Two Local Theaters Quickly Adjust Winter Plans After Directors Suffer Violent Assaults

Firehouse Theatre's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues without Derek Whitener, recovering from a parking lot assault with a pipe. But signs out front show that Whitener is not far from the minds of the cast.
Firehouse Theatre's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues without Derek Whitener, recovering from a parking lot assault with a pipe. But signs out front show that Whitener is not far from the minds of the cast.

Two local theaters, Ochre House Theater and Firehouse Theatre, are having difficult seasons after their artistic directors were the victims of unrelated, violent assaults in January.

Ochre House Theater announced Tuesday evening that it would be canceling its entire run of world premiere Dr. Bobaganush. The play, written and directed by Ochre House Theater’s founder Matthew Posey, was scheduled to open on Wednesday and continue through Feb. 18.

Monday night, Posey was shot twice while in the driver’s seat of his car outside Cold Beer Co. in Deep Ellum. His injuries were not life threatening and no arrests have been made.

“We apologize for the necessary cancellation. Thank you for your support of Matthew, his family and Ochre House Theater,” read a statement emailed to the Observer by Carla Parker, Ochre House’s operations manager.

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A Facebook post by the theater Thursday confirmed that Posey has undergone surgery and is in a stable condition and requested that those wishing to support him make a donation to the theater.

“In lieu of flowers, Matthew and his family encourage you to donate to Ochre House Theater, supporting Matthew’s vision of producing original, high quality theatre, using minimal resources to their maximum potential,” the post reads.

Firehouse Theatre has chosen to continue with its production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee after artistic director Derek Whitener, who also had a role in the play, was attacked with a pipe by two masked men on Jan. 14, while he was leaving the Target on Haskell Avenue.

Whitener underwent surgery for a hemotoma on his brain following the attack and has since been released from the hospital, although Firehouse’s executive director David Moore says Whitener still has a long road to recovery ahead of him. On Monday, the same day as Posey’s attack, two suspects were arrested in Whitener’s case.

Whitener, who has worked all over DFW as an actor, director and designer, was just appointed artistic director of the small, nonprofit community theater in Farmers Branch in December. He has been a contract director there since 2014, and Moore says last year Whitener began expressing a desire to become its first artistic director.

The theater, which had just received a grant from Wal-Mart intended to fund theater education for young people in Carrollton and Farmers Branch, reworked the budget to create a position for Whitener as “artistic and education director.”

A friend of Whitener’s set up a GoFundMe account to help with his medical expenses. Thanks in part to celebrities such as Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jamie Lee Curtis, who shared the account on social media, the GoFundMe page has raised $107,323 of its $100,000 goal in a little over two weeks.

Moore says Firehouse has also been doing some fundraising of its own, pulling together $1,000 in donations through a combination of ticket sales and a jar that is set out at the theater. Many other theaters in North Texas have also been contributing to the fundraising efforts, including Theatre Three, which held a benefit concert for Whitener.

Firehouse was able to find another actor who had played Whitener’s role to step in for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and has also found someone to take over his next gig, directing Bye Bye Birdie, which began rehearsals last week. As part of Whitener’s new position, he now directs half of the plays at the theater.


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