, faculty/staff,
$11 non-UTEP students,
$9 for UTEP students
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