Daniel Austin has a drive that ripples through every aspect of his personal and professional life. As the Communications Manager for the Jacksonville Cultural Council, Austin is a tireless promoter of the city’s creative community. In his personal life, he indulges his passion for acting as part of the city’s local theatre scene.
“I fill my day with efforts to convene and promote the local arts community, and fill my nights with rehearsals and performances,” says the San Diego native who relocated to Jacksonville two and a half years ago. He attended high school in St. John’s County and graduated with a B.F.A. in Theatre Performance from the University of Florida. After graduation, Austin moved to New York, where he found work acting in shows like the New York Fringe Festival. He most recently appeared in the Players by the Sea production of “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.”
He credits his family and a supportive network of educators for giving him a creative outlet for self expression, as well as a retreat when he needed a place to escape. While his parents excelled in academia as an attorney and a scientist, Austin says they always fostered his appreciation of the arts.
“It’s always been a part of me. You can ask my parents, whose time I compromised regularly when I was young with impromptu and much-rehearsed one-man showcases, often with costume and set changes,” he says. “Entertaining, telling great stories was always what I wanted to do. This lead to interest in writing, journalism, and communications, but I’ve never strayed too far from the stage. It’s where I feel most at home.”
During his college years, Austin says he benefited from the intense self-discipline and the thrill of taking risks that he learned in his Theatre classes. They taught him invaluable lessons about facing fears, accepting failure and exploring new ways to meet his goals and objectives.
“I wish that everyone could have the benefit of an arts education. In other academic subjects, you learn really valuable information, but the arts teach you what it means to be human as well as the power of connection,” he says. “I’m grateful to all the arts educators I’ve had in my life for instilling that zeal in me. I certainly wasn’t born with it. I used to be terrified of new experiences. Now, I can’t get enough of them.”
For Austin, the opportunity to embody individual characters and share their stories is what keeps him coming back to the stage. He loves the exhilaration of telling an entire story from start to finish in a single performance. That can be a tall order depending on the show, but, for Austin, it’s rarely boring.
One of Austin’s most memorable roles was that of Prior in “Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches” at Players by the Sea. It was the Jacksonville premiere, and the text is considered a “banned book” in Duval County. The opportunity came at a turbulent point in Austin’s life, and he was honored to be a part of the production that served as a catalyst for a necessary conversation. The response to the show ‘blew me away,’ he says, and he was proud that the local theatre had the guts to stage the work.
“For me, it’s a highest form of truth. Every character I play is made unique because of one common ingredient: me, and what I bring to the role. Plus, it’s just fun to live in a different world,” Austin says, “I’m very big on trusting the playwright. I’m not the kind of actor that does heaps of outside research. It’s my task to dive into the text and explore moments fully until I find what I hope to be the truth. Other players are essential in this quest, from the guidance of the director to the responsiveness of acting partners. When all the pieces fall into place, you have the magic recipe. But it’s all there in the script. That’s where it starts and ends for me.”Daniel Austin takes his professional and personal roles seriously when it comes to the creative community. Connection is vital to improving our city’s attention to the arts, he says, noting that geography has limited the cultural scene from exploding because people are often afraid to venture outside their neighborhood to see what other areas have to offer. Austin is hopeful that people will explore the wealth of amazing art, music, and theatre events the city has to offer and become an advocate for the arts. Buying season tickets, contributing to these organizations and staying informed helps community theatre programs to thrive and not just survive.
“The arts are vital to sustain and grow quality of life in a city. This is especially important in Jacksonville because we were once an arts powerhouse. We’re the birthplace of the Blues, the home of Southern Fried rock, and the original ‘Hollywood of the South.’ We have a long and amazing arts history, but we’ve let a lot of that go, or we’ve forgotten,” he says. “In my opinion, Jacksonville is poised to become the new center of the Southeast, and arts and culture will play a vital role in that. We just have to stop getting in our own way, and put real value behind the things that make our city great.”