Longform

Deconstructing Richard

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The most recent breakdown of revenue goes like this: "Fifty-seven percent is earned, chiefly from ticket sales, tuition from our educational programs, and the fees we get for renting the theater," Love says. "Forty-seven percent is contributed to us from public and private resources."

The Dallas Morning News reported last year that about half of the 57 percent earned revenue came from ticket sales, which means the Dallas Theater Center received less than a third of its overall income from the box office. That story goes on to say that, in addition to the budget resurrection Love achieved with her former Atlanta theater, Tony-winner The Alley in Houston proved profitable enough to double its budget at a time when DTC's has remained stagnant.

Love insists that she's too new to make any hard connections between the current deficit and the last five years of Hamburger's leadership. "I know we increased our subscribers by 500 between this season and last. And my understanding is that more people saw A Christmas Carol this year than ever before. But the amount of the deficit has fluctuated from season to season. The important thing to realize is, a significant portion of it has been around since the late '80s."

Stories of audiences increasing and budgets quadrupling are the exception to the current regional theater rule: Companies all over the country have felt the sting of falling attendance and private contributions while city, state, and federal arts funding has plummeted. As president in '96 and '97 of LORT (League of Resident Theaters), Love points out, she helped negotiate union concessions for a third of the members who were under financial stress. The new buzzword in arts funding is "cultural tourism." Arts groups are attempting to convince civic leaders that galleries, museums, and stages are worth subsidizing not because art is good for us, but because they indirectly benefit a city's overall revenues by attracting people who come for the culture and spend money in other places.

All this is part of a national struggle; the more pressing local question is, Should the patrons who've enjoyed Richard Hamburger's brave, elaborate, lyrical stagings brace themselves for safer fare? The answer appears to be...maybe.

"The way you cut corners is by staging fewer shows with smaller casts," Love confirms of her own philosophy, which doesn't in and of itself mean less adventurous theater. The '97-'98 Dallas Theater Center season reflects this wisdom. But after five years of a Festival of the Unexpected, which has staged readings, works-in-progress, and some pretty "out there" fare, there will be no sixth one, and the festival's future is uncertain. Hamburger was quoted in The Dallas Morning News as saying the festival wouldn't continue because the private donor who largely funded that event had withdrawn his support. Now he qualifies his statement.

"That was a project of my wife, Melissa [Cooper, DTC artistic associate]," he says. "I had board members come to me and express disappointment, especially because the festival involved so much local talent. But we've done 10 such festivals in 10 years (they created the Little Festival of the Unexpected back in Portland) in addition to full seasons, and we're exhausted. Actually, the main reason is, we've had a child since we moved to Dallas. We'll probably bring the festival back, but reconfigure it for broader, more national appeal."

When asked point-blank whether she was hired to collar Hamburger's artistic ambitions, Love sits back in her seat and offers the first genuine laugh of a tense interview.

"People talk money vs. art, about the evil manager vs. the artist," she says. "But the truth, at least in our case, is more complicated. I think that because of my background I bring a more artistic perspective to my job, of understanding the creative process. In turn, Richard is more money-minded than other artistic directors I've met."

"I was on the search committee that approved Edith's appointment," Hamburger says. "Chemistry between myself and the managing director was a big issue, because nobody wanted a lot of fighting. Edith and I are the same age [48], and we started in theater at the same age [14]. Honestly, this is a professional marriage, a constant give-and-take. I think we respect each other, mainly because we agree on one thing: This is our budget."

If the current artistic director and managing director of Dallas Theater Center have an adversarial relationship, their rapport in front of the journalist is airtight. And last summer Hamburger announced he had signed a contract for five more years at DTC, at roughly the same time as Love's appointment was announced. If Hamburger secretly feels his choices are being compromised for economic concerns, he's agreed to weather four more seasons of it.

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Jimmy Fowler