"To Dionysus!": Austin's Dionysium debate and lecture series celebrates its100th show
Every month since 2004, the Dionysium — Austin's long-running salon-style debate and lecture series — has started with a toast to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry who provides the inspiration for each mirthful orgy of knowledge.
On Wednesday, the Dionysium will be raising their full glasses to honor that god of epiphany for bestowing upon them the honor of their 100th show in Austin.
And while the format and focus has streamlined throughout the 8 years of its existence, Wednesday's show will still closely resemble the magic that was created a century of shows ago, with lectures, debates, cartoons and plenty of drinks.
The credit for the longevity and consistency of the show throughout the years is shared between its three original founders who have performed at nearly all 100 shows since 2004: Dionysium President LB Deyo, Chairman and co-host Buzz Moran and Music Maestro Graham Reynolds.
Fans will recognize all three of these names from their involvement with the touring company of their good friend Jason Neulander's The Intergalactic Nemesis, which includes Moran and Reynolds as performers and Deyo as an honest-to-goodness animated character.
"The Dionysium is only one example of a long string of projects that are not unlike the Dionysium," explains Moran, who is a master sound effects artist and sound mixer. He and Reynolds have collaborated on movie soundtracks and Alamo Drafthouse programming, for example, and Deyo and Moran produced Reynold's very first record of classical music.
"The three of us have something in common, I think: we tend to do things in collaboration," offers Deyo. "Graham plays with a band and organizes music events; Buzz does sound design for a number of theaters; I do design work and write for magazines. The end result is always collaborative."
"It just makes things better," adds Moran.
As legend has it, Deyo once performed in a similar show to the Dionysium in New York City entitled The Athenaeum, which promoted similar wine-inspired virtues as the current Lone Star show. ("It's always funny to me when people say this show is 'SO Austin' because it actually started in New York.")
Deyo met Moran in New York while a part of a touring rap group, and he invited Moran along to do sound mixing when the group went on tour to Austin. It was on this tour that Deyo formulated his plans to make a permanent move to Texas and start his own version of the Athenaeum.
"When [LB] called me up and said, 'I have an idea for a show,' there was absolutely no question about it. 'Yeah, that’s a fantastic idea,' I said," recalls Moran, who would soon become the perfect exuberant foil to Deyo's dry, calculating wit.
Once in Austin, Moran met the exacting and equally committed talent of the emerging Graham Reynolds through mutual friends. And after an initial meeting of the minds, the three realized they were on to something great.
The rest, as they say, is ancient history.
"I knew there was a hunger for this thing in general, and I was interested in connecting to that scene in a more direct way," explains Reynolds, who approaches the Dionysium as pragmatically as he does his music. "Grassroots and punk artists are just as valuable as the mainstream artists in entertainment, and with all the information in the world at our disposal, I know the appetite will only grow."
"When Buzz suggested we ask Graham to be a part of the show, I was intimidated, clearly, by this very serious musician," states Deyo, with a smile. "But he immediately showed how interested he was in the project, and I can't even fathom what it would have been like without him these past 100 shows."
With a solid foundation formed by a strong blend of philosophical and comical rhetoric, the trio's impressive circle of talented friends formed an immediate and exciting lineup for the show that has since boasted a cavalcade of established experts as performers.
"I think the presenter I'm the most proud of in all of our shows was the lawyer who debate Row v. Wade in front of the Supreme Court," recalls Moran. "The whole time, I kept thinking, 'Wow, she's here in our show.' And the lecture she gave that night was just riveting."
At Wednesday night's show, the expanded and highly committed Dionysium staff will be joined by a number of familiar faces to the stage for their centennial show, which is centered around the topic of Design.
Two "home run" presenters of recent memory, Austin Chronicle arts critic Robert Faires and St. Edward's chemistry professor Eamonn Healy will present lectures along with Moran and Reynolds and the Dionysium's newest member, "Worst Professor Ever" Amanda Krauss.
Dionysium debate moderator Dawn Youngs will oversee the evening's debate between President Deyo and the very first debater to take on that challenge back in 2004, the star of Richard Linklater's Up to Speed web series, Timothy "Speed" Levitch. Their resolution for the debate: "In design, form is more important than function."
Additionally, Lance "Fever" Meyers will be presenting one of his popular signature cartoons, Deyo will be presenting a retrospective film of the Dionysium's last eight years of existence, and longtime Dionysium supporter, Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League, will offer a special proclamation.
League was one of the early believers in the show, Deyo recalls, inviting them to perform in the Alamo Ritz before it was renovated to look like the Ritz we know and love today.
"That was a dream come true having Tim ask us to come do our show at the Alamo," he says. "And then when we moved to the South Lamar location, Tim bought that great organ for Graham to play. We're just so grateful that Tim is a man who gets excited about things."
Looking back on the early days, the three founders confirm that they wouldn't change a thing about how the past 100 shows have gone, but they all wholeheartedly agree that they are just now hitting their stride as a show thanks to the larger, more committed staff they currently enjoy.
"All the great writers and artists usually do their work in their early years, except for rare exceptions. To go in the other direction, to make such consistently great work — maybe our best work — now into our 100th show, is noteworthy," adds Reynolds.
"The fact that we’re doing our best work now is what I love most," says Deyo. "To see the reactions from the audience now is a dream come true; to know they want to continue the discussion long after the show is over. That's all I ever wanted."
Reynolds compares the growing "edutainment" movement in Austin and around the country to the music world that he understands more than most. "It's about all those little partnerships, two artists working together, talking to each other and working with each other, in light ways and bigger ways. Two bands become a scene, and pretty soon, there's an entire movement."
As for what they're looking for in the next 100 shows, the three founders respond perfectly in character:
Deyo (deadpan): "I want the next 100 shows to be 1000 shows."
Reynolds (thoughtfully): "My career has been about slow, steady growth, and that’s what I want to keep working on."
Moran (energetically): "Obviously, holograms!"
Come to raise a glass in toast of the Dionysium's 100th Anniversary Show: "Design" at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5. Tickets are $11.00 and available through the Drafthouse website.