ArtSpot Productions previewed former ensemble member and longtime collaborator Jeff Becker's Sea of Common Catastrophe at the company's shared home, Catapult, in the Bywater in early May. The back end of the warehouse space was configured to feature a dock with video projections of fish and turtles swimming underneath. The space also featured a trendy small plates restaurant and a representation of an increasingly crowded New Orleans neighborhood in an abstract piece contemplating social and environmental changes.
The idea for the work was hatched more than a decade ago, says ArtSpot founder and Director Kathy Randels. Though much longer than most ArtSpot shows' development, that's the nature of a company that for 20 years has focused on ensemble-generated original works.
"One of ArtSpot's challenges in staying in New Orleans' audiences consciousness is that we take a long time to make each piece," Randels says. "People think we go away, but we've been deep in the creative cave or touring."
This weekend, ArtSpot celebrates its 20th anniversary with a perfor-mance of the Sea of Common Catastrophe preview (8:30 p.m. Thursday), representations of all of the company's productions and a performance of Rage Within/Without by The Graduates (7 p.m. Friday), a performing group of formerly incarcerated women. The Graduates is an offshoot of one of ArtSpot's longest-running components, weekly drama workshops at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women at St. Gabriel. Randels and members of ArtSpot and Kumbuka have maintained the program since 1996.
Women murderers inspired Randels' solo show Rage Within/Without, which she created while a student at Northwestern University in the early 1990s. She revamped the show based on interviews with 16 women who killed abusive partners and performed it at the Dixon Correctional Center in Illinois. She created ArtSpot Productions to tour the show, which she did for 12 years, most of it after moving home to New Orleans.
In the past two decades, the company has grown to six members and shrunk back to two: Randels and Sean LaRocca, who writes and performs most of the music for ArtSpot shows. ArtSpot has worked with more than 100 theater, visual and performance artists, dancers and others, and more than 60 will participate in a Saturday marathon (7 a.m.-midnight), featuring 30-minute and hourlong segments revisiting each of ArtSpot's shows, including scenes, songs, original props and costumes and discussion by performers.
ArtSpot shows have explored a variety of subjects, sometimes in outdoor and site-specific environ-ments. Flight is a whimsical contem-plation of the desire to fly. The libertine Kiss Kiss Julie is an interactive show exploring gender and sexual desire. Maria Kizito examined the role of a Rwandan nun in the nation's 1994 genocide. Other shows interpreted the works and worlds of Tennessee Williams (To Flee, Flee This Sad Hotel) and Anton Chekhov (Chekhov's Wild Ride). The Acadiana-set werewolf piece Loup Garou reflected on the degradation of land and culture brought on by the oil industry in south Louisiana.
Many shows have strong con-nections to social justice or activism. The 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened just before the company took Loup Garou on tour.
"It was like we became ambas-sadors while oil was gushing in the Gulf," Randels says. "Here we are talking about what is happening to our land while it is happening."
The company's 2013 show Cry You One was an interactive drama about coastal erosion set on a levee bordering lost forest. It became the company's best-supported work in terms of grants and activist partnerships. ArtSpot will remount the show locally and tour with it in 2017 as it rolls out Sea of Common Catastrophe.