I should open this blog post with a caveat. These are the 10 best theater companies in town that aren't the Dallas Theater Center. The budget of the Dallas Theater Center sweeps it out of the competition. It's our local member of the League of Resident Theaters (LORT), which implies, among other things, DTC has a bigger budget and it works with more Actors' Equity Association members (the professional union). Oh yeah, and it's the arts district theater company. We salute you, DTC, but this is a different kind of list. It's a list about the artists who are getting down and dirty to make their craft, running one-person development departments, writing their own scripts and building their own sets.
If you find it difficult to believe that we could come up with 10, it might surprise you to learn that there are a few theater companies who didn't make the list. And we didn't even venture to Fort Worth, where we are big fans of Amphibian Stage Productions, Circle Theatre, Stage West, and the annual Trinity Shakespeare Festival. Let there be no mistake about it, there's a lot of theater in this city.
Kitchen Dog Theater If you want insight into the national theater zeitgeist, Kitchen Dog Theater presents it on the regular. Co-artistic directors Tina Parker and Chris Carlos are up-to-the-minute on what's happening in American theater, due in equal parts to their impeccable taste and the theater's founding membership in the National New Play Network, which allows them to share in rolling world premieres with some of the country's most exciting theaters. Plus, they work with some of the city's best actors and directors. And if that weren't enough, Kitchen Dog Theater is house inside the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Uptown, doubling your artistic intake.
Undermain Theatre Founded in Deep Ellum during the height of experimental theater in Dallas, Undermain Theatre continues to produce groundbreaking theater in its basement space under, you guessed it, Main Street. Another company run by a dynamic male-female team, co-artistic directors Katherine Owens and Bruce DuBose, Undermain consistently earns national attention for its world premieres of playwrights like Len Jenkin and Erik Ehn. The shows are challenging and raw, a quality not often appreciated in the polished city of Dallas.
Fun House Theatre & Film Jeff Swearingen and Bren Rapp (another male-female team!) have us fully smitten. They've created a professional quality theater company using casts entirely under the age of 18. Sure, the hike to Plano blows, but when you laugh so hard you snort up the wine you smuggled in, you entirely forget about the traffic on Central Expressway. At least, that's been our experience. Swearingen's made a habit of adapting plays, books and up next, he's serving up, Game of Thrones Junior. Yes, please.
Uptown Players As the city's LGBT theater company, Uptown Players picks plays that focus on gay characters or issues. And even though the quality of one play to the next can be inconsistent, they have at least one smash-hit per season, which makes all the rest worth it. Plus, they're the only company in town that can nail the humor in kitschy shows like Pageant.
Ochre House Theater One of the luminaries in the Dallas theater scene is Mr. Matt Posey, the man behind the zany original works at Expo Park's Ochre House Theater. No two shows are alike in his little storefront space and every night at the theater is an experience you won't soon forget. He picks a topic (William S. Burroughs, Lord R.M. Buckley), write a show, and cast himself, alongside his patchwork company of players. There's often music, dance, and revelry. Plus, it's the only company in town where booze is included in the price of admission.
Second Thought Theatre There's no disguising that Second Thought Theatre isn't a big budget theater. For the first two shows this year, the sets basically consisted of chalk and a borrowed baby grand piano. But this simplicity strips the shows to basic instincts of theater, the fundamentals, like strong acting and expert storytelling. Another company focused on new work, there's nothing too risky for Second Thought: Nudity, violence, drugs, abuse. They've done it all.
Cara Mia Theatre Helmed by David Lozano (a 2014 Dallas Observer mastermind), the goal of Cara Mia Theatre is to tell the stories of the Latino population in Dallas, an often underrepresented voice in theater. The company presents a variety of work, including adaptations of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, as well as fantastical family-friendly shows like The Magic Rainforest: An Amazon Adventure. Of late, Lozano has begun to focus outward, working on collaborations with other local theaters, including Dallas Theater Center.
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Margo Jones Theatre The beloved, but tiny space in Fair Park that once housed regional theater grandmother Margo Jones' fledgling company, now hosts a company that works more as a presenter than a producer. The Margo Jones Theatre focuses on new work, recently presenting Audacity Theatre Lab's Dallas Solo Fest. Keep an eye on this little company for shows that are fresh, and often unrefined.
WaterTower Theatre If you think all the city of Addison has to offer is strip malls filled with restaurants, think again. WaterTower Theatre resides in the Addison Conference Centre and whips up show after show and many of them are downright awesome. They build seasons with crowd pleasers (you're likely to see familiar characters like Sherlock Holmes onstage here), as well as riskier fare. Bold choices like Spring Awakening or The Lieutenant of Inishmore have probably seemed shocking for the theater's predominately blue-haired audience. But risk is usually worth the reward, as it's often these dangerous choices that suit WaterTower best.
Theatre Three In terms of seniority, Theatre Three pre-dates all in town, except Dallas Theater Center. Founded in the 1960's by the enterprising Norma Young, Theatre Three continues to produce seasons with exciting new musicals (On the Eve) and classics by the likes of Noel Coward. And current artistic director Jac Alder has been working in this town for more than 50 years. Plus, if you're looking for something a bit more off-beat, the downstairs space Theatre Too produces long-running hits like Avenue Q and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.