50 Years of Excellence – Dallas Theater Center.
Entitled "Staged Right - A Half Century of Passion and Performance at Dallas Theater Center," the book weaves historic and contemporary photography with professionally written content chronicling 50 years of stage and production accomplishment for which it is renowned. Not a bad way to celebrate anniversary – the custom publication form a renowned publishing house, Bookhouse Group Inc.
It is probably impossible to list accurately the number of theater groups and organizations of all degrees of professionalism, which have lived—and died—in the city of Dallas. Amongst them, Dallas Theater Center proves their willingness to keep the work on the highest level of artistry and community usefulness for 50 years now.
In 1954 Beatrice Handel moved to Dallas from Cleveland, determined to organize a civically supported theater oriented to presenting fine drama and teaching people how to do it. John Rosenfield was the only one to “buy” the idea. He was the powerful amusements editor for The Dallas Morning News and he was just as interested in making art happen in his native city as he was in covering it. He called a meeting of ten people on Mrs. Handel's porch on August 19, 1954. Less than a week later a second meeting took place. The Dallas Theater Center, as it later became known, was conceived.
Five years of fundraising, securing the land and actually getting the building off the ground got the Theater even more eager than the initial support in community. Only the services of the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, were not difficult to procure. He was delighted with the site and for him the project would mean the triumphant realization of a plan he had first conceived in 1915, but for which two cities had not had produced in funding. The building, which came to be known as the Kalita Humphreys Theater, was a tour de force for Wright and a coup for the city. It was well worth the money and the effort. The stunning building, set in among the trees on a steep slope above Turtle Creek, was full of elegant spaces and filled with intricate Wrightian detail. Wright said proudly that there was not a right angle in it. It was not a particularly efficient building for theater production, though.
Finding a new director was, surprisingly, the easiest part. Paul Baker was brilliant, stubborn and an educator to the core. The principle of an educational/professional theater in which everyone did everything was his article of faith and he never abandoned it. It served the theater well for many years. Baker never favored union affiliation, feeling it would threaten this kind of freedom. But new winds blowing through regional theaters everywhere in the 1980s compelled some accommodation. Signing a League of Regional Theaters contract which allowed guest appearances by Equity actors and new collegial status between artistic and managing directors, dividing the business and artistic pursuits of the theater which, in the Baker concept, remained as a single element. Paul Baker left the Dallas Theater Center in the spring of 1982.
The catholicity of programming, a hallmark of the Baker era, would be continued by his successors. Adrian Hall was a native of Van, Texas, and had worked at the Alley Theatre in Houston and with Margo Jones. But his national reputation rested principally on his work with the Trinity Square Repertory Theatre, which he had founded in Providence, Rhode Island, 21 years before—a position he retained when he came to Dallas. Hall focused his attention on physical needs of the theater first, planning and pursuing refurbishment of Wright’s building and finding a new performing space for the, now, permanent company.
The Arts District Theater, designed by Hall’s associate, the distinguished stage designer Eugene Lee, opened in 1984 and turned out to be an engaging metal barn which adapts to virtually any staging a director may devise. It was the most flexible performance facility in the country at the time. The space was closed in the spring of 2005.
By the time Hall left in 1989, he had established a new philosophy of professionalism and a stable company. He had produced a strong range of highly accomplished seasons. He also promoted a bright, ambitious and able young director to be his artistic associate. Ken Bryant was the unanimous choice of the board to be the Center's fourth artistic director, electric and having a solid relationship with the acting company. A tragic mishap ended his life less than a year after he took the job. Everyone soldiered ahead, led by managing director Jeff West and interim artistic consultant Gregory Poggi, but the situation required a season of guest directors. The Hall Company dispersed and the previous sense of union and continuity began to unravel.
Richard Hamburger, not much older than Bryant and with a solid set of directing credits from all over the country, was named artistic director in 1992. Joined by managing director Robert Yesselman, Hamburger soon introduced Dallas audiences to a broad range of new works and launched the very successful Big D Festival of the Unexpected. This informal and exciting assemblage of new (sometimes very new) works––presented not only on stage but in every corner of the Kalita Humphreys Theater––gave local writers, actors and performers an arena to present their work. One of Hamburger's greatest audience successes at the Theater Center was his innovative production of South Pacific. This conclusion to the 1998-1999 season broke all previous box office records and was enthusiastically received by Dallas citizens and critics alike.
Richard Hamburger renewed the Theater Center's commitment to reinterpreting the classics for modern audiences, and to discovering and developing thought-provoking new plays. During Hamburger's tenure as the Theater Center's fifth artistic leader the company saw some of its most provocative and important productions to date. Notable in the list of his artistic achievements was the creation of the DTC Internship Program, a nationally recognized forum for training young theater artists. Under Hamburger’s leadership, DTC’s educational outreach flagship program Project Discovery celebrated its 20th consecutive season in 2006-2007. More than 200,000 middle and high school students from across North Texas have attended mainstage productions at Dallas Theater Center. In 2007 after 15 years, Richard Hamburger left DTC and was named artistic director emeritus.
In September 2007, Kevin Moriarty became DTC’s sixth artistic director to lead the institution into the new, state-of-the-art, Rem Koolhaus-designed Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. He recently announced a new company of actors that represents a fresh commitment to local artists and is, actually, the third acting company the Theater Center has had. Kevin Moriarty, believes that contracting to hire nine actors for three shows next season will make a difference — a difference to the actors, to the quality of local theater, even to the city of Dallas.