100 Dallas Creatives: No. 13 Will Power, Playwright and Mentor
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Since Will Power arrived in Dallas he's been busy. With a background in performance, writing and education, he's not just creating his own work but he's investing in the work of future generations. Originally commissioned to be the Meadows Theatre Artist-in-Residence at Southern Methodist University, he also became the playwright-in-residence at the Dallas Theater Center. Which means that most of his days are filled with teaching, mentoring the young playwrights of Dallas, and writing plays and musicals of his own.
For Dallas Theater Center, he's been working on a new musical, Stagger Lee, which previews January 22 and opens January 30. It's a work that delves into the myths and legends of American folklore like Frankie and Johnny, and its namesake, Stagger Lee, whose story is of a man deep in the seedy underbelly of turn of the 20th century St. Louis. We talked to Power about this new musical, playwriting in Dallas, and where you'll catch him on a day off.
You've worked as a musician, an educator, a performer, so what keeps you writing plays? Writing plays, especially musicals, allows me to exercise the musician, the performer and the educator in me. With Stagger Lee especially, it's not an education piece but it does deal with history and moving through time periods that some people may not be familiar with, particularly young people. There are performers involved and it's for them to take it and enhance it. And it's a musical, so I can use my composition knowledge. So I get to be all of those things when I'm writing a play.
What attracted you to the story of Stagger Lee? This idea of folk tales and mythology. I was working on a piece called The Seven, which was an adaptation of a Greek play, and just really started thinking about what is American and African America mythology? Do we have a mythology? And I couldn't think of any mythology that we have but I thought of these folk tales that kind of push into mythology. There are all these different versions, the characters kind of connect. It's not as expansive as Greek mythology yet, but those probably started off at one point as folk tales and then became more epic. This is kind of my exploration in pushing that forward.
How have you incorporated music into the show? It's a musical, so music is essential to every aspect of the show. It gets to greater emotional depths when the characters need to go there, it propels the story, it sets up the dance, the music. It's not everything, but it's a lot of it. It's a musical so music is central to the piece. I would even say that even when the characters are speaking, the book sections that are not the singing sections, there's still music involved There's an underscoring and even with the dialogue I've tried to create a sense of rhythm. I don't know if it's musical but there are lots of heightened rhythms outside of the songs. Music is everywhere in the piece.
In what ways do you think it will stretch or challenge Dallas audiences? I don't know about specifically Dallas audiences but I will say that it's a piece that, it's been done to an extent, but I feel like it's a blend of social and political commentary that pulls no punches and over the top entertainment. It's not one or the other. I mean there's tap dancing and lindy hopping and big numbers and, I think, beautiful ballads, but there's also some powerful social commentary. I think it will probably stretch audiences in the combination of that. Sometimes we have one or the other. You can go see something that's really dramatic or something that's kind of fluff. This is not fluff, but it's a combination of those.
How has your playwright in residency been? Highlights? It's been fantastic. I would say the main highlight is Stagger Lee, which I was working on before the residency, but this residency has allowed me to be more a part of the process. Not just writing it or composing it but also, being on hand as a member of the team behind the scenes. The administrative staff has more access to me and I have more access to them, which has been incredibly inspiring to me. Another thing is Dallas Playwrights Workshop, which is a group I started to mentor emerging playwrights, sort of help them with the craft. It's in its second year. Also being part of DTC's push for diversity and inclusion. I'm on the subcommittee and it's been a highlight to help with that. I would also say just being on hand in season planning. I haven't been able to do as much of that as I'd like because I've been busy with other things but, having a playwright and being on hand when things go down is a highlight.
You've started the Dallas Playwrights Workshop, but what are some other resources young playwrights need that Dallas doesn't yet provide? Two things. The biggest one is an MFA playwriting program or something akin to that. There is no MFA in creative writing, poetry, playwriting program in all of North Texas. You have to go down to Austin for that. But I think it's also indicative of, you know, there's a wealth of stories here but because of some of the history, there has been a subconscious move to sort of squash it. When you tell the stories you have to dig up the dirt, too. I think it's probably reflective of that. But that's the biggest thing, a place for emerging writers to train. We're trying to do that with Dallas Playwrights workshop but its once a week and we need something that's more expansive. The second thing is more opportunities for young and/or emerging playwrights to see their work, have readings, performances. Some of the most brilliant and applauded playwrighthave some early work was supposedly terrible, but there was something there that was interesting. They had the chance to do those terrible plays and readings and small productions and we need to do more of that. There are opportunities for more established artists to do this, but not for new playwrights.
Favorite place in Dallas that's not a theater? I would have to say, well I'm a little biased because I love SMU and I teach there, but outside of that, I would have to say Klyde Warren Park and Continental Avenue Bridge. Those two are my favorite because they are gathering spaces and I think Dallas needs more gathering spaces. Public gathering spaces greatly help foster innovation and innovation fosters the arts.
100 Creatives: 100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey 99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin 98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo 97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet 96. Funny Man Paul Varghese 95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña 94. Magic Man Trigg Watson 93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz 92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King 91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno 90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger 89. Literary Lion Thea Temple 88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele 87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart 86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards 85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler 84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez 83. Movie Nerd James Wallace 82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford 81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner 80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel 79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull 78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland 77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain 76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah 75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez 74. Original Talent Celia Eberle 73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur 72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry 71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor 70. Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer 69. Effervescent Gallerist Brandy Michele Adams 68. Birthday Party Enthusiast Paige Chenault 67. Community Architect Monica Diodati 66. Intrepid Publisher Will Evans 65. Writerly Wit Noa Gavin 64. Maverick Artist Roberto Munguia 63. Fresh Perspective Kelsey Leigh Ervi 62. Virtuosic Violinist Nathan Olson 61. Open Classical's Dynamic Duo Mark Landson & Patricia Yakesch 60. Rising Talent Michelle Rawlings 59. Adventurous Filmmaker Toby Halbrooks 58. Man of Mystery Edward Ruiz 57. Inquisitive Sculptor Val Curry 56. Offbeat Intellect Thomas Riccio 55. Doers and Makers Shannon Driscoll & Kayli House Cusick 54. Performance Pioneer Katherine Owens 53. Experimental Filmmaker and Video Artist Mike Morris 52. Flowering Fashioner Lucy Dang 51. Insightful Artist Stephen Lapthisophon 50. Dallas Arts District 49. Farmer's Market Localvore Sarah Perry 48. Technological Painter John Pomara 47. Progressive Playmakers Christopher Carlos & Tina Parker 46. Purposive Chef Chad Houser 45. Absorbing Artist Jeff Gibbons 44. Artistic Integrator Erica Felicella 43. Multi-talented Director Tre Garrett 42. Anachronistic Musician Matt Tolentino 41. Emerging Veteran Actor Van Quattro 40. Festival Orchestrator Anna Sophia van Zweden 39. Literary Framer Karen Weiner 38. Man Behind the Music Gavin Mulloy 37. The Godfather of Dallas Art Frank Campagna 36. Rising Star Adam A. Anderson 35. Artist Organizer Heyd Fontenot 34. Music Innovator Stefan Gonzalez 33. Triple Threat Giovanni Valderas 32. Cultural Connector Lauren Cross 31. Critical Artist Thor Johnson 30. Delicate Touch Margaret Meehan 29. Fashion Forward Charles Smith II 28. Dedicated Artist Carolyn Sortor 27. Political Cyber Banksy Wylie H Dallas 26. Dance Preserver Lisa Mesa Rogers 25. Rob 'Ain't No Creative Like A Bow-Tie-Wearing Creative' Shearer 24. Scholar of the Stage Susan Sargeant 23. Photographer of Record Justin Terveen 22. Music Man Jeffrey Liles 21. Keeper of the Safe Room Lauren Gray 20. Playwright Jonathan Norton, Man of Many Words 19. Filmmaker and Funniest Comic in Texas Linda Stogner 18. Gallerist Jordan Roth, the Art Scene Cheerleader 17. Artful Advocate Vicki Meek 16. Ballet Queen Katie Puder 15. Carlos Alejandro Guajardo-Molina, the Book Guy 14. Janeil Engelstad, an Artist with Purpose
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