Remembering Theatre Three’s Founder, Jac Alder, Fierce Champion of Talent

Alder in Freud's Last Session at Theatre Three.
Alder in Freud's Last Session at Theatre Three.
Theatre Three

As soon as word got around over the weekend that Theatre Three founder and producing director Jac Alder had died, local actors and others started swapping stories. Alder, 80, had been hospitalized last month with pneumonia and was in ICU for several weeks, but had rallied and returned home to the condo in Uptown he’d bought only recently. He went into sudden respiratory failure and died on Friday, May 22.

Actor and director B.J. Cleveland had stepped in for Alder to direct Theatre Three’s current production of the comedy The Liar. He recalled Alder’s penchant for flamboyant wardrobe choices, which could include pink trousers topped with a yellow cardigan and a long geometric scarf. The rainbow clothes went into hibernation for eight years, however, between January 2001 and January 2009. “Jac only dressed in black during W’s presidency,” Cleveland said in a Facebook post.

Many DFW theater artists credit Alder with giving them their first breaks onstage. Among the young talent he nurtured over Theatre Three’s 54 seasons were three Pulitzer winners – playwrights Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart), Tracy Letts (August: Osage County) and Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife). Actress Morgan Fairchild, who’d go on to star for decades on TV as a daytime and nighttime soap vixen, got her start at T3 in her teens. So did character actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who appeared onstage at T3 during his Kimball High School and SMU years, including playing Jesus in T3’s long-running production of Godspell.

On social media, Tobolowsky, now 64 and most familiar to filmgoers as the insurance man who badgers Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, remembered Alder as “a beautiful man. A man of so many talents. Performer. Director. Producer. Musician. He was one of the great assets of Dallas. He put it all on the line every day to make theater happen. He was a great advocate of young performers. Jac got me my Equity Card. Jac's greatest asset was something you can't teach. Hard to even describe. Jac had enthusiasm. For life. For theater. For the creative. For joy. For … it seemed to be everything. Everything.

“I saw Jac last year. He hadn't slowed down a bit. He was laughing and talking about old shows. New projects. He embodied a spirit that was bigger than anything I had ever experienced.”

Playwright Jonathan Norton (Mississippi Goddamn), actress and director vickie washington and Manhattan cabaret star Jim Caruso all credit Alder with early professional opportunities on T3’s stage. Caruso, who earned his Equity union card in a T3 production of Anything Goes in the 1980s, publicly thanked Alder for “taking a chance on thousands of young (and old) actors and creating art in Dallas for over 50 years.”

Kevin Moriarty, artistic director at Dallas Theater Center, issued this statement: “Jac Alder was a friend to me, as he was to so many of us in the Dallas theater community. His death is a cause of great sorrow for everyone who loved him, but it is also an opportunity for us to reflect upon his life. Because of Jac's remarkable leadership, Theatre Three has provided outstanding art for our community for more than 50 years. His commitment to collaboration has been an inspiration to all of us, as has his love for artists and his steadfast belief that North Texas could support a great thriving theater community. Theater Three stands as an enduring testament to his artistic vision and the power of his belief.

“On a personal level, I will miss our lively conversations, often long breakfasts filled with Jac's entertaining anecdotes, insights, wit and the positive energy and great warmth with which he inspired me and made me feel welcome from the moment I first arrived in Dallas. He is irreplaceable."

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Alder was an Oklahoma native who trained as an architect. He founded his theater in 1961 with wife Norma Young, an actress. She died in 1998, having starred in many T3 productions directed by her husband. The theater has occupied its current spot in The Quadrangle near downtown since 1969.

Funeral plans for Alder have not yet been announced and no one close to T3 knows yet what will happen to the theater or who will take over the running of it. For many years, it was assumed that Alder’s second-in-charge, musical director Terry Dobson, would get that job. But after stepping down due to illness last year, Dobson, 59, died suddenly on April 23 from a perforated ulcer during a trip to New York City.

Jac Alder was America’s longest serving head of a regional professional theater.


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