The Vortex Mission

We conjure and navigate the storm of imagination
with urgent, unashamed art that dares to dream the world in which we want to live. 

This magic emanates from our cultural harbor, 
embraces diverse communities, breaks down barriers, and opens channels for vital exchange.



The VORTEX creates and presents new, innovative performances—world premiere plays, operas, musicals, ritual theatre, and devised collaborations. The VORTEX transgresses conventional theatrical forms with multidisciplinary performances from diverse traditions. Music, film, dance, opera, aerial arts, puppetry, and performance art contribute to our vibrant theatre. We are an artist-owned and operated theater and have produced over 350 productions. We are proud to have always engaged in non-traditional casting. The VORTEX has presented work by dozens of famous cutting-edge artists and is internationally renowned as a haven for alternative performance. Our work has received more than 100 major awards and hundreds of nominations for artistic excellence in production, design, acting, performance, directing, playwriting, choreography, and musical composition.

The VORTEX fosters educational programming, including our award-winning Summer Youth Theatre. For 25 years, The VORTEX’s Summer Youth has teamed teenagers with adult professionals in a fully produced play from a diverse cannon of exceptional dramatic literature. This free program has impacted the lives of students and artistic mentors for more than a generation. Internships and work-study jobs integrate university students into The VORTEX, providing them with valuable theatre experience outside of academia.

The VORTEX anchors a dynamic and cherished home for the arts of the 21st century, located in East Austin and open year round. Co-productions and rentals support many theatre companies, artists, musicians, and service organizations. The Butterfly Bar @The VORTEX is open seven nights a week and provides a cultural harbor and distinct destination for community events including arts markets, librarian happy hour, TGQ meet-ups, trivia, dance and fitness classes, fundraisers, local music showcases, and gallery art openings as well as some of Austin’s best handcrafted cocktails and a specially designed drink to pair with every production. 

The VORTEX contributes to the vitality of Austin’s economy, creating dozens of full-time jobs and paying artists. We are members of the Austin Creative Alliance, the Network of Ensemble Theaters, and the Theatre Communications Group. We are a leader in the Austin New Works Community and the Austin theatre community. We have been recognized as a Platinum Level Green Business leader—we have always recycled are now composting. We have created a thriving butterfly sanctuary certified by the North American Butterfly Association.


Widely-recognized as the pioneering leader in Austin’s alternative theatre scene, VORTEX Repertory Company was founded in 1988 by University of Texas at Austin graduate students Bonnie Cullum, Steve Bacher, Lurana Donnels O’Malley, and Sean O’Malley. Forged to create relevant theatrical work and push boundaries of form and content, The VORTEX helped change the palate of what was possible in Austin’s theatre scene. 

In 1989, The VORTEX produced its first season at Mexic-Arte Museum in downtown Austin. After several devised, political plays, and performance art works, we had runaway success with our adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and Václav Havel’s Temptation, and we decided to continue our experiments. In January 1990, we opened our own venue in an enormous movie triplex on East Ben White Blvd. We became an official 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt theater in 1991. The VORTEX operated this thriving compound with three theaters and spacious lobby until 1994, when the property was torn down for redevelopment.  

After a long, hot search of Austin’s available properties, The VORTEX moved to an abandoned warehouse on Manor Road and began a endless, heroic transformation of the dilapidated space into a theater. We opened in October 1994 as Planet Theatre, a grand experiment with a vision of the multi-use artistic harbor that we desired for the space. We rented scaffolding and installed insulation. We battled with the challenges of the old mid 20th-century tin building. We began with no air conditioning or heat and porta-potties for restrooms, as we built The VORTEX one small step at a time. In 1999, after five years of progress and improvements to the venue, a family LLC purchased the property for us, and we changed the venue’s name to The VORTEX.

The VORTEX was the first theater to establish a home on Austin’s historically-underserved Eastside, laying the foundations for what has become a blossoming arts and entertainment district. In 2005, we obtained a beer and wine license to support the audience’s theatre experience and generate more revenue to pay for the facility. In 2011, we transformed The VORTEX’s Café into The Butterfly Bar. In 2013, we obtained a full mixed beverage license, and Patrizi’s Italian food truck joined our compound providing a long-awaited addition of food. In 2016, Sno.Co began serving shaved ice in our parking lot. Open seven nights a week in East Austin, The VORTEX continues to anchor a cultural hub, a butterfly sanctuary, dynamic theatrical productions, and a comfortable environment for deepening our conversations surrounded by fresh Italian dinners and top-notch cocktails.


VORTEX serves a broad audience in Central Texas, with a three-county population of more than two million. Live Streaming of productions on reaches a global market of those who are physically unable to come to the theatre. Our diverse audience includes people of all ages and genders, LatinX and African-American patrons, VORTEX’s ethnically diverse Eastside neighborhood, 50,000 University of Texas students, faculty, and staff, students from dozens of other colleges, LGBTQ patrons, persons with disabilities, and at-risk youth. Austin’s unique environment favors independent thinking, political activism, feminism, history, and art.  

The VORTEX generates new audiences through outreach to special constituencies. We continue to provide American Sign Language Interpreted performances. The VORTEX keeps its performances economically accessible to all audiences with sliding scale tickets and Free Radical Rush Tickets as part of the gift economy. The VORTEX has an ongoing food drive for SafePlace (a shelter for women and children) as another way for our patrons to give back to the community.


The VORTEX ensemble is a family of artists that includes actors, designers, directors, composers, playwrights, choreographers, dancers, aerialists, musicians, and technicians. Our company of 84 active players (identifying as 58 female/26 male) have been creating, devising, and crafting theatre together for 5, 15, and more than 25 years! Many members of the ensemble are multi-talented and wear multiple hats including designer, technician, director, stage manager, playwright, composer, choreographer, and actor. Our ensemble’s diversity of skills, ethnicity, gender identity, and life experience enriches our work. Our cultural heritages are broad and inclusive: LatinX, Asian-American, African-American, Kurdish, Lebanese, French Canadian, Scottish, Sicilian, Irish, Mexican, African, Filipino, Polynesian, mixed race, and 5th generation Texan. Some of us work full-time as artists. Some of us have children. Some of us are teachers. Some of us are activists. We are queer and straight, Pagan and Christian, vegan and omnivore. We range in age from 20-70. We are united in our commitment to the creation of work that helps change the world. 


Bonnie Cullum co-founded The VORTEX in Austin in 1988. At the heart of The VORTEX organization throughout its entire history, she has moved the company and venue forward with her vision and perseverance. As Producing Artistic Director, she has collaborated with the ensemble of VORTEX artists to create and present 29 seasons of new work—more than 350 innovative and distinct productions. In 2009, Cullum was honored by the Austin Critics’ Table and inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame. She received an MFA in Directing from University of Texas at Austin and a BA in Theatre from the University of Kansas. She has devised dozens of new pieces from concept to performance. She writes, directs, shapes, and produces interactive performance events, ritual theatre, original musicals, CyberOperas, and performance art. While she has directed many new plays, her current work has evolved to devised large-scale projects by the ensemble and ritual theatre with sacred elements. Thrice honored as Austin’s Best Director by the Austin Chronicle, Cullum has been nominated for dozens of outstanding directing awards and received B. Iden Payne Awards for Best Director for Sarah Silver Hands (2011, NEA-funded opera), Troades: The Legend of the Women of Troy (2008, original play with music), Moby Dick (2002, original play adapted from Melville), and Despair's Book of Dreams and the Sometimes Radio (2000, original musical). She founded The VORTEX's award-winning Summer Youth Theatre in 1991 to provide free theatre opportunities for youth, nurturing several generations of young artists. She teaches theatre, acting, directing, and ritual workshops and classes in Germany, British Columbia, Northern California, Minneapolis, and Texas. Cullum is internationally recognized for her experimental productions and her advocacy of cutting-edge artists. 

we are a Member of the..

  • National New Play Network
  • Network of Ensemble Theaters
  • Theatre Communications Guild
  • Austin Creative Alliance
  • Austin New Works Community
  • Upper Boggy Creek Planning Team
  • Founder of East Austin Live