LAWRENCE, KANS.: The 11-year-old Austin-based theatre company Rubber Repertory is known for experimental works that push boundaries and capitalize on elements of surprise and stunt. (In The Casket of Passing Fancy, performers auctioned off experiences with audience members, such as a road trip to Juarez, Mexico, and the chance to get one’s name tattooed on a performer’s butt.) But this year Matt Hislope and Josh Meyer, the duo behind Rubber Rep, have embarked on an entirely new project: a pop-up artist residency.
Pilot Balloon is located in a church in Lawrence, Kans., and will host some 70-plus artists over the course of the coming year. A fundraising appeal in May raised $9,186 to help subsidize housing expenses and utilities. Artists pay for travel, give $50 for each week of residency and spend one or two hours weekly with the local community. (Residencies are one to four weeks long.) Hislope and Meyer estimate that over the course of the year they will pay about 60 percent of the church’s total monthly rent ($1,295). “This all came together in about 10 minutes,” said Meyer during the project’s first month. “We had no plans to start an artists’ colony, but I stumbled upon the rental listing for a church, and it set something buzzing in my brain. I reposted it on Facebook and joked, ‘We should all move to Kansas and live in this old church and make theatre and stuff.’ Thankfully, I have friends who call my bluff.” Meyer confessed that he avoided the phrase “artists’ colony” when he talked to the space’s owner: “I was worried it would bring to mind communes and sex cults. But we’re not planning anything too extravagant, so he’s been very supportive.”
The roster of residents includes 74 artists from a total of four countries and 10 states. Hislope said they invited “experimental artists of all disciplines,” but the majority work in the theatre. “The projects run the gamut,” said Meyer, from plays about Lyme disease and death metal to a “food-based performance in which the town’s sins will be grilled into cheese sandwiches.” Added Hislope: “Oh, and there’s a performer who’s working on some short plays for horses.” Sounds like quite a ride.