On September 21st & 22nd, 2013, in the shadow of Austin’s Decker Power Plant, Forklift premiered PowerUP—a performance featuring the employees and machinery of Austin Energy (AE). With lighting design by Stephen Pruitt and an original musical score by Graham Reynolds, accompanied by a string orchestra led by Austin Symphony Conductor Peter Bay and featuring "digital violin" soloist Todd Reynolds, PowerUP showcased 50+ linemen, electrical technicians and AE employees in a choreographed full-length dance with cranes, bucket and field trucks, a set of 20 utility poles, and an audience of 6,000+ people!
Artistic Director Allison Orr and her team, including fellow choreographer Krissie Marty, shadowed and got to know these employees for over three years. Read about the process of building the dance in The Austin Chronicle cover story by arts writer Robert Faires. More information about the dance's creation and performance, including post-show interviews with the performing linemen, can be found on our blog. PowerUP is also the subject of a PBS/Arts in Context documentary, broadcast in over 85 million homes.
The performing employees, technicians, and linemen are true cowboys—people who are willing to do whatever it takes, in all kinds of weather and at great personal risk, to make sure you and I can turn the lights on every day. In creating PowerUP we hoped that Austinites would gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the work of these vital but often unseen men and women. As one audience member commented after the performance, “I now see talented and dedicated individuals not a pack of anonymous uniforms.”
Forklift conducted two post-project evaluations of PowerUP—surveying the participating AE employees once in the month following the performances and then again 6 months later. The surveys were designed to assess each participant’s personal experience in PowerUP, as well as the overall effectiveness of the project.
Survey results indicate that PowerUP was overwhelmingly successful in terms of achieving the goals outlined for the project: to educate Austinites about the vital but often invisible work of AE employees and thereby increase the public’s appreciation of them, to showcase the expertise and inherent artistry in the work of AE employees, to improve morale and pride in the job of AE employees, and to provide AE with a unique public education opportunity.
100% of performing employees surveyed in the month after the event agreed that PowerUP improved the general public’s understanding of what they do on a daily basis to bring people power. 100% of survey respondents likewise agreed that PowerUP improved the image of AE employees held by the general Austin public. One PowerUP performer commented six months after the event, “I still get people walk[ing] up to me in the field saying we have a new found respect for you guys and what you do day-to-day in keeping the lights on.”
100% of survey respondents agreed that PowerUP had an overall positive effect on both individual employees of AE and the department on a whole, and 86% of participants who responded to the first survey reported that PowerUP increased morale and pride in the job for AE employees. 100% of performing employees surveyed 6 months after the event said they would recommend doing a project like PowerUP to another company or municipal agency, and 96% said they would participate in PowerUP again.
“PowerUP was a unique opportunity to show how great out team is to the community and our costumers, an opportunity for them to see us in a different way,” explains Chief Operating Officer of AE Cheryl Mele. “Our clients and customers now have a more personal connection to the people who work here and, more than that, an appreciation for the people who do the work. It created a fan base for us.”
“PowerUP far exceeded my expectations,” reflects Dan Smith of AE’s Distribution Engineering & Technical Services. “The benefits are a boost in morale and community image. It generated camaraderie between people from the different silos in the organization. By engaging our employees, we’re also improving the way we satisfy customers. Austin Energy was fortunate in having Forklift Danceworks to do this. It was a once in a lifetime experience.”
PowerUP participants have described their experience working with Forklift as fun, magical, motivating, inspiring, informative, energizing, challenging, rewarding, awesome, jaw-dropping, exciting, insightful, amazing, educational, fabulous, outstanding, unique, beautiful…
“As a power utility employee, I am always impressed by the design of power poles and lines, substations and circuit breakers, generators and transformers,” comments one PowerUP audience member. “Until PowerUP, however, I had never thought of the work as an art form. Forklift Danceworks turned the subject matter that I love into a work of moving art before our eyes.”
Another PowerUP audience member writes, “My four-year-old daughter was deeply affected by the performance. Linemen, which she also calls ‘power dancers’ permeate her play, as she pretends to set and climb polls and string wire. When she plugs something in now she talks about where the electricity is coming from and the people who make it possible. She seems to have the idea that they are always out there… in the sky. She talks about how thankful she is for all the lineman because they give us power. She will never see electricity in the same way again.”
Other audience members at PowerUP have characterized the performance as dazzlingly imaginative, breathtaking, full of heart, enlightening, enthralling, thoughtful, clever, one-of-a-kind, spectacular, touching, brilliant, impactful, ennobling, inspiring, magnificent, innovative, evocative, genius, powerful, magical, stunning, heart-warming, meaningful…