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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

What's Next: Left to right: David Anton Savage, Laurence Bedford and Jesse Rose DeRooy in front of Rio's new next-door space, Next: DOOR.

The Buoy Next Door

The Rio's new space one door down is a boost for local artists and a boon for arts-friendly technology in Santa Cruz

By Mike Connor

If Santa Cruz were a vintage horror movie, then the Rio Theatre could totally be the Blob. An extremely popular, eclectic, culture-and-arts-loving, all ages, alcohol-free blob, but a blob nonetheless. And like any blob worth its ooze, the Rio has now successfully ingested its neighbor, that empty space next door that used to house the Book Loft.

Before you start running for your lives, rest assured that Book Loft owner Jeff Rickard is safely tending to a bookstore up in Fort Bragg--after running the Book Loft for 21 years in Santa Cruz, he decided to close up shop to help his ailing mother instead. The empty space he left behind was enticing for Rio owner Lawrence Beford and his staff, who had little room for administrative purposes in the Rio proper. So they gutted the place, tore out the old carpet and installed their offices in the loft. But they had other ideas for the space below as well.

Mwoohahahahahah? No, they saw the potential for the open space as a breeding ground for creativity; what garages are to rock bands, this room could be to theater. Knowing that they'd all just end up referring to the minivenue as "next door" anyway, the staff just went with it, scraping off chunks of the Book Loft decal to make it read "DOOR" instead. Adding a backlit bullet-riddled door that local artist Darryl Ferrucci salvaged from the Nevada desert, they were ready to open Next: DOOR to the creative public.

"One of the things we thought about using as our logo is the triangle with the exclamation point in the middle," says Rio publicist Jesse Rose DeRooy, referring to the computer "Alert" icon. "For us, it's about 'Artists at Work,' because artists need a place to collaborate and work together. It takes a lot of work and preparation to make a show come off well, so that is part of how this space will help the Rio do what it does. It sort of gives the Rio a workspace for shows that they're doing at the Rio; and any community-based organizations that are doing things to create culture in our town, we invite them to come here and use our facilities to meet and greet and work."

That means the space is available for rent. Theater lighting, curtains, an 8-foot screen and projector, a modest sound system and a wet bar (sans alcohol) and bathroom are all available for public and private use.

The most exciting resource, though, is the wireless Internet capabilities. A secured 802.11b node is already operating throughout the theater and the Next: DOOR space, but future plans include wireless internet for everyone within a few blocks of the Rio.

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, at 7pm, a nonprofit called Third Break (www.thirdbreak.org) will host an open meeting discussing plans to create a community-based, free wireless network. Their agenda is to make all of downtown and the east side business district WiFi-ready via antennas, nodes and other such high-tech gizmos that are explained in full on their website.

If all goes according to plan in the next three to four months, anyone with wireless hookups in the neighborhood will be able to connect to the network, whether they be chilling out with a burrito, treading the mill at the gym or getting a tattoo down the street.

Meanwhile, the SC Digital Arts Festival (now in its third year) will present workshops in January at the Next: DOOR on emerging technologies relating to the digital arts, including wireless connections, DeRooy says, preparing the Riozens of Santa Cruz for this brave new wave of technology.

But just because it's high-tech- friendly doesn't mean that's all they'll be doing there. DeRooy and Bedford see the DOOR as an open canvas for people to create what they want, be that an art gallery (they're accepting submissions), black box theater, microcinema screenings, small receptions, poetry readings. They'll also be using it as a full-time box office for Rio and other community events, and are toying with the idea of exchanging use of the space for staff duties like ushering and working the box office.

"We want to keep it transformable, so we're not planning on clogging this place up with anything that can't be rolled around or moved. We want to keep it changing, kind of a chameleon space where people can make it like they want it."

The Blob, a chameleon ... same difference.

Third Break meets at the Next: DOOR on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at 7pm. For more information visit www.riotheatre.com, www.thirdbreak.org and www.santacruzdigitalarts.org.

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From the December 10-17, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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