He's in the middle of casting, directing and designing Dallas Theater Center's fall production of Cat on a Hot Roof, but Richard Hamburger took a few minutes to talk to Unfair Park about today's announcement that he'll be leaving his job as artistic director next year.
Are you being forced out or is leaving your decision?
Totally my decision. I'm at the end of my contract and just felt like it was time to reassess and perhaps move on. I'm beginning to work on outside projects. The thought of having a little breathing space seems pleasant to me, to say the least. This job is 24/7. You're always on call. I've been so busy running theaters for the last 20 years...I've been lucky. But it's time. Just an intuitive feeling I have.
Will you be active in choosing your replacement?
I think the artistic director should stay out of the search, so, no I won't be. The new person should be someone who loves the community and loves working with them. An excellent artist who has a tremendous amount of energy. Someone who loves being in a rehearsal hall with actors. Who has good administrative skills and can raise money. Also, living in and setting roots down in Dallas will be very important. This is not a stepping-stone job. It takes five years to figure it out. It takes a long time to learn really what the rhythm and stories are that interest people. Also, the [theater's] board needs to give a new candidate time.
Looking back, what were the best productions you did at DTC?
Definitely Santos & Santos, working with [playwright] Octavio Solis. I loved a project we did called Skin, directed by Matthew Wilder. It was brazen and wonderful at breaking new ground. The eight-woman Macbeth we did. In a sense, our programming, for all kinds of complex reasons, has gone a little soft lately. I leaned toward that which was new. I like gambling on a long shot or revisiting a really, really great classic. I loved doing Long Day's Journey in the Arts District. Loved doing Big Love there. Love that kind of material and love classics.
Is that why you chose Cat for this season?
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has, oddly enough, something to say about America today. [The character] Maggie says, "You can't grow old and poor in this country." That resonated with me, the problems of the very wealthy and how shallow their interior life can be.
Might that be a little swat at some of your richer, stuffier subscribers?
Not at all. Since I came down here, I have thought of Dallas as a great audience. An unpretentious, honest audience. You get a real response. If they're bored, they really tell you so. Dallas does need to attend to that side of itself that is in love with money. Theater tells us to attend to interior needs. Dallas needs that as much as any city in the country.
As a born-and-bred New Yorker, did you always feel like an outsider here?
I have a son who was born and raised here. We set our roots fairly deeply here. There were times I felt at home.
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What's the biggest challenge to regional theaters like DTC?
We need to reinvent theater. Reinvent the times when we have audiences come--maybe you have food at the theater after work. You provide babysitters. America is on fast-forward. Our institutions are not up to date. It's been a failure of artistic leadership around the country that we're not relevant anymore. Not just in material, but in how we do it, when we do it. Everything.
Any regrets about your tenure at DTC?
If I have one regret, it's that there's an enormous amount of talent here in Dallas that wasn't tapped. In many ways I wish I'd created a company that created security and a place for actors to grow here. We did give a lot of opportunities to people. But for everyone you cast, there are 50 you're saying no to. That's tough. --Elaine Liner