The Opportunity Maker: Teresa Coleman Wash
Teresa Coleman Wash wrote her first play on a dare. Friends of hers were throwing a Christmas party and placed her in charge of the entertainment with just a few days’ notice. Playwriting had never crossed her mind, until suddenly she didn’t have a choice.
“I wrote a little skit for that night,” says Wash. “But in 18 months I developed that into a full-length play, and before I knew it I was partnering with some people to tour The Test of Time throughout the southwest part of Georgia. And I thought, ‘I want to do this again.’”
She was living in Atlanta when she launched TeCo Theatrical Productions in 1993 for what she describes as selfish reasons. She just wanted a place to produce her own work, all the while working a day job. The theater company Wash was running filled a gap in the community. She was interested in new voices, especially writers engaged in socially conscious topics. When she married in 2000, she agreed to move to Dallas on one condition: She wanted to run the Texas-based TeCo full time.
The first place the company landed in Texas was at the Hall of State in Fair Park. Wash continued her focus on fresh work, founded an annual new play competition and launched educational youth programs. She also recruited a board, whose support has been integral to the growth of the company.
In 2005, one of her board members gifted the company a dilapidated photography studio in Oak Cliff to use as the company’s permanent home. They raised half a million dollars to renovate the space into the Bishop Arts Theatre Center. They neared completion in early 2008 when suddenly funding for the arts screeched to a halt. Those foundations and donors in Dallas who were still investing turned much of their attention to the Arts District, where the performing arts center was under construction. Wash says TeCo had to get smart.
“What that period did for me was force me to think outside of the box,” Wash says. “We had to deeply engage our community. We started a jazz series and a youth summer camp program, two of our most successful programs today.”
For nearly 25 years, Wash has run TeCo with this open-minded, community-driven spirit, but in the last few years she’s become interested in seeing the theater effect change. When submissions to the new play competition became increasingly focused on LGBT issues, she launched the PlayPride Festival three years ago to better serve the playwrights. Last year, national attention turned toward the gender disparity in the production of female playwrights, so Wash took stock of her own billings. This year, the company launches the Down for the Count festival, dedicated to female playwrights.
Years ago, Wash’s name would’ve been top of the list for a festival like this, but she doesn’t have time to write her own plays anymore. “What I do now is create opportunities for other artists,” says Wash. “One of the reasons TeCo has been so successful is that it’s not about me anymore, but it’s about creating a space where artists from all backgrounds can come and have their voices heard.”
Celebrate our 2016 Masterminds at Dallas Observer's Artopia Saturday, January 16.