Dallas-Fort Worth has beat Houston and Kansas City as the site for Theatre Communications Group’s national conference next summer. KERA’s Jerome Weeks explains what this could mean for the local theater community and North Texas.
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As national conventions go, it won’t be large. Only about 1300 non-profit theater professionals will be coming. But this is the first time the 50-year-old Theatre Communications Group will hold its national convention in Texas. And it’s the largest theater conference of its kind in the country. For many of the visiting actors, designers, directors and managers, it’ll be their first visit to the Wyly Theatre, the Winspear Opera House or Bass Hall. It may well be their first look at theaters like the Undermain, groups they’ve only read about in the pages of American Theatre, the monthly magazine that Theatre Communications Group publishes.
Kevin Moriarty is artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center. He says Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs first approached him about bringing the conference here. They formed a host committee with area theaters and the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau. When two TCG reps made a site visit here in December, arts leaders, community members, artists, funders, even the Mayor’s office worked on pitching the North Texas theater scene to them.
Moriarty: “It was an exciting couple of days, the whole city coming together to convince the national theater community that what we have here is special.”
Based in New York, TCG is the largest independent publisher of theater works by such artists as playwright David Mamet and composer Stephen Sondheim. It serves around 500 theater companies across the country as an information resource and advocate. TCG has been holding its national conferences since 1976. Speakers at recent conferences have included Broadway director Julie Taymor, film director John Waters and choreographer Bill T. Jones.
Moriarty (left) says bringing the conference will have area theaters working together, they’ll learn from the visitors and the visitors will see a theater community he believes is worthy of national attention.
Moriarty: “The TCG conference will not only show off the immense excitement and growth that are here, it will also ultimately bring us together and serve as a catalyst for continued growth and change.”
When Kevin Moore, TCG’s managing director, and Dafina McMillan, director of communications, came for their site visit, North Texas was already one of three semi-finalists, including Houston and KC. Part of that visit was a collective meeting held in the Wyly Theatre’s rehearsal room Dec. 8 with theater directors, managers, media folks and performers from across the region. Many of them extolled what could be done here for such a conference, what advantages the area has.
There are the brand-new buildings in the Arts District, of course, and the collective draw of two major cities — Dallas and Fort Worth — plus surrounding suburbs with their own stage companies, like Lyric Stage and African-American Rep. There’s also a burgeoning crew of smaller groups from Kitchen Dog and Uptown Players to Upstart Productions.
As several people also noted, TCG would more or less be coming home: TCG was started in 1961 with a Ford Foundation grant. But that grant was triggered, in part, by the foundation recognizing the rise of fledgling, professional, resident theater companies across the United States. It saw the need to encourage them to develop professional theater outside of Broadway and Broadway-fed tours. The first of these start-ups, of course, was Margo Jones’ Theatre ’47, here in Dallas. It didn’t survive long enough to benefit from Ford Foundation seed money but did last long enough to inspire other founders of the resident theater movement, notably Nina Vance in Houston’s Alley Theatre.
The most recent host cities for the TCG Conference have been LA (2011), Chicago (2010) , Baltimore (2009) and Denver (2008). This year’s conference, Model the Movement, is being held in Boston, June 21-23 — and concludes TCG’s year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary.
The TCG conference next summer will follow this year’s visit by the League of American Orchestras to Dallas on June 5-8 (at the Sheraton Hotel). So this summer, it’s the symphony musicians coming to town. Next summer, it’ll be the theater folks. The Arts District will be awash with artsy, interested out-of-towners. No one can say the arts aren’t doing their part to increase the area’s profile and its convention business.
Even if they don’t actually use the Convention Center or the Omni Hotel.