Best Stage Director 2014 | Jeff Swearingen | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Many theater directors have wrestled with the most difficult works of Shakespeare, Albee and Stoppard. Only one we know of has done them to critical acclaim with actors under the age of 16. Jeff Swearingen is director and resident playwright at Fun House Theatre and Film, the all-youth company he founded three years ago with partner Bren Rapp. He takes the craft and art of acting seriously and is passing along all he knows to budding actors, some as young as 6, who clamor to be in his Fun House shows. This summer he wrote and directed two new comedies, Game of Thrones Jr. and Stiff, which both sold out their two-week runs. Strict about behavior when he's working, Swearingen allows no flip-flops, food or texting at rehearsals. Now if only he could direct the audiences.

A solid season of comedies, dramas and musicals has boosted Uptown Players, the gay-centric company that gets bigger and better by the year. Its regional premiere of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a send-up of Chekhovian themes, featured a tight, comically fine-tuned ensemble (Bob Hess, Wendy Welch, Diana Sheehan, Nadine Marissa, Evan Fentriss, Julia Golder) and astute direction by B.J. Cleveland. Then came another dark comedy, The Lyons, starring roaringly funny Terry Vandivort. The boffo season-ender was The Boy from Oz, a glitzy musical bio of gay Aussie composer-singer Peter Allen that no theater anywhere had staged since it closed on Broadway 10 years ago. Director Cheryl Denson gave Dallas' own Alex Ross the starring role — he was spectacular — proving that there's no place like home for talent at Uptown Players. This season brings Uptown favorite Cleveland back to star in The Nance, followed by musicals Catch Me if You Can and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Uptown just keeps upping their ante.

If playwright Matt Lyle hadn't already decided to return to Dallas from Chicago (where he did some time at Second City), we'd have sent out a posse to get him back here. With Barbecue Apocalypse, given its world premiere this summer directed by Lee Trull as the centerpiece of Kitchen Dog's New Works Fest, Lyle established himself as an explosively good writer for the stage. Set in bland suburbia, the two-act comedy of modern manners shredded keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, selfie-obsessed culture by dropping a bomb on three couples and seeing which one learned to adapt and survive post-Armageddon. Guess what? It was not the pair of Tweeting experts.


The tiny Ochre House theater, a 40-seat storefront space near Fair Park, is founder Matthew Posey's artistic playground and his home (he lives in the back). With no formal season and no subscriptions, this company works on a schedule set only by Posey's prodigious output as playwright, director and star of his own work. Over the past year he's presented a string of provocative shows, including the new musical Christhelmet, set in a murky L.A. bar full of characters Elmore Leonard would love. Posey also dreamed up El Conde Dracula, a sexy vampire tale starring Dallas flamenco dancers Delilah Buitrón and Antonio Arrebola. These two also star in Perro y Sangre, Posey's imagined tale of Ernest Hemingway's trip to a haunted Spanish village. That one's going to New York this fall. As always at Ochre House, Posey's ideas are in step with audiences looking for something fresh and offbeat.

Dallas Theater Center's artistic director Kevin Moriarty loves to surprise theatergoers by shaking up expectations, especially with popular pieces like Les Miz. For this summer's DTC production of the beloved musical, Moriarty brought in director Liesl Tommy, who'd never seen Les Miz (or so she says). She changed the show's context, making it more Occupy Wall Street than 1800s French uprising. That meant modern costumes, anti-corporation slogans on protest signs held by the "peasants" and dreadlocks on the "master of the house" (played with delicious evil by Steven Walters) as he picked the pockets of the wealthy. Bold and inventive, full of big performances and bare emotions, this production framed the Victor Hugo story as a contemporary battle between haves and have-nots. And the cast, led by Nehal Joshi as Valjean and Edward Watts as Javert, sang their hearts out.

For too long, the Margo Jones Theatre in the middle of Fair Park went unused by theater artists. As the Magnolia Lounge, it was a visitors' center for the State Fair. But Dallas theater director Matt Tomlanovich had ideas for how to turn one of America's landmark small theaters back into a place to see new plays. He became the Margo Jones' re-inventor, welcoming local performing companies including Soul Rep, Audacity Productions, Nouveau 47 and others. Now, except for the fall months of the fair, the little Art Deco building buzzes with shows. This year brought in the first Dallas Solo Fest, produced by Brad McEntire, and on the 2015 calendar are premieres of new plays by Dallas actor-writers Van Quattro and Danny O'Connor. Theater pioneer Margo Jones, who started the legendary Theatre 47 in this space in 1947, believed in giving a showcase to new work outside of New York City. Her namesake playhouse is back in the business of doing just that.

The zine is a tricky art form, but if anyone in Dallas has mastered it, it's the team at THRWD magazine. This avant-garde publication continues to exist as a result of spunk and determination, delivering the work of the underground art scene issue after issue. It's a labor of love and a much-needed publishing company, shedding light on the artists who are just inches away from the spotlight. They feed stories directly into the machine and they do it with a perspective of which the new journalists of the 1970s would be proud. THRWD is decidedly part of the scene, with the writers both participating and critiquing young, outsider artists. Curious what you're missing? Visit to learn when you'll be able to grab the next issue.

Maybe you've heard of the Goss-Michael Foundation because one of its founders was pop singer George Michael. Or perhaps you know this West Dallas nonprofit for its programs featuring British art. But it's more than all that — it's also a foundation dedicated to achieving some good. Under the watchful eye of Kenny Goss (Michael has mostly moved on at this point), the space hosts year-round educational initiatives and fundraisers, like the annual MTV:Redefine, a high-profile contemporary art and music showcase that primarily benefits the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, an HIV prevention program. And this year, GMF stepped up its game with the (FEATURE) program, which presents the work of a hand-selected local artist to exhibit alongside mid-career and emerging artists from across the pond.

He's the nicest man you're likely to meet at the theater. And if you go to the theater, you're likely to meet him. James Stroman volunteers at almost every theater in town like it's his full-time job. He helps build sets, assists with opening night parties, ushers and then at the end of the run he helps tear the sets down. You'll see him at Shakespeare in the Park, Kitchen Dog Theater, Upstart Productions, Margo Jones Theatre and anywhere else where there's a tool belt for him to wear. He's truly the best man to have behind the scenes or sitting down the aisle.

When it comes to commercial galleries in Dallas, the Design District is the hotbed of the Dallas arts market and Dragon Street is the epicenter. But for the most part, the area presents fairly standard fare. Few galleries break the predictable mold while still retaining a reputation as a go-to gallery quite like Circuit 12 Contemporary. In this last year, they've added fashion programming to the docket and rearranged their space to redefine what the gallery can do. Muralists demonstrate the scope of their work on the white walls; conceptual artists disguise the gallery as a spaceship. And still the art you'll find in the gallery retains its bold, contemporary aesthetic.

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