Imagine corralling 10 small, mostly homeless theater companies to perform scripts as diverse as Chekhov and a contemporary satire on Latino stereotypes. They are staged consecutively in the same modest space, with each production clocking in at an hour maximum. The phrase "organizational nightmare" comes to mind. But the gallons of coffee consumed, countless meetings conducted and constant mass e-mails sent stay backstage at the Bath House Cultural Center's Festival of Independent Theatres. Once the seats are filled and the house lights go down, some of our best local theater artists can relax and let the playwrights speak through them.
"I don't know if it's getting easier," says Brenda Galgan, who along with her husband, Michael Galgan, serves as executive producer of FIT. (Their Beardsley Living Theatre is a participating company with Olwen Wymark's one-act Stay Where You Are.) "But we're learning a lot more. Last year, we were unprepared when performances started selling out. Some shows had late starts, unfortunately. But I'm not complaining. We saw a lot of patrons who'd never been to the Bath House before and who rarely go to plays. People liked that there was a smorgasbord to choose from and that the plays are short."
Much directing, acting and designing ability gets poured into the Festival of Independent Theatres, from individuals who have the talent and the credentials to stage entire seasons--even run theatrical institutions--but find the city's perennial space crunch, limited public funds and unpredictable ticketbuyer turnout obstacles to creating theatrical day jobs for themselves. Make no mistake: These are professionals hobbled by circumstances that in some ways mirror the bastard-child status of theater in cities across the country. You may not love everything at the festival, but the technical and performance quality of these mini-productions is always high, transforming FIT into one of Dallas' indispensable cultural events in just three years' time.
A randomly chosen selection of highlights from the 2001 festival includes Core Performance Manufactory's production of Erik Ehn's The Saint Plays, a series of edgy poetic rituals dedicated to Roman Catholic saints; Theatre Quorum's One Good Beating, a sadistic comedy by Linda McLean about a brother and sister who lock their abusive father in the coal shed; The Great Nebula in Orion, Lanford Wilson's typically bittersweet look at the divergent lives of two old friends, produced by Wingspan Theatre Company; Dallas playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood's Breathing Room, a collision of three neurotics with self-destructive compulsions brought to you by Ground Zero Theater Company; and Gertrude Stein's oft-discussed, little-produced What Happened: A Five Act Play, in which Our Endeavors applies another elaborate scenic design to a whimsical, plotless word play by Alice T.'s mercurial love muffin.