Arts & Culture News

Dallas Theater Pioneer Katherine Owens Dies

Katherine Owens was a theater visionary who established North Texas as a place for theater troupes led by women.
Katherine Owens was a theater visionary who established North Texas as a place for theater troupes led by women. Stephen Webster
For 35 years, theater visionary Katherine Owens created expressive art in a basement in Deep Ellum, taking audiences to far-away places and fairy tale lands created by legendary playwrights such as Samuel Beckett and David Rabe.

As co-founder and co-director of the Undermain Theatre troupe, Owens established North Texas as a place for theater companies led by women. She also won several awards for directing notable productions, including Lisa Peterson and Dennis O’Hare’s An Iliad, Sarah Kane’s Blasted and Young Jean Lee’s The Appeal, as her husband and artistic partner Bruce DuBose pointed out in Owens' July 23 obituary.

Owens died Saturday after a prolonged illness. She was 61.

“She was and is the heart and soul of the Undermain Theatre and will be greatly missed,” Undermain Theatre posted on Facebook. “We dedicated this and all of our seasons to her.”

Born in 1957 in Salt Lake City, Owens grew up in the oil patch of West Texas. Her father was a reader and lover of painting and music. He tutored Owens and helped her recognize the styles and names of paintings. She discovered her passion for theater when she was 12. She began working as an intern at the Globe Theatre in Odessa and graduated with a B.F.A. in theater from the University of Texas.

“It was so captivating to me,” Owens told the Dallas Observer in September 2014. “The theater just seemed like the only place to be.”

“The theater just seemed like the only place to be.” — Katherine Owens

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Owens got her first taste of directing in the early '80s at the Oklahoma Shakespeare Festival and then headed to Dallas in 1984 because it was “really starting to see itself as a theater town,” she said.

In Dallas, Owens met actor Raphael Parry, and they embarked on creating the Undermain Theatre in an excavated basement beneath Main Street in Deep Ellum. Owens would spend the next 35 years establishing a cultural legacy of award-winning productions first with Parry and later with executive producer DuBose.

“We always called it a ‘benevolent monarchy,’” Parry told KERA’s Art and Seek in a July 23 article.

Owens told the Observer a few years before her death, “We’ve absolutely produced what we’ve found interesting. It’s a commitment that Undermain has made to itself, to make things for specific philosophical and artistic reasons. The creative community in Dallas is incredibly vibrant and enthusiastic. Texas character plus rigor in the arts is a great combination.”

Owens’ work also extends beyond Dallas. She took the Undermain company to Macedonia in 1996 and performed Goran Stefanovski’s Sarajevo for the United Nations’ 50th anniversary. Owens and DuBose also produced Off-Off Broadway plays in New York, including Neil Young’s rock opera Greendale to a sold-out crowd at the Ice Factory Festival, an Obie Award-winning summer festival in New York.

Along with winning awards for her productions, Owens also received the Dallas Historical Society Award for Excellence in the Creative Arts in 2013 and the American Association of University Women’s Texas Woman of Distinction Award. She was a fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture and a liaison with Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts and received recognition from the Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News and D Magazine.

“The greatest thing you can do is love things deeply, admire fiercely and stay in touch with what that is,” Owens told D in 2014. “I suppose that’s a life’s work.”
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.