He prowls North and East Texas junkyards, salvaging the hoods and truck beds of American-made vehicles from the 1960s and '70s. "They have the best steel and the nicest rust patterns," Hester says. "I can't use German cars. Paint's too good." He once paid a guy at a gas station $100 on the spot for the hood on the old beat-up truck the guy was driving. "As I'm working on a piece, I think about what that truck has seen in its life," Hester says. "As for my life, I've switched over from wondering if this is what I'm supposed to do. I don't use the word artist—maybe craftsman is what I am."
After the final curtain call on shows at his Ochre House theater, founder, director, playwright and actor Matthew Posey, 52, locks the front door, shuts off the lights and goes to bed backstage. The 50-seat theater is Posey's living room, literally and figuratively. The 1,500-square-foot storefront space in the shadow of Fair Park is where Posey lives (with his dog Walter) and where his small company of theater artists creates highly original, weird, wonderful alternative comedies and dramas.
Just this year, Posey, who's been doing theater in Dallas on and off since the 1980s, has written, produced and acted in eight plays at the Ochre House. He's played Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs (as a Bunraku puppet) and created several new installments in his bizarre series of "Coppertone" puppet plays, X-rated comedies Posey categorizes as emblematic of his style of "new vaudeville." "I use puppets because they allow me to defy gravity as an actor," he says. "I can make the characters fly. And because the Ochre House space is small, using puppets makes it seem bigger." Next he's writing a play about artist Frida Kahlo, with original rock music by Ross Mackey.
Residuals from roles in more than 90 TV and feature films (including JFK, Places in the Heart and, more recently, the HBO film Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes) keep the roof over Posey's head. Overhead on productions is kept low, though Posey insists on paying actors $500 per production (generous in Dallas theater). Tickets are $15. "I do theater for people who don't go to theater. That's my base," he says. "Mainstream theater can keep regurgitating Death of a Salesman. I want to create art that engages in a visceral way. I've never gone as far as what I'm doing today."
Sarah Jane Semrad
Photographer and arts advocate Sarah Jane Semrad, 35, is the major moving, shaking force behind many of the arts groups and events in Dallas that have injected fresh energy and ideas into the local scene. She's co-founder of Pecha Kucha Dallas, a networking event for designers and other creative types, and of Spark Club; is an executive director of La Reunion TX, an in-the-making artists' residency in Oak Cliff; is an event producer for the philanthropy-focused Big Bang conference; and is a founder of Art Conspiracy, a yearly party that auctions art pieces (starting at $20 per) to raise money for non-profit organizations.
Here's how Semrad describes Spark Club: "An emerging network of artists and entrepreneurs...people interested in doing things differently and in having creativity be a catalyst for innovation. We're not trying to make a buck." PechaKucha (pronounced petch-OCK-sha), based on a Japanese "happening" that started with architects, is a quarterly pitch session for anyone who has a cause or creative project they can get across to an audience in 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide. The most recent Pecha Kucha included a presentation about a football-field-turned-vegetable-garden at Paul Quinn College and a plea to "make Dallas weirder" by a member of the Dallas Personal Robotics Group.
Art Conspiracy, which just held its sixth annual bash and raised more than $50,000, was inspired, says Semrad, from "a feeling of helplessness after Hurricane Katrina. It's street-level philanthropy of artists and musicians raising money for other artists and musicians."
With a degree in chemistry, Semrad lasted just three weeks in her first job as a "cheese-puff scientist" at Frito-Lay. "I decided this was not what I was supposed to be using my brain for," she says. "I like ideas, but I like action more. What really makes ideas special is when they actually get done."
These days you'll most likely find Eric Steele at the Texas Theatre, the infamous Oak Cliff movie house (Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested there) currently undergoing massive renovation prior to an end-of-year grand reopening. Steel, 29, is one of the partners in Aviation Cinemas, which bought the old theater with the goal of restoring it as a premier movie house (with 1,100 seats, it's the largest cinema in North Texas) and performance space.