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New Artistic Directors Signal Big Changes at Theatre Three and WaterTower Theater

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Big changes are in the works for two Dallas-area theater companies. Both Theatre Three and WaterTower Theatre announced new artistic leadership this month.

Jeffrey Schmidt will fill the shoes of the late Jac Alder, founder and artistic director for Theatre Three. Alder died in 2015.

WaterTower has hired Joanie Schultz after a national search to replace longtime artistic director Terry Martin, who left the company the past summer to helm the Fine Arts department at Addison’s Greenhill School.

For Theatre Three, Alder's death was a blow to the company and the community. The search for new leadership was mixed with grief. After a national search, Schmidt excitedly takes on his new role, but eases into it with healthy respect and some trepidation. Schmidt has been the artist-in-residence at Theatre Three for 13 years, and has worked as a director and master carpenter.

“I want to demonstrate to the staff and patrons that the theater has been placed in capable hands," he says. "Sure, changes are on the horizon. That's why I was hired. But this is a marathon; not a sprint. The right way to approach this is not to slash and burn. That being said, I'm aiming for lots and lots of nudity – on stage that is. Maybe I'm joking. Maybe I'm not.”

Schmidt says he already has lots of ideas about what the theater company's future might hold.

“For over 50 years, T3 has been a fixture in the Dallas theater community, but in recent years I think the company was content in taking a backseat position," he says. "I want to set the company on course where in the future, local artists and artists abroad cite Theatre Three as a reason to stay here and work or move here to work, respectively.”

For Schmidt, that means quality, exciting work and, eventually, more union contracts and equitable pay for artists, something that is sadly not possible for many of the mid-size theater companies in Dallas.

WaterTower Theatre’s former artistic director, Terry Martin, grew the company’s budget from a modest $300,000 to over $1 million during his tenure in Addison. To land on Schultz, a renowned theater and opera director, as his replacement signals a commitment to edgier work and participation in a national dialogue regarding theater. It’s also a boon to the Dallas arts community to add a woman to an already impressive collection of female artistic directors.

Schultz is a long-time Chicago director, having worked for some of the strongest companies the city has to offer, including Victory Gardens (where she is an artistic associate), The Goodman (where she has directed quite often) and Steppenwolf Theatre. Schultz will likely bring to North Texas her reputation for producing new work.

Her extensive directing credits include world premieres, regional premieres, and re-envisioning classic work. Select credits include directing the smash hit and long-extended Hand to God; Venus in Fur; the world premieres of Sarah Gubbins’ Cocked, fml: how Carson McCullers saved my life, and The Kid Thing; the critically lauded The Whale and Rest by Samuel D. Hunter; the Jeff Award winning productions of In Arabia We’d All be Kings and A Brief History of Helen of Troy; site-specific performances of the operas Acis and Galatea and Bluebeard’s Castle; and co-creating and directing a 6-hour theatrical adaptation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

"We also sought a leader who would bring new vision, new focus, and new creative energy to WaterTower Theatre, someone with a track record of developing transformative theatre, and someone who is in sync with ideas and events that are shaping people's consciousness across the country," Derek Blount, chairman of WaterTower's search committee, said in the press release announcing the hire. "Joanie meets and exceeds all these requirements and is the perfect choice to lead WaterTower Theatre into a new chapter in its history."

With only one theater in Dallas that belongs to League of Resident Theaters (Dallas Theater Center), Schultz’s hire will launch WaterTower into national attention, giving the North Texas theater community even greater recognition.

For both companies, these impressive hires send a message about the commitment to quality work and the sustainability of the Dallas theater market. With only a handful of area companies able to pay union standard wages to artists, these changes could mean more and better opportunities.

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