Sayonara, Synergy

At the end of May, while this writer was out of town enjoying the awesome resources of the Denver Performing Arts Complex (eight theatres, over 9,000 seats), he missed the passing of one of Austin's less imposing but no less important performing arts spaces. On May 31, Synergy Studio, the dance studio/theatre space/rehearsal hall/classroom that has been an outpost for the arts on West Fifth Street since 1990, closed. According to a notice from the folks at Dance Umbrella, which had operated the venue, Synergy had simply become too much of a fiscal drain. At the time of its closing, DU was having to foot the bill for two-thirds of the studio's rent and utilities, and with that burden month in, month out, the umbrella was having its life sucked away.

Losing Synergy is a damn shame, not so much because it was such an incredible space -- it was your standard studio: big and boxy -- but because of what it offered Austin artists: another accessible, affordable room in which they could work. Although it seems sometimes like cute little performance dives cover Austin like freckles, the truth is the number of reasonably equipped, reliable performance venues in town can be counted using your fingers and a few toes. And for dance spaces, you don't even need all your fingers. In Synergy, Austin has lost an invaluable resource for performance.

It has also lost another important piece of its cultural history. Synergy Studio was the site of much remarkable creative work, and the names of the local artists who created memorable art there would fill a month of columns and more: Deborah Hay, Diana Prechter, Margery Segal, Jimmy Turner, Toni Bravo, and the late, great Heywood "Woody" McGriff; Ariel Dance Theatre, Johnson/Long Dance Company, Body Choir; Big State, Pro Arts, root wy'mn, Salvage Vanguard, The Public Domain. And the roster of visiting artists is astonishing, encompassing Paul Bonin-Rodriguez, Fred Curchack, Paula Hunter, Nina Martin, Robert Moses, 33 Fainting Spells, Australia's Red Mole, and the former Yugoslavia's Dah Teatar.

DU insists that the closing of the West Fifth Street Synergy does not mean it has given up its dream of a community space for performing artists. In its new offices at 4101 Medical Parkway, #204, the umbrella staff and board are embarking on a new era for DU, one they say will eventually include a new facility. If you want to applaud that idea -- or applaud DU for eight years of Synergy -- call `em at 450-0456.

Things to Do in Denver When You're Critical...

The reason for my recent visit to the Mile High City was the annual conference of the American Theatre Critics Association. Our convention hosts gave us plenty to do, mostly seeing show after show by Denver theatre groups, including the Denver Center Theatre Company, recipient of the 1998 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre (which was recommended for the award by the ATCA membership). However, my colleagues from Austin -- Michael Barnes and Jamie Smith Canterra of the Austin American-Statesman -- and I managed to find time to increase our influence in this national group. Smith Canterra took a seat on the ATCA Ethical Standards Committee (not the oxymoron it might sound), and Barnes was voted onto the association's Executive Committee. He joins me on that nine-member committee, giving Austin 20% control of that body. It may not be world domination, but hey, it's a start.

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