This month, North Texas lost a theater icon. Rose Pearson, founder of Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre, died on Aug. 19 after quietly battling cancer for several years. She was 69.
Pearson and her husband, Bill Newberry, founded Circle in 1981. What was once a small room in the back of a restaurant has now become a staple of the Fort Worth arts scene. Circle now resides in a newly renovated space in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square.
Pearson was a playwright’s champion. Almost every production involves the cast communicating with the playwright in some form before rehearsals begin. This dialogue between writer and actor was important to Pearson, and she was dedicated to cultivating new playwrights and bringing their work to Fort Worth.
This season, a celebration of the theater's 35th year, will be no exception. The fourth play in their five-show season is The Taming by Lauren Gunderson. In 2013, Circle was one of the first to produce Gunderson’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear. This past year, her play I and You went up at Circle Theatre before heading to New York for a successful run off-Broadway. Circle named the anniversary season the "Year of the Playwright" and included Gunderson in the lineup as a tribute to their close relationship.
The Taming is a political comedy that's also a "female power-play." Pearson and her team were excited by the opportunity to highlight the importance of a woman receiving a presidential nomination while also making fun of politics in general.
"Rose was a champion of Lauren's work and watched her bloom as a contemporary female playwright," says associate producer Tim Long. "The Taming embodies ideals that Rose celebrated for decades: strong female characters in an engaging and timely story."
The Taming represents what mattered so much to Pearson and Newberry: supporting playwrights, curating new works and developing intimate relationships between the play and audience. The small but lovely theater put its patrons up close and personal with the work.
“These themes have been woven throughout our anniversary season, the Year of the Playwright,” Long says.
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Pearson kept her illness relatively quiet, and continued to work from home as much as she could. Her absence will be acutely felt by this small family of artists, actors, producers and theatermakers, but they remain dedicated to their mission even in their grief.
“As the theater moves forward we will continue to embrace Rose’s theatrical vision and mission of producing innovative theater in an intimate setting,” Long says.
When Pearson and Newberry founded Circle, theater had a small presence in Fort Worth. Equity and parity are still hotbed issues today; 35 years ago Pearson's leadership role made her a true pioneer. Her work continues in Fort Worth, and the foundation she laid will continue to inspire women to pursue the arts as a viable career.
The Taming runs through Sept. 17 at Circle Theatre (230 W. 4th St., Fort Worth). Tickets are $25 to $38 at circletheatre.com.