All of Austin is a stage

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Summerset Theatre counts this production of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” among its many plays performed over the course of a summer. Summerset is just one example of the entertainment options offered in Austin. - Herald file photo

All the world’s a stage.

If Austin fits any mode of thought, it’s this. Like most towns the city between the rivers has its share of musicals, plays, and music performances.

What stands Austin apart from most, however, is just how many of these entertainment opportunities are available.

The Doors original member Ray Manzarek plays at the Paramount earlier this year. - Herald file photo

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Austin is a like a busy intersection where opportunities to both enjoy and take part in all come together to host one of the most vibrant scenes in Minnesota.

It terms of big-name shows, Austin probably won’t compete with the Twin Cities or even Mankato. But what Austin lacks in said acts, it more than makes up for in numerous small events that provided quality entertainment each time out.

Alice Holst is just one person out of an entire community filled with talent, and her involvement in things like the Austin Area Commission for the Arts, Summerset Theatre, and the Northwestern Singers — just to name a few — have left her with a front-row seat to everything performing on Austin’s stages.

“Austin has, I believe, for its size, more than most communities I’ve seen,” Holst said during a sit-down at one of Austin’s premier venues, the Paramount Theatre.

“In general, the arts are pretty amazing for a community our size. There are so many talented people in Austin,” she said.

The sheer number of things taking place throughout the year at the Paramount, Riverland Theatre, Austin Area Art Center and Austin’s schools are more than enough to occupy one’s time.

Holst, who has been involved in music since high school and has been acting since 1998, recognizes the contribution Austin’s performers make.

One of the best examples are the productions put on at Frank W. Bridges Theatre at Riverland Community College both through the RCC theater department and Summerset Theatre.

“Riverland, there is no place like Riverland as far as I’m concerned,” Holst said.

Aside from numerous plays put on by Riverland throughout the school year, there is also a summer’s-full of Summerset presentations.

“The shows at Riverland have something for everybody,” Holst said. “We have actors as young as 11 and as old as 70. It’s a great opportunity and it bridges the gap.”

Scott Anderson, theater operations manager for the Paramount, is another who has been in a good position to see the entertainment environment of Austin.

Having performed live for much of his life himself, he’s seen Austin and what’s its offered for a long time now.

“I was raised in Austin and I’ve been cogniscent since my early teens, probably earlier, that there is a lot going on,” Anderson said.

Anderson looks back to The Tower and its heydays as well as a vibrant bar scene that featured live acts.

“The rock has been excellent in Austin,” Anderson said. “In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s the bar scene always had live music. There were three or four places downtown.”

While the Paramount has always featured plenty of performances of varying types, there has been a move the last couple years to bring rock back to the historic theater’s stage that has seen a very positive response.

Earlier this year there was a four-band show promoted by Brian Underhill and featuring local band Arrows At Dawn. Underhill has another four-band show scheduled in July featuring Throw the Fight, Heavens Gate, Bad City Senseless Beauty.

It’s a combination of incoming acts and those ats within Austin that are featured each week.

“It’s amazing really,” Anderson said. “There’s so much talent from rock to classical to theater.”

A side component to all this is an education aspect. There are highly successful music programs at both Austin High School and Pacelli, but one of the best examples of this is the annual Benefit for Youth Music Program put on at St. Olaf Lutheran Church and featuring the Northwestern Singers.

The show also features performances from both high schools, Ellis Middle School, and an alternating elementary school.

The performance is capped by a mass performance of all the groups together.

“Seeing the looks on those kids faces is just amazing,” Holst said.

The benefit passed $33,000 with the last concert with money going to help local school music programs.

As good as the scene is there can always be improvement.

“What all of the performing arts groups, I think, could do better is get the word out,” Holst said. “Try to get more people to attend shows.