MasterMinds: Matthew Posey, Joel Hester and Karen Blessen Are Winners in Our Inaugural Creativity Awards

Artists will make art even if they don't make money. With a few dollars, however, they can make more art, bigger art and even take some time to teach others how to make art. For our first MasterMinds competition, which awards three grants of $2,000 to local artists, we were hoping to find among the nominations a good sampling of Dallas art-makers from a variety of media.

What we got was a crazy-great list of more than 70 nominees, many of them submitted not by the artists themselves but by patrons and friends who wanted them to get some overdue recognition (not to mention some no-strings-attached cash).

So what exactly constitutes a MasterMind? Like that old Supreme Court quote about defining porn: We know it when we see it. We didn't want to hand out lifetime achievement awards or hold a popularity contest: The goal was to honor the cutting-edge work of local visual artists, performing artists, artisans, filmmakers and arts advocates.

"He's not interested in developing a subscription series audience with an Agatha
Christie festival.
He's a fringe kind of guy."
Danny Fulgencio
"He's not interested in developing a subscription series audience with an Agatha Christie festival. He's a fringe kind of guy."
"I love that he has that vision to see something else in what most people see
as an old car graveyard. He pulls
some beautiful artwork, usable artwork out of it. I would call him an artist."
Danny Fulgencio
"I love that he has that vision to see something else in what most people see as an old car graveyard. He pulls some beautiful artwork, usable artwork out of it. I would call him an artist."

From the nominees, a panel of Dallas Observer editors and critics narrowed the field to nine finalists. (See "One Tough Choice," page 15.) We picked the winners after several rounds of impassioned discussion about who should win and why. That it was difficult to choose only three is proof of how many truly fine and deserving artists live and work in our community.

In a ceremony at our first Artopia, a celebration of art, fashion, food and music on November 13, we'll award the prizes to our 2010 MasterMinds. They are an inspiring trio, each dedicated to his or her medium and working at it all day, every day. One writes, directs and stars in avant-garde theater; one is a designer and builder of one-of-a-kind furniture; and one is a visual artist bringing art lessons to children in hopes of creating a kinder, more peaceful world.

Next year these winners will help choose the class of 2011. Now meet the MasterMinds of today.

Matthew Posey actor,director, playwright

Next to Fair Park, in a 1,500-square-foot storefront space that used to be a dry goods store, next door to what used to be a brothel (about 90 years ago), actor, playwright and director Matthew Posey, 52, lives and makes plays in the tiny theater he calls The Ochre House.

He creates his innovative productions from scratch, writing scripts based upon intensive research into such cultural icons as gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (for a play called 14 Death Defying Acts) and Beat Generation poet William S. Burroughs (Bill). Posey played the lead in those shows and in six others he wrote and produced over the past year. Into each performance he weaves elements of video and live rock music written and performed by collaborator Ross Mackey. For Bill, the most recent Ochre House production, Posey played the title character as half-man, half-puppet in a style of Japanese Bunraku puppetry he uses in many of his pieces.

Strange? Yes. Provocative? Always. There is no other theater in Dallas like The Ochre House, which opened in November 2008. Shows happen on a 10-by-12-foot wooden platform stage raised just eight inches off the floor. The 50 plastic orange chairs for the audience were picked up by Posey for a buck each at a rummage sale. Every $15 ticket includes free drinks and the chance to hang out with Posey and his cast members and musicians after the show.

This is Matthew Posey's spookier version of Pee-wee's Playhouse, a dark, whimsical world of imagination crowded with puppets, oddball paintings, taxidermy-stuffed birds, curb-find furniture and bookshelves stacked with volumes about religion, mysticism and alchemy. (Posey, a graduate of Texas Tech and the American Film Institute, was also a seminary student in the 1970s.)

"I try to make spectacle happen on this small stage," says Posey, who lives in the back rooms of the yellow-walled Ochre House with his Boston terrier mix, Walter. "It isn't easy. One reason we use puppets so often is because the space is small. Puppets give the illusion of a larger stage. With them, we can make characters fly."

This is low-budget, sometimes no-budget theater, supported by contributions from a few anonymous patrons and by residuals Posey receives from the more than 90 film and television roles he's done over the past 25 years. He was in JFK, Places in the Heart and Lonesome Dove and played trumpeter Harry James in a TV biopic of Frank Sinatra. During a decade spent acting and producing in Los Angeles, he snagged a string of eccentric character parts that show up on IMDB as "Psycho #1" and "Inmate."

Back in Dallas since 2001, Posey's never stopped auditioning for film and TV work. This fall he played a bartender on The Good Guys, the Fox cop series shot in Dallas. He had key scenes with star Claire Danes in the Emmy-winning HBO film Temple Grandin. Next he'll be seen on the big screen opposite Nicolas Cage and Mad Men's January Jones in the crime thriller The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, filmed in Louisiana and scheduled for release later this year.

Income from those jobs finances the relatively low overhead of his no-frills theater space and helps cover the $500 stipend Posey pays actors to be in his shows (generous by non-union Dallas theater standards). It's a close-to-the-bone existence being impresario of a theater whose offbeat productions, Posey admits, don't appeal to a mainstream crowd. "Most of our audience has never been to a play," he says. "Our audience base is a lot of first-timers who live in the neighborhood here in Exposition Park and hang out at the bars around the corner, plus a few people who've known my work since the 1980s."

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