People may think being a theater critic is glamorous opening-night parties, daily fang sharpenings, and narrowly avoiding vehicular manslaughter when you're a Deep Ellum pedestrian and the guy whose performance you recently dissed is operating heavy machinery. There's an unexciting--nay, downright depressing--aspect to the job: watching venues close faster than poked clams and seeing the talented companies that use them rendered homeless yet again. Deep Ellum Center for the Arts was only the latest and most publicized capsizing on my watch.
Despite repeated dashings, my hopes have been raised yet again by the recent opening of the Trinity River Arts Center, in the same complex as KD Studios. KD president and owner Kathy Tyner, who started off as a secretary in 1965 for model mogul Kim Dawson, says that it has been her dream for nine years to create a performance facility that would serve a twofold purpose: support youth outreach programs that use theater as a tool for at-risk kids and provide a home for some of Dallas' small, committed, innovative theater companies. Right now, the Trinity River Arts Center houses the 150-seat Kim Dawson Theater as well as two galleries, rehearsal space, dressing rooms, sound and light equipment, etc.--basic amenities that make scrappy young theater artists, ribs poking through their costumes from deprivation, salivate.
Noting that KD and TRAC are officially separate entities, Tyner says, "T.A. Taylor and Jim Jorgensen [of the recently relocated New Theatre Company] were instrumental in helping me formulate and design it. There's a center in Pittsburgh that opens its doors to youth at risk and gives them the opportunity to get involved in the arts, everything from ballet to sculpture to painting. All that is maybe 20 years down the road, but we wanted to start offering something to the young people just across the Trinity River in South Dallas."
Tracy Goodwin, who already oversees a national touring company of young actors at KD, will preside over the education part. Meanwhile, Tyner has tapped Thurman Moss, a longtime Theatre Three company member who recently departed that 40-year-old institution along with four others to re-establish their Lean Theater in the Kim Dawson space, as TRAC's managing director. He says he's hoping to take up the slack from Deep Ellum Center for the Arts' demise by offering the facilities to the very worthy companies Teatro Dallas and Our Endeavors for regular performances. Lean Theater, of course, gets the space's debut slot with a restaging of David Ives' Don Juan in Chicago, a raucous, bawdy contemporary takeoff on the Spanish myth that sold out every performance in its first run.
"We're praying that Don Juan was popular enough to pull in a general audience for a new space," Moss notes. Meanwhile, "one of my jobs as managing director is to look at this institution long-term, to pursue grants and donations," he says.
Pursuing support funds is an endless, exhausting, sometimes Byzantine quest for tiny and nonprofit theaters, and Moss, the Equity stage veteran, is quite blunt about the problems companies encounter.
"We're assembling a board right now, and one of their big responsibilities will be to raise money. You go for individuals first, then foundations, and finally corporations, which are the most difficult for small groups. Of course, Pepsi-Cola finds something like the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas more advantageous, because more people will come through and see their signs. But you can't rely on corporate and foundation grants; it's like relying on gambling to pay the rent. One problem is, when organizations ask what's the managing director's salary, and I say that my position is unpaid at the moment, that's a red flag. 'Oh, this group is unstable.' But the positions are unpaid precisely because we've just started up and need financial support."
There is no shortage of theatrical talent, commitment, education, and experience among the Dallas artists who could benefit from a facility like TRAC. Right now, while Lean Theater is in rehearsals for Don Juan in Chicago, they're serving daytime developmental and administrative roles, trying to dig in roots for the Trinity River Arts Center.
"All of us are trying," Moss asserts. "We're going on the theory that the more grant proposals you can throw out there, the better your chances. But what this place could use, like so many places, is a large chunk of money for startup. If I could convince somebody or a group of individuals to give us $100,000, we'd have a real chance to be off and running. We have to convince people that funding small, more adventurous theaters contributes to a city's intellectual climate, and so to its overall reputation. Surely the folks who do traditional as well as wild and crazy stuff deserve a few bucks."
-- Jimmy Fowler
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