We more often discuss theatre’s ephemeral nature than dwell on our own mortality. But in Steve Moore’s Adam Sultan, which runs through April 19 at Salvage Vanguard Theater as part of Austin’s Fusebox Festival, death and theatre are intricately intertwined.
While volunteering at Chicago’s Field Museum, Moore was inspired by the million-plus jars in its biology collection, containing everything from eels to beetles to seaweed. Though the objects were dead, Moore was fascinated by how the jars were “a particular version of death where the whole purpose is to point really eagerly at life.” Thinking about his own community of friends and theatre artists in Austin, Moore began to wonder: “What will be the dead things that someday point at the lives we’re living now?”
Adam Sultan is a real-life Austinite—a musician, composer, dancer, writer, performer and teacher, and he plays his affable self in the eponymously named show. Only the year is 2052 and Adam, now an octogenarian, has become cantankerous. His wife, along with many of his friends, has passed away. His community has come apart but he keeps collecting an archive of jars filled with objects of the dead.
Meanwhile, hooded puppeteers recite a roll call of real-life Austinites and their imagined causes of death. Leading up to performances, “Jar Parties” were held wherein community members brought important objects and gave interviews about the object’s significance and regrets they may have later in life. The parties, which hosted a couple of hundred people at a time, were merry but maudlin affairs. “They were fun parties,” admits Moore, “but they also felt like communal wakes for a bunch of people who are still alive.”