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Jason Phelps. (Photo by Leon Alesi)
Jason Phelps. (Photo by Leon Alesi)

Jason Phelps’s Banquet of Empathy

In ‘Feast of My Heart’ at Salvage Vanguard, eight playwrights and eight directors approach the theme of compassion. But don’t call it a holiday show.

AUSTIN: Multi-disciplinary performer Jason Phelps’s latest project Feast of My Heart, which plays at Salvage Vanguard Theater Dec. 11–20, is nothing short of a banquet of collaboration.

Interested in exploring the idea of empathy from multiple perspectives, Phelps asked eight playwrights he admires and has worked with to write brief solo pieces on the question, “What does it mean to engage in an act of compassion?”

“Eight is significant to me,” says Phelps. “I had the idea for this show and picked an animal Tarot card around New Year’s—it was an eight, which represents a spider, so the spider is a symbol of creativity and making a web. Compassion is connected to the number eight in Buddhist thinking and practice. And my birthday has eights in it, plus eight is the symbol of infinity, so it’s very significant.”

Phelps’s playwrights hail from across the country as well as from his own backyard. The Austin contingent includes such heavy hitters as Kirk Lynn, C. Denby Swanson and Zell Miller, while scribes from elsewhere—Daniel Alexander Jones, Ruth Margraff, Erik Ehn, Lisa D’Amour, and Josh Meyer and Matt Hisplope (of Rubber Repertory)—round out the slate.

Eight meditations on compassion should justly have eight different directors, and Phelps has wrangled eight of Austin’s finest—Shawn Sides, Jenny Larson, Ken Webster, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Christi Moore, Lowell Batholomee, Vicky Boone and Margery Segal—to helm and these multimedia solo pieces. They range in medium from dance to monologues, multi-character plays, a poem, a score and a film.

Though 16 collaborating artists might seem like an ample spread, this feast has more. Eight Austin-based visual artists have taken the performance works Phelps performs in, and responded to these prompts. These creations are on display in Salvage Vanguard’s gallery space. What’s for dessert? A symposium on “Compassion, Community and the Arts” on Dec. 20 is a sweet reward for thoughtful community engagement—Phelps is donating 50 percent of ticket sales to the Sustainable Food Center of Austin. Buon appetito!

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