People Issue

People 2015: vickie washington: Still a Sensation After All These Years

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. Click here to find all our People Issue profiles.

She spells her names with lowercase letters, but actor-director-teacher vickie washington has enjoyed a capital career in theater.

Born in Dallas, raised in Hamilton Park and Oak Cliff, a graduate of Bishop Dunne Catholic School and Texas Woman’s University, washington, 61, has worked on almost every local stage over the past four decades. Along the way, she’s nurtured a new generation of theater-makers.

“I’ve been around and worked so long that now my students are hiring me,” says washington. Earlier this year she directed the world premiere of , a play by Dallas writer Jonathan Norton, a former student of hers at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. washington has been on the faculty since the 1980s.

As an actor, washington co-starred this spring in at Soul Rep. As director, she’s just staged Dominique Morisseau’s at Fort Worth’s Jubilee Theatre (running through June 28). She works constantly in North Texas’ busy theater scene, which she’s been part of since the 1970s.

washington earned her Actors Equity card in her 20s at Theatre Three in a production of Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play . She has had leading roles at Dallas Theater Center, Shakespeare Dallas, African American Repertory Theatre, Jubilee, the old Dallas Minority Rep and others. Eight years ago washington started a reader’s theater group called Reading the Writers, focused on, she says, “finding pieces that aren’t on the beaten path and bringing them to life. I like that.”

Norton is a writer washington has long nurtured, directing his first play, Mississippi Goddamn, when he was still a student at Booker T. one of the joys of doing was doing a piece so well written and seeing it be so well received by the community.”

All of washington’s four children, ages 27 to 34, are artists. They sing, make films, create visual art and write music described as “space gospel.” Her 5-year-old granddaughter performed in DTC’s world premiere musical . (washington’s husband, Norvis Nance, has had a long career as a news photographer.)
washington says she still has dream roles yet to play — “I need to do Medea” — and shows she wants to direct, including , playwright Lydia R. Diamond’s historical drama about the 19th century African-American writer and abolitionist who escaped from slavery by hiding in an attic for seven years.

“One of the reasons I love theater is the powerful way it tells our stories and traditions,” washington says. “That’s what I loved about . It was a history lesson.”

She says she believes the future of Dallas theater lies in its abundance of talent. One thing troubles her, however. “These days everybody wants to be a star. It’s the celebrity culture. They’ve been brainwashed to think all they have to do is show up in the right lip gloss and you’re in. Shows like and make kids think they can be an overnight sensation. They don’t realize that it’s not about getting known. It’s about learning, loving and honing the craft.” 
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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner