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The Dallas Theater Center Has An Acting Troupe — Again

by Jerome Weeks 8 Jan 2009 6:13 PM

KERA radio story: An analysis of the acting company and a historical perspective on it. Expanded online story. Scroll to the bottom for bios and photos of the acting company members: The Dallas Theater Center announced a new company of actors today. It represents a fresh commitment to local artists. But this is actually the […]


  • KERA radio story:
  • An analysis of the acting company and a historical perspective on it.
  • Expanded online story. Scroll to the bottom for bios and photos of the acting company members:

The Dallas Theater Center announced a new company of actors today. It represents a fresh commitment to local artists. But this is actually the third acting company the Theater Center has had.

Kevin Moriarty, the Dallas Theater Center’s new artistic director, 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.

MORIARTY: “It’s in our best interests at the Theater Center to keep talented actors in our community. It’s in the artistic community’s best interests to have a pool of artists who are continually rejuvenated and challenged to work throughout the community. And it’s in the interests of Dallas as a city to have artists who live amongst us and are creating art for us.”

Although they are officially the designated troupe for next season, all nine performers will be showcased in this month’s premiere of In the Beginning. Professional acting companies like this — not just a designation of “people we like working with” but a real, financial commitment to individual performers — are rare among major American theaters. But they’ve actually been a Theater Center tradition. Forty years ago, founding director Paul Baker had a company, although the actors wore several hats, working in the ticket booth or design shops. In the mid-1980s, Baker’s successor, Adrian Hall, put together his own fully professional acting troupe.

By the early ’90s, that company had disbanded after the death of Hall’s successor, Ken Bryant.

Fifteen years later, Moriarty has now created his own company. But establishing a new troupe wasn’t a job requirement to get hired at the DTC, Moriarty says.

The repeated creations of acting companies suggests an ongoing dilemma — a need to connect with the community, a need for stability. And after exploring the area theater scene last fall, Moriarty came to the same realization that Adrian Hall did 25 years ago: North Texas theater is somewhat isolated, and the possibilities for making a living here on stage remain slim. As a result, many talented actors stay in the area only for a few years.  The real career opportunities in theater, TV and film are on either coast. So the season-long contracts of the DTC acting company are designed to slow down that talent drain. Otherwise, it’s hard to build anything with a turnover of talent.

Actor Sean Hennigan was in Hall’s company in the ‘80s — he’s the only vet who has been picked for the new company. He says Moriarty’s decision is an exciting commitment to putting the artists at the heart of the theater’s mission. But joining Moriarty’s company, he says, has also meant a personal fulfillment for him.

HENNIGAN: “If you’d have asked me back then, what will you be doing when you’re an old man? I’ll be an old man here, I’ll be the old man in the company. Well, I’m not quite 60, but I’m the old man in the company. Or one of them anyway.”


Hassan El-Amin has certainly made the circuits of the resident theater companies — with a concentration in the plays of August Wilson (Seven Guitars, Jitney, Fences — and Radio Golf, shown here at the Goodman in Chicago). His only appearance at the DTC so far was in A Christmas Carol. He’s performed at the Alliance Theatre, Guthrie Theatre, Pantages Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory, San Diego Repertory, Arena Stage, Portland Center Stage, Denver Theatre Center, Huntington Theatre, Sacramento Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Top Dog/UnderDog, The Lion King, The Tempest, Julius Caesar and the title role in Othello. He has an MFA from the University of Delaware.

Chamblee Ferguson, a graduate of SMU master’s program, has become a local favorite, appearing in just about every professional company in North Texas from WaterTower Theatre to Casa Manana. He’s also appeared in many of the TV series shot here, including Prison Break, Walker, Texas Ranger and Wishbone. Film credits include A Scanner Darkly with Keanu Reeves, The Chase, Karma Police and Cadillac Ranch. He has appeared at the DTC in Hamlet, Our Town, Twelfth Night, The Illusion, South Pacific, Pride and Prejudice and The Taming of the Shrew, among others.

Matthew Gray is the former co-artistic director of Plano’s Classical Acting Company. At the Dallas Theater Center, he’s acted in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Taming of the Shrew and Glengarry Glen Ross. Off-Broadway appearances include The Miser,  The Country Wife, The Seagull, Angel Street, Richard III and Signals of Distress. Gray is an adjunct faculty member at Richland College and was educated at Second City-Chicago and the Drama Studio-London.

Sean Hennigan grew up in Plano, went to the University of Texas at Austin and made his Dallas Theater Center debut as Mozart in Amadeus. As a member of Adrian Hall’s acting company at the DTC in the ’80s, Hennigan appeared in such shows as The Marriage of Bette and Boo, All the King’s Men and The Boys Next Door. He recently won acclaim for his Jacques in the WaterTower’s As You Like It. In film and television, he’s appeared in 3:10 to Yuma opposite Russell Crowe, Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, JAG, Prison Break, Friday Night Lights and Hate Crime (shown here).

Liz Mikel‘s larger-than-life voice and presence have ramped up the energy in any number of area shows, including the DTC’s Tommy, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Cotton Patch Gospel, Crowns, Avenue X and A Streetcar Named Desire. She has also acted with A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, Live Oak in Austin, Jubilee Theater and Casa Manana in Fort Worth and Theatre Three in Dallas. She has toured with Ain’t I a Woman, Blind Lemon Blues, and Blues in the Night, while her TV and film credits include Sordid Lives, Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins and Friday Night Lights (as shown here with Gaius Charles).

Educated at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, Cedric Neal has made an impression in North Texas theater circles, notably with his performances in the DTC’s Tommy, Tick … Tick … Boom, Normal Heart and The Life with Uptown Players, A Dog’s Life at Theatre Three and Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues at WaterTower Theatre.

Lee Trull is a company member of Kitchen Dog Theater, most recently appearing in The Pillowman. He’s also a playwright and was the first DTC company member announced late last year. At the DTC, he’s appeared in A Christmas Carol, 365 Days/365 Plays and Des Moines. Other local theaters where he has performed include Theatre Three, Water Tower Theatre, Stage West and Classical Acting Company.

A graduate of SMU’s master’s program, Sally Nystuen Vahle is a co- founder and a company member of Kitchen Dog Theater. She’s an assistant professor at the University of North Texas and her film/television credits include JFK, Inspector Mom, Wishbone and Walker, Texas Ranger — plus an Emmy nomination. At the DTC, she’s acted in Blur, The Front Page, An Ideal Husband and Angels in America, Parts I and II, among other shows. She’s shown here with Clara Peretz in Kitchen Dog’s End Times. Photo by Matt Mrozek

Christina Vela makes her Dallas Theater Center debut with In the Beginning. As a member of Kitchen Dog Theater, Vela has acted in Richard III, Our Lady of 121st Street, Fat Pig, Reckless and Bug. She also directed The Pillowman there. Educated at Texas A&M, she was in a staged reading of Naomi Wallace’s 21 Positions at the Public Theater in New York and has appeared in Othello and Romeo and Juliet with the Dallas Shakespeare Festival.