BWW Interview: Devin Finn and Nick Kier of Theatre Synesthesia
One of Austin's most innovative theatre companies is Theatre Synesthesia, which has been recently recognized with awards from both BroadwayWorld and the Austin Critic's Table. We had an opportunity to sit down with two of the company founders, Devin Finn and Nick Kier to find out more about this company that, of late, has been creating so much buzz in the Austin theatre community.
BWW: Can you tell us a little about Theatre Synesthesia's history? How did the group come to be? Who were the original founders?
Nick: Devin and I both went to Texas State University, where Jeremy Torres was teaching. In the spring of 2012, after we had graduated, Jeremy reached out to both us, saying he admired our work as actors and would love for us to be involved in the workshop of a play he was obsessed with. That play was Casey Wimpee's Marfa Lights. We did two public performances of that play. About a month later Jeremy sat Nick and I down in his kitchen and said he really loved working with us and he wants to continue to do so. He presented two options. We could enter Marfa Lights into Austin's Fronterafest OR we could band together and produce it ourselves. THAT was when Theatre Synesthesia was born. (Our company name comes from a monologue from Marfa Lights where one of the characters talks in poetic detail about synesthesia, the neurological condition.) We did a two week run of Marfa Lights and another one of Casey's plays, Kansas City Book of the Dead in the summer of 2012.
BWW: Who are the people currently running the company?
Nick: Devin and I are co-founders and are tasking ourselves with the direction and continuation of our company. While Jeremy was our artistic director, we have decided to both take on those creative duties without delineating the title to anyone specifically.
BWW: What is your company's mission?
Devin: We seek to engage our community with provocative performance, producing bold, new and contemporary stories in engaging, non traditional forms.
BWW: Was there someone at Texas State University who was a major influence on you?
Devin: Although not a specific influence at the time, Jeremy was the spark that brought us all together, including our current company members. It was his artistic vision, his creative mind that brought people into our world.
BWW: How many productions has the company done?
Nick: As of Butcher Holler Here We Come, we have put on five productions.
BWW: You have produced two Casey Wimpee plays now, with PONTIAC FIREBIRD VARIATIONS and, most recently, BUTCHER HOLLER HERE WE COME. How did his work first come to your attention? What attracted you to his work? Are there any plans for more of his plays?
Nick: Casey's work has actually been our sole repertoire. It started with Jeremy obsessing over Marfa Lights and every time we read another one of his plays (he has about 40), we were obsessed again. Casey's writing is very poetic and has this intrinsic quality of showing the audience something terrible and ugly yet turning that feeling on it's head into something beautiful. As an actor, his work is incredibly fun to unpack and dig through. I usually equate it to working on Shakespeare, where meter and language play and explore as often as the characters. We are one of two companies that have access to these works. We feel extremely lucky to get to do them and we have dubbed him our unofficial resident playwright. Although we are very open to stepping away from his plays, we will continue to produce his work as long as he lets us. The world needs to see these plays and we feel honored to be one of the only two vessels to bring them to our community.
BWW: What are your short term goals?
Devin: We hope to ride the success and momentum of Butcher Holler Here We Come and produce another show at the end of the year. What that is? We don't know! We are on the hunt and have given ourselves a deadline to choose! We hope to be in pre-production by mid-August.
BWW: Where do you see Theatre Synesthesia in five years?
Devin: Renting out, no OWNING, the top ten floors of the Frost Building and performing on the roof with Daniel Day-Lewis. But in all seriousness, Nick and I are ever-evolving artists and could be anywhere doing anything five years from now. Theatre Synesthesia is in a "one show at a time" stage with no long term expectations or goals. But as long as we are here and healthy, we will continue to produce work as a company.
BWW: Can you tell us about your recent collaboration with Aztec Economy?
Nick: Aztec Economy is a brilliant company out of New York, and they have actually been somewhat of a muse for us a company, acting as an inspiration for all the work we have done. They are the only other company producing Casey Wimpee's work. He actually writes most of his plays with Aztec's company members specifically in mind. Cole Wimpee, Casey's identical twin brother, runs Aztec Economy with a tight knit group of actors and directors. Jeremy did his undergrad at Texas State with Cole, Michael Mason and Isaac Byrne, all members of Aztec and all cast members in our production of Butcher Holler. So the connection to Aztec economy is deep and I'd dare to say that we wouldn't have happened if they weren't doing it first. Cole reached out to Devin last August with interest in bringing Butcher Holler to Austin and collaborating with Theatre Synesthesia. This was 3 months after Jeremy passed and at the time we had no idea what we would do next, if anything at all. This collaboration just made sense as our first production without Jeremy at the helm. Devin said many times that Jeremy would lose his shit if he knew that we were doing Butcher Holler TOGETHER. He loved all of us, in both companies, DEEPLY.
BWW: What is the driving force behind your choice of such eclectic work?
Nick: Jeremy introduced us to this work and I can't imagine doing anything that isn't something as fun and dark and raucous.
Devin: As a life long actor and theatre artist, I will be the first to admit that the theatre can be a very boring place! In 2017, in the era of instant entertainment and 15 second, snap chat attention spans, the concept of sitting through a 3 hour play, with an intermission in the traditional proscenium is dying, if not already dead. If we want to keep the art of live theatre alive, it has to change with the times we live in. We have to do tight, engaging, intimate work. I truly believe we need to redefine what the theatre is and what it can bring to its community. That is our driving force!
BWW: You just recently received the Austin Critics Table Perseverance Award. Can you give our readers a little background on why that was such an apt award?
Nick: In May of last year, our lives got rocked with the blindsided news that Jeremy had died in a car accident. He helped shape ourselves into artists, brought us together as a company, directed our productions as well as our lives. He was truly a guiding light for Devin and I and every single student he ever had. We had no idea what we would do next, how we would do it or if we would do anything at all. Jeremy had this way of bringing artists together and Cole, along with the company at Aztec Economy, swooped in and gave us the boost we needed. It's this amazing community that you don't even know surrounds you. It's good people that create a history and you find yourself immersed and a part of that history and they lift you up and you are able to do the same and continue that tradition.
BWW: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Nick: Keep making cool shit.
Devin: Nick and I met the Rock in Miami a few months ago and ever since then, my life motto has been "WWTRD". What would the Rock do? It should be everyone's motto.