100 Dallas Creatives: No. 24 Scholar of the Stage Susan Sargeant

100 Dallas Creatives: No. 24 Scholar of the Stage Susan Sargeant

Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Susan Sargeant is a force in the Dallas theater scene. As the founder and artistic director of WingSpan Theatre, a company dedicated to producing plays by women or featuring strong female roles, she's an advocate for female actresses. She's also a scholar with an extensive knowledge of all things Albee or Beckett. And she shares her smart approach to the stage in productions either fully realized or in staged readings and festival productions each year. Her company is a founding member of the Festival of Independent Theatres and is one of the mainstays at Lakewood's Bath House Cultural Center. Keep an eye out for a sparkling production of new work, adaptations, or a well-oiled take on a classic.

Stephanie Dunnam in Happy Day
Stephanie Dunnam in Happy Day

Can you give us a brief history of your personal theater history? I am from Lynn, MA, very close to Boston and was bitten by the theatre bug at an early age. I was surrounded by a rich cultural environment and exposure to a wide range of the arts - both performing and visual. My husband, Lowell, and I moved to Dallas in the early 1980s. Lowell had just completed five years in the United States Military (Army) and we both wanted to find a place that nurtured both of our careers. For Lowell, a new career in the field of technology and for myself, a professional career in the theatre.

The focus at the start of my career in Dallas was as an actress. Dallas was the perfect place for me to find the right opportunities and build my resume. Eventually, I acquired my Actor's Equity Association Membership and was proud to be a working professional actor.

In the early 1990s, I was lucky enough to be an Artistic Associate with a new company at The Bath House Cultural Center called --- New Horizons Theatre Company. New Horizons Theatre Company was helmed by Beverly Jacob Daniel. The Mission of New Horizons Theatre Company, like WingSpan Theatre Company, was also a woman-centric theatre company. At New Horizons Theatre Company I learned what it takes to run a small "indie" company. I was involved with all aspects: producing, marketing, development, acquisitions, etc. My main artistic focus during this time was still in the acting arena. However, when I was with New Horizons Theatre Company I did take on several directing projects. The doors closed at New Horizons Theatre Company in 1996. If not for my six years with New Horizons Theatre Company, I don't believe I would have had the impetus for starting my own independent theatre company. WingSpan Theatre Company was launched in 1997.

What was the impetus for starting WingSpan Theatre Company? After New Horizons Theatre Company closed I continued to work as an actress both on stage and in the broadcast industry. However, I was left with a loss of an artistic home and I yearned to continue the investigation and journey of being an independent theatre. There were several scripts in the New Horizons possible pile that never were produced. I decided that I had enough hands on producing experience and it was now time for me to take the helm. I formed WingSpan Theatre Company in 1997 with a similar mission statement to New Horizons Theatre Company.

How do you apply this idea of woman-centric theater to each play you choose? The plays I choose must have a key role and/or roles for women. The play can be written by a male playwright but the female role/s must be a driving force and/or focus of the play. A great example: Happy Days - By Samuel Beckett, the role of Wini (produced in 2013). The play can also be written by a woman where male relationships are the focal point. Language driven plays are also a key element.

What are a few highlights of WingSpan's history? The biggest highlight is still being a vital part of the cultural landscape of Dallas. Many independent companies don't make it past the five year mark. WingSpan Theatre Company is now in its eighteenth season. Another highlight is being a founding member of The Festival of Independent Theatres - now in its seventeenth season.

On an artistic level, I try to bring high quality lesser known and or infrequently produced plays to a Dallas audience. Here are a few, The Two Character Play by Tennessee Williams, Happy Days, and Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby. All of these plays were directed by me. Plus all these plays have hallmark roles for women.

The other highlight has been developing new works in WingSpan's Development Workshops over the years including many local female playwrights: Isabella Russell-Ides, Vicki Caroline Cheatwood, Valerie Powell, Angela Wilson; to name a few.

Any plays that you really wanted to produce that you haven't yet? There is quite a list! Some plays I can't produce because of scale and/or budget. The good news, there are gems to be found in either newer material and or in the canons of established playwrights.

How has the role WingSpan plays in the Dallas theater community grown or changed during its history? Over the years, WingSpan Theatre Company, has produced many World Premieres in The Festival of Independent/FIT venue. The two most recent endeavors: Mark Twain's The Diaries of Adam & Eve, edited and adapted by Susan Sargeant. Also, Lydie Marland in the Afterlife by Dallas playwright, Isabella Russell-Ides at FIT. The collaboration of not only FIT (eight indie companies in rotating rep) but the nurturing/development of a new play going into a full production has become a noteworthy expansion of WingSpan Theatre Company's Mission Statement.

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

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