Years ago, my love for theater was my entry point into journalism. A poetry student dog paddling in the social tsunami that was Southern Methodist University campus life, I signed on to write a few articles for the student newspaper about theater. Next thing I knew I was taking journalism classes and eventually running the Daily Campus' arts section. The first thing Mark Lowry, who had not long before launched TheaterJones.com, said to me was, "Oh, you're that student seeing all the shows." I saw every show in town my senior year, even more than I see now as the arts editor of the local alt weekly. I've known and loved Dallas theater for years.
To hear Katherine Owens speak of her 30 years at Undermain Theatre is to hear of a scene that has ebbed and flowed. One that embraced experimental work in the 80s, to move into a slightly more conservative 90s, eventually adopting a self-awareness in the late 2000s, as the arts in Dallas were seeing civic recognition with expensive gestures like the Dallas Arts District. Last year, I wrote a piece for Arts & Culture Texas about the rich history of the Dallas theater scene. One on the forefront of the regional theater movement, thanks to pioneers like Margo Jones and Norma Young. And a scene that, like the rest of the city, has wrestled with its identity, in light of its neighbors: the refined Houston, and the progressive Austin.
But right now, I just want to take a minute to say that I don't think I've ever seen the theater scene healthier than it is right now.
2015 is stacking up to be the year of world premieres in Dallas. With Will Power's Stagger Lee at the Dallas Theater Center, Everest at The Dallas Opera, and Jonathan Norton's Mississippi Goddamn at South Dallas Cultural Center as early examples, we've got even more coming.
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Currently ongoing is the new play competition at Teco Theatrical Productions. This week, the long-running Out of the Loop Fringe Festival at WaterTower Theatre takes the stage with new work from dance and theater companies. Next week Wilde/Earnest, Lee Trull's "party in a play" takes the stage at Kitchen Dog Theater. In June, Theatre Three debuts a new musical about small town girls with big dreams (let's hope the show is less cliched than it sounds), The Kountry Girls. In September, DTC is at it again with the world premiere of Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical and again in December with the world premiere of MacArthur Genius Grant winner Samuel D. Hunter's Clarkston. And there are rumblings of another world premiere coming to a Dallas stage this fall.
All of that is in addition to the continuous new output of Ochre House Theater, the occasional Dead White Zombies immersive shows, Kitchen Dog Theater's New Works Festival, the upstart company Shakespeare in the Bar, the regional debuts of important American work at Undermain and Second Thought Theatre, and of course independent companies like Wingspan Theatre, Echo Theatre, and others who use the Bath House Cultural Center as a home base. And it shouldn't go without noting that the AT&T Performing Arts Center has finally shown an interest in bringing both local theater (The Elevator Project) and important touring theater (Off Broadway on Flora) to the arts district.
In a city where critics have bemoaned the lack of diversity on stages and the seeming disinterest in new work in favor of playing it safe, it appears that 2015 is the year artistic directors decided to start taking risks. Not to mention the acting and design talent overflowing on Dallas stages and the collaborative spirit of playwrights teaming up with local bands, musicians and artists. And sure, we'd like to see more female playwrights on that list of world premieres too, but it's a start.
I'm not saying that everything on stage right now is brilliant or entertaining, and I'm certainly not recommending you sit through it all. Lord knows, I won't. But a lot of it is going to be pretty damn good, so it might be a good time to perk up and venture into one of the theater houses in North Texas.