The Kitchen Dogs are tired of the nomad life. Twenty-six years ago Kitchen Dog Theater held their first performance above a sweaty pawn shop in Deep Ellum. From there, they bunked with Undermain Theatre, an Episcopal church and finally landed at The MAC (McKinney Avenue Contemporary) in 1994.
It was managing director Tim Johnson’s first day on the job in 2014, twenty years later, that Kitchen Dog would learn the MAC was closing up and they would be homeless once again.
“We had one season left in the MAC, so we started running the numbers. If we wanted to stay somewhere longer than 5-10 years we needed a real plan," Johnson says. "The sustainability of our future meant owning our own property.”
Raising the kind of money required to purchase a theater space is a tall order for a mid-size theater with a modest operating budget, but artistic director Tina Parker and Johnson knew that securing their future was more important than just solving the immediate problem of needing space.
Parker and Johnson set out on a “feasibility plan,” which meant hiring fundraising consultants to see what they could even do. Around that time they got a call from a pair of long-time patrons. They wanted to make sure that Kitchen Dog’s home at the time (The Green Zone in the Design District) was not their permanent plan.
“They wanted to meet with us,” says Johnson. “They listened to our ideas and then offered us a challenge.”
The challenge was a donation of $500,000 if Kitchen Dog could raise $150,000 on its own. In two months. With grants off the table because of time constraints, Parker and Johnson started an aggressive capital campaign and exceeded the goal. In January of 2016 they started a property search to find a new theater space.
In May they signed the contract for a 10,000-square-foot tile showroom in the Design District. Kitchen Dog is currently playing in the Trinity River Arts Center and they hope the near proximity to the new space will be helpful to patrons.
“Part of being homeless means it’s really hard to get people to follow you all over,” says Parker. She hopes letting patrons get a feel for their new area will be helpful when they move into the new theater, which they predict will be fall 2018, right before the start of that season.
Kitchen Dog has prided itself on risk-taking, but it's security that’s appealing to them this time. A permanent location will allow them to do even more.
"We didn’t want to change our programming because of overhead. More infrastructure means bolstering our budget, growing our staff and paying our company of 40 artists a living wage,” Parker explains.
She knew relying on renting a space again meant being at the mercy of a property owner. With property values skyrocketing in the current market, Kitchen Dog could not afford to rent.
Owning their own theater means more than just space for Parker. It means nailing down the presence of “second-tier” theaters in Dallas.
“Most major cities have a level of established, homed theaters. There’s an important place for regional theaters, but we don’t want to be the big guys. We aren’t about appealing to the broadest audience.”
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In the past year Kitchen Dog has led a nomadic life, but they are grateful for their friends in Dallas who have opened their doors to them. They took up residence with Undermain Theatre again last season, which feels very appropriate to Parker.
“I don’t know what we would do without them. It feels right that we started out with Undermain and ended up with them again. We love Undermain.”
Until they open the doors on the new space, Kitchen Dog is working hard to renovate the old showroom into a proper theater. Their goal is to raise 75 percent of the costs needed before renovations begin so that they can move in with zero overhead. Until then, they will stay put at their “permanent, temporary home” at The Trinity River Arts Center, just across 35 from the new theater. They hope you will follow them just one more time.
“We’re too old for this! We don’t want to move anymore,” laughs Parker.