Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Web extra: Founder and producer Tim Shane leads a video tour of the no-frills Dallas Hub Theater.
Dallas Theater Center can spend $400,000 to mount a single production. Contemporary Theatre of Dallas spends up to $40,000.
Budget for a really big show at Dallas Hub Theater? $40.
"In most cases, we're actually at zero for the budget," Hub founder and producer Tim Shane says. "New directors will come here and say, 'We need this kind of paint,' and I'll go, 'Do we really need to spend that 15 dollars?'"
The Hub, a two-stage, 100-seat space on Canton Street in Deep Ellum, puts on 25 productions a year and rents its stages for 25 other low-budget shows by fledgling companies such as Level Ground Arts or Upstart Productions. Most major Dallas theaters schedule only six to 10 productions a season. The Hub keeps humming nearly year-round with main-stage shows, late-night comedies, dinner theater parties and the annual Dallas Fringe Festival. Shane recently launched Cyber Fest, an online new play showcase that had playwrights around the globe beaming in readings of their scripts via Skype.
Almost everything the Hub does, it does on the fly. Shane doesn't sell season tickets because he's never sure month to month what shows he'll be able to afford to produce. He routinely recycles scenery and has no shame about begging Theatre Three or the SMU drama department to loan out or donate used costumes. The Hub's actors, some of them high school and college students, work for a small cut of the box office take, typically topping out at about $75 apiece for an entire three-week run. And unlike other theaters, The Hub doesn't allow actors to comp in friends and family for performances. Everybody buys a ticket. This is a no-frills, low-thrills theater that recently turned to Shakespeare (in abbreviated versions) because the scripts come royalty-free and bookings by school groups help fill the coffers.
"We're using the same set for Romeo and Juliet and Othello," Shane says. "Whenever we build something, we try to think of two or three more shows we can use it for."
A Chicago-born former academic, Shane recently took a corporate day job but he spends every night and weekend at his theater. He earns no salary from The Hub, which he opened in 2005 after producin
g low-budget shows in other spaces. "From a business point of view, The Hub doesn't make any sense," he says. "It is a money pit. But I always wanted to be an artistic director, to have full creative control of a theater. I feel like I'm building toward something."
Shane says his inspiration for The Hub came from the book Sam Mendes at the Donmar: Stepping Into Freedom, which chronicles director Mendes' creation of London's now-legendary Donmar Warehouse. Mendes, best known as a filmmaker (American Beauty) and as husband of actress Kate Winslet, walked by a boarded-up building in 1990 and decided it would make a great venue for independent, experimental theater productions. Mendes ran it as artistic director for 10 years, launching new works by Tom Stoppard and other major playwrights and sending numerous shows, including Frost/Nixon and an acclaimed revival of Guys and Dolls, to award-winning runs in London's West End and on Broadway.
So far, The Hub can claim only modest success as an incubator of new talent, mostly by helping to boost other theaters' interest in exciting young Dallas actors. Jeff Swearingen has played a variety of roles in Hub shows, including the lead in Hamlet and the part of Maverick in Top Gun: The Musical. This summer Swearingen starred at the New York International Fringe Fest in The Boxer, a show that started in Dallas, though not at The Hub.
"I do hope The Hub has its day in the sun someday," Swearingen says. "The place has courage and spunk to be holding on this long. If someone truly cares about the Dallas theater scene, institutions like this can't be left to die. I have a lot of admiration for all of the artists who experienced growing pains with The Hub."
Shane says his dream is for his theater to evolve into the Second City of the Southwest. Second City is the Chicago proving ground for comic actors and comedy writers. Among its hundreds of successful showbiz alumni are Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.
"Dallas needs a place for artists to develop their craft before they're discovered," Shane says. "That happens in fringe spaces like ours."
First-time playwrights are welcomed at The Hub as long as they're willing to forgo royalties to get scripts on their feet. Writer Charlotte Miller premiered her drama Traumnovela there and then took it to New York and Barcelona."
We can take risks on new shows that theaters that have large budgets can't," Shane says. "We can try and fail miserably and be able to bounce back. The inverse of that is if too many things are failing at the same time here, we're in trouble."
Over the summer, Shane battled a balky air-conditioning system (he finally got one donated). There have been plumbing problems, and during the production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, the building reeked. The source of the odor turned out to be a plate of barbecue someone had wrapped in a towel and left to molder in the hot prop room for a couple of months. "We now have rules in our contracts about cleaning up backstage," Shane says.
Aesthetics are never a high priority at The Hub, whose dreary ambience local critics have compared to an abandoned coal mine and a serial killer's crawlspace. Shane doesn't take offense. "Everything in this theater is a piece of another theater that they were throwing out," he says. The larger stage is from Pocket Sandwich Theatre. There are bits of the defunct Pegasus Theatre in The Hub. The seats came from an old vaudeville house in Virginia, whose owner offered them to Shane for free. Shane made the drive with a rickety trailer, unbolted each seat himself and drove them back to Dallas through blizzard conditions.
The Hub keeps expenses low because its overhead is high: $12,000 a month rent on the 11,000-square-foot building. That's a good deal as Deep Ellum real estate goes, but a lot for a theater getting by on $15 and $20 tickets. "Month by month it's a miracle that we make it," Shane says. "I'm always a nervous wreck, but something always happens to get us where we need to be."
On his wish list: insulation, more a/c and stage lights that don't suck so much power. "On certain light cues, we have to turn the air-conditioning off," he says.
He may be the Rodney Dangerfield of Dallas theater producers, but Tim Shane is determined to make The Hub a theater worthy of respect. Right now, though, he's got roof leaks to patch and rat traps to check. "I always said I wanted to be an artistic director," he says with a heavy sigh. "But now I'm a plumber and a maintenance man most of the time. You can't have an ego at all in this place. I like to say I'm the chief executive artistic producer- abbreviated, that spells out CHEAP." Elaine Liner
It's not really fair to call this space an art gallery. It is and it isn't. The artwork showcased on the first floor of the gallery in Deep Ellum is from unknown artists presenting their first solo shows. "I'm a Peter Pan kind of guy," owner and photographer Hal Samples says. "Throw some pixie dust and have some people perpetuate dreams." Samples himself was homeless eight years ago, so he's keen on empowering people. "I found that there were artists that were looking to be seen, but they didn't have the opportunity. I wanted to give them a place to incubate." And so the gallery was born more than a year ago and features artists who have caught Samples' attention throughout his travel in the area. So what kind of art will you find here? "Art that makes me want to meet the person," Samples says.
For local nature buffs who don't make it out to the lake each day, J. R. Compton's Amateur Birder's Journal is the next best thing, filled with daily photos of myriad birds at White Rock Lake and their strange, wonderful behavior. From ducks to purple martins to hawks and even the occasional coyote, Compton covers it all—when he's not attending to his duties as editor and publisher of DallasArtsRevue.com, that is. Fellow bird blogger David J. Ringer, on the other hand, is merely based in Duncanville, but his work for an international nonprofit takes him to locations as far-flung as Kenya, where he documents the local wildlife (avian and otherwise) for his Search and Serendipity blog. If you're like us and rarely leave Texas, paging through Ringer's exotic photos will leave you planning ways to finance your own globe-hopping adventure.
When The Dallas Morning News told longtime Texas Rangers scribe Evan Grant that he'd be moving into a group of several Dallas Cowboys beat writers resulting from the paper's agreement to share sports coverage with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he decided it was time to ply his craft someplace else. He found an unlikely partner in D Magazine publisher Wick Allison, who admits he knows nothing about sports, but was sold on Grant's sales pitch to create a comprehensive Rangers blog with assistance from former News assistant sports editor Jeff Miller and baseball blogger and lawyer Mike Hindman. Despite the tough economy, Allison secured three key sponsors. Grant later added popular radio host and sports guru Bob Sturm, and the rest is blogging history.
OK, we'll forgive you if you spent about a week thinking Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's All-American romance with local pop princess Jessica Simpson was adorably appropriate. After all, why wouldn't America's hot-and-ditzy princess want in on a little career Romomentum? But after the infamous pink jersey loss and the disappointments that followed, was there anyone in town besides bloggers hard-up for material who really wanted to see the couple last? Honestly, we're glad to see Romo's taken to an Entourage-like, Afflicton-attired existence. Sure, he's douche-y and less likable now, but when it comes to Cowboys football, we don't mind a little bros philosophy.
They say a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, but that hasn't stopped Dallas attorney Gary Vodicka from waging thermonuclear war against Southern Methodist University over the last four years, alleging the school committed fraud as it went about amassing units in his condo complex, the University Gardens, only to tear them down to make room for the Bush Library. Vodicka became a genuine pain in the docket to SMU, humiliating the school, wearing down a whole team of its lawyers in a case that spans 25 thickly stuffed court jackets. Although he turned down a settlement offer of $1 million for his demolished condo unit, he finally settled the case in July for an undisclosed amount. Vodicka also managed to convince State District Judge Martin Hoffman to allow him to depose former President George W. Bush himself. The ruling didn't stand on appeal, but the fact that Vodicka got as far as he did was as amazing as it was unprecedented.
Julie Jackson is a genius. Recession be damned, she nailed her ideal demographic and tapped into that ever-purchasing, wacky world of cat lovers with her company Kitty Wigs. And although the tiny, incredibly flattering and fashionable wigs instantly caused quite a stir when the company launched, over the last couple of years, the public began wanting even more. Along with her boy-cat Boone, Kitty Wigs photographer Jill Johnson, and 25 other feline models and their owners, the Kitty Wigs creator has turned fashion into published art with the creation of Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs. The tome features 60 photos featuring all manner of tiny wigs and their whiskered wearers. While it took around two months for Jackson and Johnson to shoot and gather all the photos for the book (featuring recognizable locales such as Lee Harvey's), it's safe to say the page-flipping pleasure will last much longer.
All right, Mr. or Ms. Readerpants, wherever you may be, we already hear you groaning and going on about how predictable we are, choosing Angela Hunt again as Dallas' best city council member, playing favorites. This is the third time we've done it since 2007. Well, you know, that's the predicament we're in. They don't call these awards the "OKs of Dallas." This is the Best of, and she is the best. Look at it this way. Try going through the rest of the city council by elimination. Let's see what all the cliques are: You've got your crooks, your socialites, your suck-ups, your sleepyheads. So, yeah, who would you pick? Vonciel Hill is smart, but she tends to linger too much in the shadow of the mayor. We've got hopes for new members Delia Jasso and Ann Margolin, but you can't buy groceries with hope. The thing about Hunt is that she's money in the bank. As Hunt begins her third two-year term on the council, we see her adding a whole lot of seasoning and steel to an already well-formed character as the smart maverick. She isn't a member of a clique, but she gets along well with those who are. She knows when to hold 'em, as she has on the Trinity River, but she knows the even harder thing—when to fold 'em, as she did on approval of the bonds for the new convention hotel. She'd make a great mayor. She's probably too smart to go for it, which is our loss. But we'll make a deal with you. If she ever does become the mayor of Dallas, we'll make a sincere effort to find somebody else who deserves Best Sitting Mayor of Dallas more than she does.
This scripted Web series launched in early August, but even at its onset, it was clear that the folks behind the serial shorts were on to something kinda special. Self-produced by Richard Neal and his staff at Zeus Comics (4411 Lemmon Ave., Suite 105), the series promises a look at the comic book world "from the other side of the counter." And that's just what it offers: a Clerks-like (but better acted), sexually charged paean to geekdom that references names and topics only recognizable by the nerdiest of collectors. But even amongst the insider chatter, the series scores laughs by focusing on the neuroses and awkward compulsions of the store's employees. The Variants is pretty entertaining stuff—so much so that you pretty much forget that you're watching what essentially amounts to a nine-minute commercial for the store.
As the title character in Matt Lyle's silent film homage The Boxer, Jeff Swearingen, 31, showed off physical comedy finesse inspired by Keaton, Chaplin and maybe a bit of PeeWee Herman. He teamed with Lyle again to play Blork, the Franken-Romeo in the silly-romantic Hello Human Female. A veteran of several improv groups, the actor got his start at The Dallas Hub and has worked with theaters all over North Texas. Next he'll play an alcoholic magician in Audacity Stage's Milky Way Cabaret in November. And look for him as Ebenezer Scrooge (his favorite character) at Plano Community Theatre. When did he realize he was funny? "When I was about 6, a group of adults were talking about how funny Bill Cosby was, and my older brother walked up and informed them that nobody was funnier than I was," Swearingen says. "I learned comedy by making my brothers laugh." When Swearingen is on a stage, everybody laughs.
Since her local theater debut in Dallas Children's Theater's Charlotte's Web in 2005, this UT-Austin grad has been popping up in comic roles on both sides of the Trinity. Shivers, 29, was a stitch as the lady cop in Circle Stage's hit Unnecessary Farce and made Ochre House audiences roar as Timmy in Matt Lyle's Hello Human Female. Inspired by Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball, Shivers says she dreams of playing frazzled maid Dotty Otley in the ultimate farce, Noises Off. Shivers' secret of comedy success? "Just be fearless. If you're playing it safe, it won't be as funny as it can be. Don't be afraid to look like an idiot."
Proprietor Richard Blair has created a community theater beloved by its surrounding community. There's never a weekend dark at this 150-seat, in-the-round playhouse tucked beside an old movie theater in a Hurst shopping center. Double- and sometimes triple-casting roles, Artisan gives amateur actors lots of work in shows like My Fair Lady, Grease, Nunsense and other family-friendly titles. The house is always full (tickets are only $12), and the atmosphere is casual (snacking is allowed and encouraged). The recent hiring of Broadway veteran John Wilkerson as full-time artistic director is a good sign that Artisan's already popular shows might be getting more professional polish.