Theater

Banter

It's easy to compound details and build an ominous "trend" for a whole scene, but one sad development I can confirm in this space: New Theatre Company, which since 1994 has produced some of the most disciplined and adventurous state, regional, and national premieres for Dallas audiences, is moving. Not closing, but moving. Co-founders and married partners Charlotte Akin and Jim Jorgensen will leave for Washington, D.C., on May 29, in anticipation of participating, along with about 60 other union and non-union companies, in the June 21 League of Washington Theaters auditions at the Arena Stage.

Charlotte Akin mailed a three-page letter to friends and supporters about their decision that was remarkably free of recrimination, given the diminishing returns for hard theatrical work many artists find in this city, and discomfitingly articulate about some of the problems they encountered trying to produce, cast, and showcase their work. A conversation with Jim Jorgensen confirms that, among a tangled mess of difficulties, the two biggest reasons for their departure are never finding a stable benefactor and having to fight to cast from a small pool of talented actors that everyone else was fishing in (one that is especially poorly stocked with men ages 35 and over).

"If you were to interview many of the artistic directors around town, I think they'd give you the same list of four to five to six men [they want to work with]," Jorgensen says. "And if they're tied up or not interested, you just have to stumble. Or cast yourself. A lot of people think that we cast every show around ourselves, but we'd send out audition notices two or three months before rehearsals. And then start calling. And calling. I had to direct myself and other people in Toys in the Attic, and that's never a situation I want to do again. It was hellacious."

That, plus the fact they got bumped around to three different venues and didn't receive the constant patronage that, say, the Albrittons give to Kitchen Dog, meant that they never found a reliable situation in which to weather the unknown of which shows would be sell-outs and which would be sparsely attended. That's life in the theater, to some extent, but the Jorgensens thought that the difficulty in casting Dallas actors of an age appropriate to the roles made soldiering forward a largely pointless endeavor. Jim Jorgensen insists some people said they were crazy because they didn't hang around for the new space that's about to open at KD Studios, where he had worked. But it didn't address their Sisyphean struggle to match able actors with the material. Still, he's not leaving the city with pristine visions of salvation in some other neck of the woods.

"I don't believe that there is a pot at the end of the rainbow anywhere [for theater artists]," Jorgenson says. "There are just different cities and different scenes. We picked Washington because it seemed to have a number of small companies thriving, and yet it wasn't a destination-city for theater artists. It wasn't overstifled like Chicago is." He pauses, choosing his words carefully. "And there does seem to be a larger audience with a taste for more adventurous work. We could never figure out what Dallas audiences would like."

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Jimmy Fowler