“I don’t give a shit what you do here.”
That’s what Jeffrey Schmidt, newly appointed artistic director of Dallas’ longtime uptown staple Theatre Three, said to PrismCo, the young, movement-based theater that will produce a new take on King Lear this fall. Schmidt is giving full license to playwrights and theater companies to produce new work in Theatre Three’s downstairs studio space, Theatre Too, in the coming season. And he wants them to do whatever they want.
“There is no end to submissions we get for new plays, and Theatre Three needs to be a part of developing new work in Dallas,” he says.
And so it will. Schmidt loves the Theatre Too space and says it’s a perfect place for taking risks. In fact, it’s part of what got him the job. When he interviewed for the open position last year, he pitched using Theatre Too for developing new work by local writers.
“Local is at the top of the list," Schmidt says. "It’s an important journey for the audience to take, too, in terms of seeing the stages of a playwright’s work.”
For the new season, it will be a healthy showcase of those stages.
Take Dallas playwright Matt Lyle. Theatre Too will open the season with a new play by Lyle, who Schmidt says is at the top of his game. Cedar Springs or Big Scary Animals is a comedy about an older couple who unwittingly move to Dallas' “gayborhood.” After multiple workshops and staged readings, Lyle’s play deserves a full production, Schmidt says. He thinks the playwright is about to take off.
“More people should be introduced to [Lyle] because he’s about to blow up,” Schmidt says.
Lyle's play is in a late stage of development, and Schmidt is interested in all stages. PrismCo’s Lear is new, says Schmidt, and the wants to make sure his audience becomes familiar with the theater company. Because all PrismCo shows are wordless, it's a great match for Theatre Three’s partnership with the Deaf Action Center, which provides sign-interpreted performances to hearing-impaired patrons.
For the mid-stage play, Theatre Too will produce Jessica Cavanagh's Self Injurious Behavior, a story of a woman struggling to raise a child with autism.
The final change is the end of the 18-year run of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Schmidt says it’s time to move on.
“I am celebrating its success, and it’s been a good, reliable source of income, but it’s just time," he says. "Eighteen years is a long time.”
Schmidt is excited for the future of the studio and is considering putting a playwright into residency in the theater at some point.
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“New readings are my favorite part of theater, and I would love to do more,” he says.
For Schmidt, developing new plays in Theatre Too is a great way for playwrights to work in a stress-free environment. There’s no pressure to present something perfect, he says. There is an understanding that these are works in progress. The audience is along for the journey just like the production team.
It’s also a way for Theatre Three to pitch in and help companies like PrismCo that have struggled to find space to develop and perform their work. PrismCo was forced to move and cancel multiple performances last year. It’s been a problem for many other burgeoning theaters in Dallas.
“We want to be a part of arts equity in Dallas,” Schmidt says.