Meet the 2016 Dallas Observer Masterminds

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The Scrappers: The Tribe

Early last year, Janielle Kastner had a script sitting on her laptop. She’d finished a play during the Dallas Playwrights’ Workshop at the Dallas Theater Center, but didn’t have a next step. Kastner consistently worked as an actress, but she felt lost when it came to developing and producing her own writing. She wanted to see her play on stage to find out if the design elements she’d imagined could work. After a performance of Uncle Vanya, she bemoaned her frustrations to the director, Dylan Key, and castmates Katherine Bourne and David Price. That’s when inspiration struck.

“I think it came down to having tremendous faith in each other’s work,” says Kastner. “And I thought, ‘I want to see the script on your desktop. If you’re not going to ask someone to [produce] it, I’ll ask.’”

Better yet, they could do it all themselves.

The name they chose for their group, The Tribe, speaks to this go-it-alone attitude. They serve as each other’s producers, directors, cheerleaders or whatever else is needed. The circle includes playwright/actors Brigham Mosley and Ruben Carrazana. Each month The Tribe focus on a different artist’s work — sometimes an official member, sometimes an outside talent. They provide whatever the artist requires to make his or her vision a production-ready reality, whether it be a stage to workshop a new play, actors to go over early versions of scripts or designers to visualize the work. They tend to adopt young artists with riskier aesthetics.

“The impulse was for gnarlier work,” says Mosley, who wrote and performed cabaret and one-man shows in New York City. “We wanted to offer a space for work that doesn’t fit into any of the existing festivals in Dallas, work that’s more ambiguous.”

Their first project was to give Kastner’s play, Ophelia Underwater, a design run. She first collaborated with two artists on costume and scenic design to see if her ambitious ideas for a contemporary rendering of Shakespeare’s tragic character would work on stage. With that they were off and running. The group recruited a cast for a reading of Mosley’s play Widows to hear if the words made sense spoken by older female actresses — an age bracket not readily available in his social circles. They found a project space for Key and Bourne’s devised work, Dallas, Etc., during which they led an audience through the streets of Deep Ellum.

The Tribe exist to create an opportunity that didn’t exist for what Kastner describes as “young, orphaned artists.” Methodically, they began adopting artists outside the group, sometimes in large ways and other times allowing writers and performers the chance to develop characters or ideas in experimental cabarets. “There are so many people who want to put work out there when you have to do it alone,” says Carrazana. “To pass that on to six people who can reach out to people and do all that technical stuff allows the artist to focus on the work.”

“I think Dallas is fraught with all the growing pains that cities have,” says Key. “But I feel like it’s flexible enough that we as artists, we have a real vocation here and can effect change in a particular way that we can’t in other cities.”

Although they operate outside of the standard theatrical system in Dallas, they don’t project a rebellious attitude. Kastner describes them as the “student council” of the theater community, operating under principles of inclusion, creation and building a better city. “We all stayed in Dallas for various reasons,” says Bourne, who returned to the city after interning in Chicago. “I think we wanted to see what we could do with this ball of clay and it’s great to see how hungry the community is for art.”

Currently most of The Tribe events are invited audiences of peers and mentors, because of the nature of the developing work. Plans for 2016 include productions of Kastner’s Ophelia Underwater, Carrazana's Stacy Has a Thing for Black Guys, Bourne and Mosley's LIL', a new play by Claire Carson, a solo performance salon and another cabaret.

“Everyone’s hope is that The Tribe will grow into something a little less scrappy,” says Price. “We want to grow as the quality of the artists grows. The idea is to be an incubator for people, so hopefully the writers will improve and then we’ll grow too.”

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Lauren Smart
Contact: Lauren Smart