Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Web extra: Founder and producer Tim Shane leads a video tour of the no-frills Dallas Hub Theater.
Dallas Theater Center can spend $400,000 to mount a single production. Contemporary Theatre of Dallas spends up to $40,000.
Budget for a really big show at Dallas Hub Theater? $40.
"In most cases, we're actually at zero for the budget," Hub founder and producer Tim Shane says. "New directors will come here and say, 'We need this kind of paint,' and I'll go, 'Do we really need to spend that 15 dollars?'"
The Hub, a two-stage, 100-seat space on Canton Street in Deep Ellum, puts on 25 productions a year and rents its stages for 25 other low-budget shows by fledgling companies such as Level Ground Arts or Upstart Productions. Most major Dallas theaters schedule only six to 10 productions a season. The Hub keeps humming nearly year-round with main-stage shows, late-night comedies, dinner theater parties and the annual Dallas Fringe Festival. Shane recently launched Cyber Fest, an online new play showcase that had playwrights around the globe beaming in readings of their scripts via Skype.
Almost everything the Hub does, it does on the fly. Shane doesn't sell season tickets because he's never sure month to month what shows he'll be able to afford to produce. He routinely recycles scenery and has no shame about begging Theatre Three or the SMU drama department to loan out or donate used costumes. The Hub's actors, some of them high school and college students, work for a small cut of the box office take, typically topping out at about $75 apiece for an entire three-week run. And unlike other theaters, The Hub doesn't allow actors to comp in friends and family for performances. Everybody buys a ticket. This is a no-frills, low-thrills theater that recently turned to Shakespeare (in abbreviated versions) because the scripts come royalty-free and bookings by school groups help fill the coffers.
"We're using the same set for Romeo and Juliet and Othello," Shane says. "Whenever we build something, we try to think of two or three more shows we can use it for."
A Chicago-born former academic, Shane recently took a corporate day job but he spends every night and weekend at his theater. He earns no salary from The Hub, which he opened in 2005 after producin
g low-budget shows in other spaces. "From a business point of view, The Hub doesn't make any sense," he says. "It is a money pit. But I always wanted to be an artistic director, to have full creative control of a theater. I feel like I'm building toward something."
Shane says his inspiration for The Hub came from the book Sam Mendes at the Donmar: Stepping Into Freedom, which chronicles director Mendes' creation of London's now-legendary Donmar Warehouse. Mendes, best known as a filmmaker (American Beauty) and as husband of actress Kate Winslet, walked by a boarded-up building in 1990 and decided it would make a great venue for independent, experimental theater productions. Mendes ran it as artistic director for 10 years, launching new works by Tom Stoppard and other major playwrights and sending numerous shows, including Frost/Nixon and an acclaimed revival of Guys and Dolls, to award-winning runs in London's West End and on Broadway.
So far, The Hub can claim only modest success as an incubator of new talent, mostly by helping to boost other theaters' interest in exciting young Dallas actors. Jeff Swearingen has played a variety of roles in Hub shows, including the lead in Hamlet and the part of Maverick in Top Gun: The Musical. This summer Swearingen starred at the New York International Fringe Fest in The Boxer, a show that started in Dallas, though not at The Hub.
"I do hope The Hub has its day in the sun someday," Swearingen says. "The place has courage and spunk to be holding on this long. If someone truly cares about the Dallas theater scene, institutions like this can't be left to die. I have a lot of admiration for all of the artists who experienced growing pains with The Hub."
Shane says his dream is for his theater to evolve into the Second City of the Southwest. Second City is the Chicago proving ground for comic actors and comedy writers. Among its hundreds of successful showbiz alumni are Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.
"Dallas needs a place for artists to develop their craft before they're discovered," Shane says. "That happens in fringe spaces like ours."
First-time playwrights are welcomed at The Hub as long as they're willing to forgo royalties to get scripts on their feet. Writer Charlotte Miller premiered her drama Traumnovela there and then took it to New York and Barcelona."
We can take risks on new shows that theaters that have large budgets can't," Shane says. "We can try and fail miserably and be able to bounce back. The inverse of that is if too many things are failing at the same time here, we're in trouble."
Over the summer, Shane battled a balky air-conditioning system (he finally got one donated). There have been plumbing problems, and during the production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, the building reeked. The source of the odor turned out to be a plate of barbecue someone had wrapped in a towel and left to molder in the hot prop room for a couple of months. "We now have rules in our contracts about cleaning up backstage," Shane says.
Aesthetics are never a high priority at The Hub, whose dreary ambience local critics have compared to an abandoned coal mine and a serial killer's crawlspace. Shane doesn't take offense. "Everything in this theater is a piece of another theater that they were throwing out," he says. The larger stage is from Pocket Sandwich Theatre. There are bits of the defunct Pegasus Theatre in The Hub. The seats came from an old vaudeville house in Virginia, whose owner offered them to Shane for free. Shane made the drive with a rickety trailer, unbolted each seat himself and drove them back to Dallas through blizzard conditions.
The Hub keeps expenses low because its overhead is high: $12,000 a month rent on the 11,000-square-foot building. That's a good deal as Deep Ellum real estate goes, but a lot for a theater getting by on $15 and $20 tickets. "Month by month it's a miracle that we make it," Shane says. "I'm always a nervous wreck, but something always happens to get us where we need to be."
On his wish list: insulation, more a/c and stage lights that don't suck so much power. "On certain light cues, we have to turn the air-conditioning off," he says.
He may be the Rodney Dangerfield of Dallas theater producers, but Tim Shane is determined to make The Hub a theater worthy of respect. Right now, though, he's got roof leaks to patch and rat traps to check. "I always said I wanted to be an artistic director," he says with a heavy sigh. "But now I'm a plumber and a maintenance man most of the time. You can't have an ego at all in this place. I like to say I'm the chief executive artistic producer- abbreviated, that spells out CHEAP." Elaine Liner
'Bout a year ago, back when Jack's first opened, a buddy of mine convinced us to check the place out, promising that the then-new Oak Cliff spot was gonna be quite the big deal in the very near future. Sure enough, what we saw upon arrival was, indeed, quite the chic, if somewhat hidden, hot spot. And it definitely didn't hurt that there were only two males in the place aside from one of the barkeeps. But it wasn't long before the place started drawing a bigger, more varied mix of patrons, and for good reason: An upscale bar with primo lounge seating, a well-kept pool table and glass garage doors that lead out to one of the best patios the region has to offer. It was only a matter of time before everyone else caught on to what was, if only for a short period of time, the LGBT set's best-kept secret.
It's not really fair to call this space an art gallery. It is and it isn't. The artwork showcased on the first floor of the gallery in Deep Ellum is from unknown artists presenting their first solo shows. "I'm a Peter Pan kind of guy," owner and photographer Hal Samples says. "Throw some pixie dust and have some people perpetuate dreams." Samples himself was homeless eight years ago, so he's keen on empowering people. "I found that there were artists that were looking to be seen, but they didn't have the opportunity. I wanted to give them a place to incubate." And so the gallery was born more than a year ago and features artists who have caught Samples' attention throughout his travel in the area. So what kind of art will you find here? "Art that makes me want to meet the person," Samples says.
What do we want—no, wait—what do we need from a bar for it to be a great bar, a go-to bar or, if the heavens align correctly, a home bar? Ample seating. Clean restrooms. An area outdoors for the smokers. Music. Stomach lining options. Good classic hooch. Great service. A TV to stare at when someone strange is trying to talk to us. A great jukebox. Prices that don't break the bank of hard-working folk who deserve a drink come happy hour. The Windmill Lounge has all of these requirements along with a simply smashing cocktail list, misters on the patio, themed big-screen nights, a cell phone lounge and chalkboard walls in the loo. Oh, and in addition to some chomp-worthy panini, the lounge also offers Triscuits with cream cheese and jalapeño jelly or Pickapeppa sauce.The jukebox at the Windmill Lounge is front-loaded with a well-chosen and diverse selection of standards (Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald), classic soul (James Brown, Curtis Mayfield), Texas singer-songwriters (Guy Clark, Joe Ely) and admirable young artists (Black Joe Lewis, Justin Townes Earle). But flip a few pages and you'll find the music less and less appealing, unless you're toasted, in which case your inner 15-year-old might giddily plop down the credits for bizarre selections like Pink, the Bloodhound Gang and the Anchorman soundtrack. Think of it as the perfect test of musical mettle also—if your date goes for the Barenaked Ladies, then you know it wasn't meant to be. If she cues up Otis Redding, you've got yourself a keeper.
There are plenty of reasons why the Libertine deserves recognition—the traditional pub atmosphere, the friendly faces behind the bar, and the fact that, even though it's not much of a venue, the place does its part to support local music with live performances. But the best reason to love the Libertine? The food offered up by the folks in the kitchen. The burger, the tuna sandwich, the three-way fries—they're all legit. And the best part: the pricing. Or, better yet, the half-pricing: Every Sunday, from 5 p.m. till midnight, this food, which has no right belonging in a straight-up bar like this, is offered at half the cost. Oh, and the reasonably priced, five-course monthly beer dinners ain't too shabby either.
One of the great joys of traveling is trying new beers that are hard to find in your home town. But who has the money to travel these days? Fortunately, if your travel budget has gone from Amsterdam, Germany and Fort Lauderdale to Addison, Garland and Fort Worth, you can still make like a tourist at your nearest Flying Saucer. With an ever-changing draft lineup, there will always be an unfamiliar brew waiting for you. And if you think you've got the liver and the lucre to try 200 different beers, you can join the U.F.O. Club; upon reaching that lofty goal you win a $100 bar tab and a commemorative plate to hang on the wall. Even if you fall short, you still get a T-shirt. Either way, not a bad souvenir.
For local nature buffs who don't make it out to the lake each day, J. R. Compton's Amateur Birder's Journal is the next best thing, filled with daily photos of myriad birds at White Rock Lake and their strange, wonderful behavior. From ducks to purple martins to hawks and even the occasional coyote, Compton covers it all—when he's not attending to his duties as editor and publisher of DallasArtsRevue.com, that is. Fellow bird blogger David J. Ringer, on the other hand, is merely based in Duncanville, but his work for an international nonprofit takes him to locations as far-flung as Kenya, where he documents the local wildlife (avian and otherwise) for his Search and Serendipity blog. If you're like us and rarely leave Texas, paging through Ringer's exotic photos will leave you planning ways to finance your own globe-hopping adventure.
When The Dallas Morning News told longtime Texas Rangers scribe Evan Grant that he'd be moving into a group of several Dallas Cowboys beat writers resulting from the paper's agreement to share sports coverage with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he decided it was time to ply his craft someplace else. He found an unlikely partner in D Magazine publisher Wick Allison, who admits he knows nothing about sports, but was sold on Grant's sales pitch to create a comprehensive Rangers blog with assistance from former News assistant sports editor Jeff Miller and baseball blogger and lawyer Mike Hindman. Despite the tough economy, Allison secured three key sponsors. Grant later added popular radio host and sports guru Bob Sturm, and the rest is blogging history.
Here's the deal, Dallas: Considering how important a role the blues played in our city's musical history (y'know, "Deep Ellum Blues," and all that), it's really a goddamn shame how there aren't all that many clubs—well, many clubs worth mentioning, at least—that offer up the genre on a regular basis. Last we heard, there's one coming back to Deep Ellum, thank you very much, in the spot behind the Twisted Root, right where the Red Blood Club used to be. But for the time being, may we recommend the Pearl for your misery-loves-company ways? Located on the east edge of downtown, it's close to our city's historical blues home in Deep Ellum, and with touring and local blues performers coming in on a regular basis—including a Monday happy hour residency from Miss Marcy and her Texas Sugar Daddies—along with a slew of jazz and folk artists, it's the only place we can look you straight in the eye and offer up as a cure for your Lack of Deep Ellum blues blues.
OK, we'll forgive you if you spent about a week thinking Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's All-American romance with local pop princess Jessica Simpson was adorably appropriate. After all, why wouldn't America's hot-and-ditzy princess want in on a little career Romomentum? But after the infamous pink jersey loss and the disappointments that followed, was there anyone in town besides bloggers hard-up for material who really wanted to see the couple last? Honestly, we're glad to see Romo's taken to an Entourage-like, Afflicton-attired existence. Sure, he's douche-y and less likable now, but when it comes to Cowboys football, we don't mind a little bros philosophy.
They say a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, but that hasn't stopped Dallas attorney Gary Vodicka from waging thermonuclear war against Southern Methodist University over the last four years, alleging the school committed fraud as it went about amassing units in his condo complex, the University Gardens, only to tear them down to make room for the Bush Library. Vodicka became a genuine pain in the docket to SMU, humiliating the school, wearing down a whole team of its lawyers in a case that spans 25 thickly stuffed court jackets. Although he turned down a settlement offer of $1 million for his demolished condo unit, he finally settled the case in July for an undisclosed amount. Vodicka also managed to convince State District Judge Martin Hoffman to allow him to depose former President George W. Bush himself. The ruling didn't stand on appeal, but the fact that Vodicka got as far as he did was as amazing as it was unprecedented.
Julie Jackson is a genius. Recession be damned, she nailed her ideal demographic and tapped into that ever-purchasing, wacky world of cat lovers with her company Kitty Wigs. And although the tiny, incredibly flattering and fashionable wigs instantly caused quite a stir when the company launched, over the last couple of years, the public began wanting even more. Along with her boy-cat Boone, Kitty Wigs photographer Jill Johnson, and 25 other feline models and their owners, the Kitty Wigs creator has turned fashion into published art with the creation of Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs. The tome features 60 photos featuring all manner of tiny wigs and their whiskered wearers. While it took around two months for Jackson and Johnson to shoot and gather all the photos for the book (featuring recognizable locales such as Lee Harvey's), it's safe to say the page-flipping pleasure will last much longer.