Joanie Schultz to Make First Mark on WaterTower Theatre With Play About the Stonewall Riots

Joanie Schultz loved WaterTower Theatre's tradition of producing edgy family dramas and musicals, so she's rolling with more of that for the 2017-2018 season.
Joanie Schultz loved WaterTower Theatre's tradition of producing edgy family dramas and musicals, so she's rolling with more of that for the 2017-2018 season.
Joe Mazza
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Addison doesn't have many things in common with Chicago, but now it has at least one: Joanie Schultz. The new artistic director of WaterTower Theatre spent 20 years in the Windy City earning her master's and a reputation for producing edgy new work. Now she's bringing a Chicago theater mentality to Addison.

Schultz characterizes Chicago actors and directors as fierce, if sometimes sycophantic. This makes for theater in which the audience can’t help getting swept up.

“It can be surprising to people in other cities, but I believe that if every play you do is not life-changing then you’re doing it wrong," she says. "I don’t know why you would do a play otherwise.”

Schultz began investigating career opportunities in North Texas because of her husband, opera conductor Francesco Milioto. He assistant conducted the reprisal of Moby-Dick for the Dallas Opera last fall and sang the city's praises to her.

Schultz had been interested in pursuing an artistic director position, so she came to visit during Moby-Dick's run and used that time to meet with WaterTower Theatre’s board of directors. She loved their track record of producing edgy family dramas and musicals. It was an instant fit.

Now, Schultz, whose hire was announced four months ago, finds herself in charge of carrying out the current season at WaterTower Theatre, which also announced its lineup for 2017-2018 today.

One of the first tasks Schultz faced with was finding a replacement for Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, which former artistic director Terry Martin, now the head of fine arts at Greenhill School, had been slated to direct this season.

“We aren’t just here to put on plays. They need to be driven by someone and fueled with excitement," she says. "This show is Terry’s baby, he had dreamt of doing it for a long time. I wasn’t going to direct his baby. We weren’t going to do the show without him.”

With Sunday in the Park canceled, Szhultz took the opportunity to add in a play she'd always wanted to direct: Hit the Wall, Chicago playwright Ike Holter’s 2013 play about the Stonewall Riots, which premiered at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre before earning an Off Broadway run. Holter is a member of the playwright’s ensemble at Victory Gardens Theater, also in Chicago, where Schultz was an artistic associate.

The regional premiere of Hit the Wall will run from July 28-August 20.

Right now, Schultz is busy packing boxes in her old apartment, wrapping up directing gigs in the Chicago and having farewell drinks with friends. Soon she'll move into a home in Lakewood and dive into preparations for the show, which will be DFW's first taste of who she is.

She points to Hit the Wall's unique storytelling style; it feels like an event to her. She also has a dream of what she calls “radical acceptance,” which is the answer to her constant fears for marginalized members of society, the people she sees so eloquently depicted in the play.

“I love this play. It is a play for right now," she says. "There is so much fear in the world. If you don’t talk about the stories that happened, young people can’t know about them.”

WaterTower Theatre’s 2017-2018 season:

Pride and Prejudice
Regional Premiere
October 13-November 5, 2017
By Kate Hamill
Directed by Joanie Schultz

Kate Hamill has found a niche adapting classical literature. Her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility played at The Dallas Theater Center in 2015.

Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue
Regional Premiere
January 26-February 18, 2018
By Quiara Alegría Hudes

Pulitzer prize winning dramatist Hudes weaves together three generations of soldier stories with a musical “fugue:” a compositional technique that draws from a recurring theme. The Jewish-Puerto Rican playwright has dual degrees in music and playwriting.

World Premiere
April 13-May 6, 2018
By Regina Taylor

Dallas-born actress and playwright Regina Taylor will debut a  new play to her home state. Taylor’s plays have premiered Off Broadway, and she won a Golden Globe for the 1991 NBC series I’ll Fly Away.

The Last Five Years
June 8-July 1, 2018
Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Kelsey Leigh Ervi

This musical debuted in Chicago in 2001, before moving Off Broadway the next year. The story explores a five-year relationship between a rising novelist and a struggling actress. The musical uses a unique style of storytelling which plays with the characters’ timelines.

Hand to God
Regional Premiere
August 3-26, 2018
By Robert Askins
Directed by Joanie Schultz

The Broadway hit about a possessed puppet by Baylor alumnus Robert Askins received five Tony nominations. In July 2016, Schultz directed Hand to God at the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C.

The Great Distance Home
World Premiere
December 1-17, 2018
Created and Conceived by Kelsey Leigh Ervi

This new play by WTT Associate Artistic Director Kelsey Leigh Ervi is a “devised holiday play” about returning home.

The new season will also feature a festival designed for the creation of new work. “Detour” is a 4-day festival from March 1-4, 2018, that will focus on public performances and readings of devised and new pieces by both local and national playwrights.

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