Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
In 1958, with the new Kalita Humphreys Theater rising on the east bank of Turtle Creek, architect Frank Lloyd Wright made a prediction about his then-ultra-modern edifice: "One day this will mark the spot where Dallas once stood."
Audacious, perhaps, but an interesting observation about the often underappreciated significance of the performing arts in big-city history.
Half a century from now, Wright's poured-concrete marvel may be as dusty and forgotten as Margo Jones' once-revolutionary theater-in-the-round in Fair Park (still there, but seldom used since Jones' death in 1955). In 2009 the Dallas Theater Center company moves out of Kalita, where it has produced shows since 1959, and into the new $60 million Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the Dallas Center for Performing Arts downtown.
Dallas theater, it seems, always has reflected a tendency of status-seeking audiences and benefactors to equate great art with how impressive the building is around it, the shinier and newer the better.
By 2058, however, the Wyly, designed by international architecture star Rem Koolhaas, will be the same age as Wright's Kalitais now. And what arebeing touted now as the Wyly's whizbangtechnical gewgaws (computerized lighting!) and "cutting-edge" theatrical design features (hydraulic rows of seats!) could be as old-fashioned as gas footlights and trapdoors were when Wright planned Kalita Humphreys.
One thing's for certain, though: Whatever the year, whatever the venue, people will still gather to hear live actors and probably not wispy holograms speak lines from Medea, Hamlet, Our Town and A Christmas Carol. These are the "classics." Year after year, decade after decade, these plays never seem to go away (no matter how much some critics and theatergoers wish they would).
Live theater has lived on through the millennia with only the occasional blackout. In ancient Rome, the government shut down theaters, calling them centers of politically subversive thought. That ban lasted more than 1,700 years, well into the Christian era. The Renaissance stirred the arts back to life, and it's been the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd ever since.
Art can be a fragile thing. But even in the worst of modern times, American theater has flourished. After 9/11, large regional theaters such as Dallas Theater Center struggled to survive as corporate donations and individual ticket sales shrank. But actors need to act and playwrights didn't stop typing new plays. So in Dallas and around the country, new, small theater companies popped up, performing in community centers, public libraries, art galleries and other low-overhead acting spaces. In Dallas it's possible to see up to five new productions every week of the year, produced by more than 60 active theater companies on stages as large as the Music Hall at Fair Park and as tiny as the basement-level Theatre Too. From splashy Broadway musical road companies to tour de force one-man shows at the Festival of Independent Theatres, the range of talent currently treading local boards is impressive and encouraging.
That bodes well for the future of the arts here, say theater directors. "In 50 years, I'd love to have a theater community in Dallas not unlike Chicago's or Seattle's," says director René Moreno, who has staged shows at Contemporary Theatre, Theatre Three, Uptown Players and Dallas Theater Center. "I'd love for this to be a place where artists can come and put roots down and really grow and do great work. Maybe have several big Equity houses, not in competition with each other, but with different points of views and different goals. I would hope that by the time we get to 50 years from now, we have several organizations as big as Dallas Theater Center." (DTC is the second-largest League of Resident Theatres member company in Texas, behind Houston's Alley Theatre.)
Technological improvements aside—maybe someday someone will invent a microphone pack that doesn't short out on opening night—theater will always be about audiences sharing space with living, breathing actors.
"I hope it never stops being that," says director Cheryl Denson, who's worked in Dallas theater more than 30 years. "The excitement of theater has always been in human beings responding to each other without being manipulated by technology."
Moreno says he'd like to see theater production get simpler, less dependent on technology and special effects. "There's nothing like being in a theater with live actors onstage. It's a need people have in their community," he says. "Technology won't kill theater any more than movies killed theater. In the end what theater is about is storytelling. It goes back to people sitting around a campfire and someone telling a story that could perhaps change someone else's life. That's what it was, is and will always be." Elaine Liner
Admittedly, we were a touch skeptical about the Deep Ellum Film Festival's transition from The Little Indie Fest That Could into The Big-Money Target All-Star Throwdown Jamboree scattered hither and yon. But, just two years in, the thing's a mighty beast—and mighty impressive, as the likes of Lauren Bacall, Charlize Theron, David Lynch and some dude named De Niro have piled into Dallas for a week's worth of screenings and highfalutin wingdings the likes of which most Dallasites never get to see unless their Dallas lives in Highland Park. But Michael Cain's fest makes much of Dallas look shiny and special: The West Village is hoppin', thanks to Magnolia screenings; Mockingbird Station's cram-packed, what with those Angelika screens running hot; NorthPark's packed, in no small part thanks to the red carpet upon which the most famous feet trod day and night; and all of Victory Park's a go-go, courtesy the host hotel (the W, natch). Really, for one week every spring, even we think Dallas is the most awesome city in the history of parking lots.
Denton artist and musician Nevada Hill made quite the mark on North Texas this year, contributing stellar cover art for releases by Record Hop, Dust Congress and Stumptone, the latter a vinyl-only release featuring two cardboard panels screen-printed with an imposing image of reverberating speakers. And while Hill's work for Record Hop is admittedly on a much smaller scale (thanks, CD format), it's hard to deny the appeal of the cover art, a quirky drawing of what appears to be a mangy lion crapping the band's name. You can spot the Photoshop a mile away on most local record covers these days. With Hill's DIY treasures, however, all you spot is blood, sweat and artistry.
Considering the fact that we don't really like The Smiths (blame our college roommates), we weren't really sure about "Phil Collins: the world won't listen," the three-screen video installation presented earlier this year by the Dallas Museum of Art. But damn, if it wasn't the most entertaining thing we've ever seen in a museum, with the 1987 Smiths compilation, The World Won't Listen, repeating on a loop as fans from Colombia, Turkey and Indonesia sang along karaoke-style on each of the screens. We couldn't begin to pick a favorite image, though the chick in the wrestling mask and the unfortunate looking, teary-eyed Asian man certainly burned themselves into our psyche. We liked it all so much, in fact, that we went right out and got a pompadour.
For 23 years, Barry Whistler has brought seriously talented Texas artists to his Dallas gallery walls. And without fail, his exhibitions get the conversations going. From impressions and interpretations to artistic method, Whistler's gallery openings are abuzz with "I wonder..." and "That's so...wow." And that's what makes a gallery successful—when people actually talk about the art. The list of BWG's artists is impressive: Linnea Glatt, John Pomara, Allison V. Smith, Robert Wilhite (who presented audiences this year with one heavily discussed exhibition, The Bomb, featuring a skeletal, scaled-to-size sculpture of the Fat Man Bomb) and others. Plus, the gallery provides art lovers with a lively blog (barrywhistlergallery.blogspot.com) to catch the behind-the-scenes new and upcoming events in the gallery, which readers then discuss via the comments section. See what we mean about creating art dialogue?
When a musical needs a voice that can hit the back row, go through the back wall, into the parking lot and out to the stratosphere, the director calls for Megan Kelly Bates. The bouncy redhead sings, tap-dances and gets laughs, winning hearts and testing eardrums most recently as a yappy pup with a lot of high notes in Theatre Three's A Dog's Life. You've seen Bates, 28, in The Great American Trailer Park Musical and Urinetown at WaterTower, plus shows at Casa Manana, Contemporary Theatre and other stages all over North Texas. And where'd she come by those pipes? "When I was 5 and about to audition for my first show, The King and I, my mom put me in the living room, and we practiced my song. Then she had me sing in the hallway while she stayed in the living room and yelled, 'I can't hear you!' From there a belter was born!"
According to his blog, Pete's Place is "a running commentary on whatever strikes me at the moment," and the result is sharp and thoughtful commentary on issues ranging from college football to national politics. Pete Oppel, former music writer and entertainment editor for The Dallas Morning News, offers up a regular dose of movie and DVD reviews, and he also likes to talk about the Cowboys, Mavericks and Rangers. Oppel, who also served as public information officer for the city of Dallas, pays close attention to local politics and isn't afraid to call out public officials. Most of his posts don't get comments, leading us to believe that Pete's Place is drifting out in the blogosphere, buried among the zillions of other blogs out there. But that much effort can't go unnoticed for too much longer, as Pete's Place continues to slowly find its way into the personal blogrolls of people all over Dallas.
Craving to kick up a heel, cut a rusty or clog with a cutie? The Texas Twisters are a group of gay men and women whose passion is country and western dancing. Nope, you don't have to be gay to take part. Although most of the group is gay folk, membership is open to anyone with an open mind and a love of dance. Founded in 2000, the club's goals promote country and western music and dance, raise money for community charities and establish and maintain a dance team for performances and competitions. Wednesday night dance classes and monthly Club Night Out on Saturdays keep spirits soaring and toes tapping. The Texas Twisters' performance teams have won local, state, national and international awards, and plans are afoot to perform in Texas gay pride parades and to compete in the Texas Gay Rodeo Association Dance Contest. In addition to having fun and making friends, joining the club has built-in fringe benefits. Like finding a partner with rhythm.
The party celebrating The Southern Unknown was one for the books. Too many bands are content to stack a show with their friends' bands and just call it a "CD Release Party." Dove Hunter and the Double Wide actually held up the "party" end of the bargain, hauling out a snowcone machine and bringing in an all-female mariachi band from Fort Worth to open the festivities. Honestly, we had so much fun before Dove Hunter played that the band's actual set is something of a blur—but we certainly remember the party. Here's hoping the band gets to work fast on album No. 2 just so we can go to the bash.
The Barking Dog out to keep Lower Greenville free of "scumbars" and the sumbitches who populate them is a filmmaker now—or, c'mon, don't you read our blog Unfair Park? Because, seriously, every Monday morning we know Avi will provide us with a must-see video in which a drunk or 10 are getting busted by Dallas' Finest. And Avi's no sideline cinematographer: He's up in their shit, taking their taunts, asking for more, getting plenty of action, yeah, that's it, hotter, let the camera see you seethe, bleed. We don't know that it makes one bit of diff—he's become quite the director, not so much the deterrent—but that's half the fun, watching Avi out on the mean streets in search of the trouble that usually comes right to him and, sooner or later, right to us via the Vimeo site to which he's now posting his widescreen wonders for which the Academy thanks him very, very much.
When the City Council debated a living wage for garbage truck crews, Angela Hunt went out and rode a truck for a day. Management in Sanitation Services wanted to put her on one of the new air-conditioned vehicles, but a worker whispered to her that the old un-air-conditioned trucks are the real story. So that's where she spent a very long, very hot day seeing the issues for herself. Of course, we wouldn't name her the city's best council person if she did things like that and then came to totally screwball conclusions. Nor would we choose her if all of her efforts were narcissistic and self-promotional. The overall package here is of high energy, deep focus, rock-hard integrity, a generally intelligent take on issues and an open heart. But more than any of these, the quality that always impresses is her vision for the city. She is a rare gem in a box of bolts—the very best we've got.
Faced with a need to refurbish many aging shade structures and build more new ones, the Park Department has been using shade structures as a way of bringing public architecture into neighborhoods all over the city. Assistant Director Willis Winters, an architect, invited leading architects in Texas and from around the world to submit designs. Scott Marek of Frank Welch & Associates designed a pavilion for the Lake Highlands North Rec Center near Skillman, with a floor that slopes up gradually to form a stage at one end for neighborhood gatherings. It is one of more than 40 unique pavilions that will be built in city parks. The pavilion program includes full restoration of nine 1930s WPA pavilions. When you think about the relationship we have with the sun here in North Texas, there couldn't have been a more thoughtful way to infuse meaningful civic architecture into the day-to-day landscape.