The Chinese zodiac may indicate that 2014 is the Year of the Horse, but on August 22nd, Year of the Rooster will take the stage at the Wyly Theatre. Upstart Production's performance of the play inaugurates a six-part series that AT&T Performing Arts Center has dubbed The Elevator Project. The series invites small, local companies to utilize the sixth and ninth floors of the Wyly for one show of their season each.
While a load of money has been spent developing a world class Arts District in Dallas, venues like the Wyly Theatre and the Winspear Opera House generally cater to professional and touring companies. The many small budget theater and dance companies that call Dallas home are still often left scrambling for performance space. David Denson, artistic director of Upstart Productions, is no stranger to this dilemma. "There are very few 100-seat theater spaces that you can rent to put on a show," Denson says. "I come from New York, where you don't even think about it. Finding a space is the least of your worries. Here, you're fighting for the same three spots."
Because Dallas Theater Center will be performing half of its upcoming season at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, the black box theater and rehearsal space at the Wyly was unusually available. Thus, the Elevator Project was born. Denson, who is also a part of the programming team at ATTPAC, proposed that the Wyly be offered to local groups. The five other companies participating in the project are The Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG), Dallas Actor's Lab, Second Thought Theatre, Cara Mia Theatre Co. and African American Repertory Theater.
By giving groups like Upstart Productions a presence in the Arts District, the hope is that The Elevator Project will broaden their audience and raise their profile. Denson offers the storytelling show Oral Fixation, which moved to Hamon Hall at the Winspear for its third season, as a model for what the Elevator Project is trying to accomplish. "In one season, ATTPAC tripled Oral Fixation's audience on every show," he says. "What if we could do that for more organizations?"
Josh Glover created Upstart Productions in 2008, with a founding mission to identify and cultivate emerging talent. That goal is synchronous with the Elevator Project's, making Upstart a natural fit to commence the series. The company has been dormant since last August's production of The Aliens at Margo Jones Theatre, which David Denson directed. In that time, Upstart has gone through a major transition. Year of the Rooster will mark its first production since Glover passed his title of artistic director to Denson.
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Year of the Rooster, which comes from a young writer by the name of Eric Dufault, recently enjoyed a very successful run at New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre. The main character -- well, the main human character anyway -- is Gil Pepper, a disgruntled McDonald's employee who uses a prize rooster named Odysesseus Rex as a tool for revenge. On the surface, Year of the Rooster is a play about cockfighting, but Denson insists that description doesn't do it justice.
"It's a play about the triumph of the human spirit. I say that tongue firmly in cheek, because it's so pretentious," he says, laughing. "It's about the struggle of finding success in the world, of finding your own voice. It just happens to use the sport of cockfighting as the medium to bring that story to life."
Perhaps the Elevator Project will similarly act as a medium to bring Upstart's voice to a new population of theatergoers.
Year of the Rooster runs from August 22nd through September 6 at the Wyly Theatre. Individual tickets available for $20 or subscribe to all six shows for $100. Info at ticketdfw.com.