Enter Stage Right

With the curtain falling on its old playhouse,Dallas Theater Center gets its act together with a new leader

In August 2006, Hamburger, then 55, announced his resignation and assumed the title of "director emeritus." He told the press he wasn't being forced out; he simply had lost touch with his "inner life" and needed to work elsewhere. He was at the end of his contract with DTC, and "it just felt like it was time to reassess and perhaps move on." He also told the Dallas Observer that he needed "breathing space" and that his biggest regret was that "there's an enormous amount of talent here in Dallas that wasn't tapped. In many ways I wish I'd created a company that created security and a place for actors to grow here."

Scene 3: The coronation

Running a theater requires creative spark, business savvy and enormous reserves of energy. An artistic director also must understand a theater's core audience well enough to choose plays people will want to pay up to $60 a ticket to see. And a certain amount of chutzpah is needed to lead them in new directions when they're prone to balking at controversial material, as DTC's audience can be. In 1993 an upset patron called the police after seeing nudity and men kissing in Six Degrees of Separation. In the 2004 season, there were walkouts and subscription cancellations during the run of Topdog/Underdog, a racially charged Suzan-Lori Parks drama containing streams of profanity and simulated masturbation.

In the Kalita Humphreys Theater lobby, actor Joshua Doss (left) and other cast members look over lyrics on the first day of rehearsals for The Who's Tommy.
Brandon Thibodeaux
In the Kalita Humphreys Theater lobby, actor Joshua Doss (left) and other cast members look over lyrics on the first day of rehearsals for The Who's Tommy.
Christian Childs (center), who plays the young Tommy, has taken acting classes at Dallas Theater Center since he was 4.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Christian Childs (center), who plays the young Tommy, has taken acting classes at Dallas Theater Center since he was 4.

Location Info

Map

Dallas Theater Center

2400 Flora St.
Dallas, TX 75201

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn

A great director whose shows consistently entertain, generate buzz and sell lots of tickets not only can please the old-timers but attract young patrons and possibly make an impact on the entire American theater scene. As artistic director of San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse, Des McAnuff directed world premieres of Big River and I Am My Own Wife, both of which became award-winning Broadway hits. Then he turned the story of Frankie Valli and three singing pals from Newark into Jersey Boys.

Could the Dallas Theater Center find someone who could do that?

Shortly after Hamburger's resignation, the DTC board set up a 12-member search committee, led by DTC "Life Trustee" Bess Enloe. For only the fifth time in 48 years, DTC had to hire a new leader, someone to reintroduce the institution to the city and usher it into its shiny new home. Jobs for artistic directors at LORT theaters don't open up often. The current economy is making it harder for even long-established theaters to attract donor dollars and keep seats full. Theater administrators are holding on for dear life.

DTC's annual budget of $6.5 million ranks it in the top half of the nation's LORT theaters financially. It is the second largest LORT house in Texas, behind Houston's Alley Theatre, which operates on a $10.5 million budget.

What DTC does have that many theaters its size do not is strong financial support from individual arts benefactors. More than 120 of Dallas' top-tier families donated more than $1 million apiece toward the construction of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts.

"Over 80 percent of those families had never given to cultural institutions before," says Enloe, who also was on the DCPA development team. "The reason they gave to this one is that this has become a civic project. It's more than a theater and opera house. It's completing the Arts District and redefining downtown Dallas as a cultural destination."

To lead the search for DTC's new artistic director, Enloe brought in nationally known cultural headhunters Stephen J. Albert and Thomas Hall, who recently had shifted McAnuff into the top spot at Canada's renowned Stratford Festival. In January 2007 the board and senior DTC staff attended a two-day retreat with Albert and Hall to define exactly what they were looking for. "We knew we didn't want to sacrifice any artistic excellence the theater was known for," Enloe says. "We wanted someone who would embrace the city and become a cultural leader, a civic leader. Someone with real people skills in addition to being a fine artist."

The field was narrowed from 20 candidates to three finalists. "Kevin Moriarty really bubbled to the top of the list early on," recalls Mark Hadley, DTC's managing director who handles all offstage business.

Moriarty's first interview with the committee was supposed to last a couple of hours. "At the end of 90 minutes, I said we had to rest and catch our breath," Enloe says. "Kevin just swept everyone off their feet...We really didn't have to vote after that. It was a unanimous choice."

No one at DTC or the committee had seen anything Moriarty had directed at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island, where he served as associate director, or at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York, where he was artistic director for seven years. But in May 2007 he was offered a three-year contract at DTC with an annual six-figure salary.

"We prayed we would get him," Enloe says, "and we're lucky that we did."

And Moriarty was lucky to find a prestigious position at a theater he can vault into national prominence, says Curt Columbus, Trinity Rep's artistic director. "This is a remarkably important theater in America. Regional theaters like Trinity Rep and DTC—these came out of a moment in the 1950s and 1960s when there was this movement that said art should exist to speak directly to local audiences. We're returning to those roots."

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