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From 1983 to 1991, Posey's experimental Deep Ellum Theatre Garage, founded with now ex-wife Carla James, was a bold, exciting upstart on the Dallas arts scene. Inspired by the work of The Wooster Group and its Performing Garage in New York City's SoHo, Posey's company, heavily subsidized by National Endowment for the Arts grants, reinterpreted classics by Shakespeare and put new twists on 20th century plays. Actor Kurt Rhoads still recalls the Theatre Garage production of St. Ella, Posey's deconstructed version of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
"It was brilliant," says Rhoads, now living in upstate New York but back in town recently to play the title role in Dallas Theater Center's Henry IV. "It had arc welding and women with lactating breasts. Startling imagery. Matt played Stanley Kowalski. The testosterone on that stage was incredible. Matt doesn't mind shocking people. When we see his work, we feel like we've lived through something. The Ochre House is definitely in the same evolutionary line as what they were doing back at the Theatre Garage. He's not interested in developing a subscription series audience with an Agatha Christie festival. He's a fringe kind of guy."
At The Ochre House, without a locked-in annual subscription schedule to adhere to like most theaters, Posey can write, direct and open a new show in as few as 12 days. He says he's never sure from month to month what play he'll be doing with the core company members he calls the "Ochre House Boys" (some of them are women). This fall he was talking about writing a play about artist Frida Kahlo, then became obsessed with the Greek myth of Icarus, the boy who fatally flew too close to the sun wearing the wax wings his father Daedalus had made. Posey's play based on the myth, Umlauf's Bicycle, opens in early December and will feature Balinese shadow puppets and actors on bicycles suspended from the ceiling.
After that, he says he might add a new chapter to his series of X-rated fables based on a grotesque puppet character called Coppertone. Working a life-sized figure formed from a discarded lawn-chair cushion, Posey portrays the rude, primitive, wisecracking creature who so far has journeyed to a bar, an asylum and several levels of hell (entered through a female-genital-shaped portal). "Coppertone gives me permission to do low comedy," Posey says. "He travels to the bawdy side of life."
The variety and complexity of the material Posey stages and his willingness to work with young artists with short résumés have made him a mentor to new playwrights and eager actors struggling to find a way to break through in Dallas theater's crowded and competitive landscape. Lately Posey has welcomed improv comedy groups such as Curtis Needs a Ride to the stage for late-night performances on weekends. In 2009, The Ochre House hosted the debut of former Dallas playwright Matt Lyle's comedy Hello Human Female, which has gone on to be produced in larger venues in Dallas and in Chicago (where Lyle lives now). "Any theatrical community needs a place to do and see wild-assed theater," Lyle says. "As a playwright, I know there aren't limits to how far I can go if what I'm writing is going to be done at The Ochre House. That's very freeing."
Fringe-y and freewheeling, it is, but The Ochre House is on the radar of artistic directors from most of Dallas' major professional theater companies. They attend Posey's shows to scout for talent and just to absorb the weirdness that's always a hallmark of any Posey production.
"All of us who work in the larger mainstream theaters need artists like Matthew to continue to push at boundaries of style, form and content," says Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty. "His provocative work forces us to constantly reexamine the theatrical experience, both in what and how we communicate. Matthew is a true artist, creating work that is singular, personal and challenging. Of course, all artists attempt to achieve this in their work, but many shy away from truly following their impulses and vision to a complete realization in their art, relying instead on creating copies of work done by others. Matthew is a source of inspiration for all of us."
Posey responds to such praise with an "aw shucks" shrug and a long draw on one of the 30 Camels he smokes every day. "Theater is the best thing I know how to do and I've been involved with it since I was 14," he says. "Who's to say how theater will survive? You've got to do what you know and trust that it's going to work. I have no idea where theater is moving in the future. There's a lot of great theater here in Dallas, but something new and exciting is needed out there to inspire a new audience. I guarantee you this: What we do at The Ochre House will always be intriguing."
The Ochre House, 825 Exposition Ave. 214-826-6273. firstname.lastname@example.org
Before the sun is up most days, Joel Hester has unlocked the doors of his one-man furniture workshop, The Weld House, turned on the radio to his favorite sports talk station and started wrestling with huge sheets of rusted steel. Hester, 39, creates custom-made, one-of-a-kind tables, bed frames, armoires and consoles from reclaimed pieces of junked cars and trucks.