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Eric Steele – From Plays to Movies and Back Again

by Stephen Becker 19 Jul 2011 7:53 AM

Eric Steele of Dallas has made a name for himself in the local film community as a producer. But his first love was writing plays. Now, Steele has now found a way to bring his two artistic passions together.


Eric Steele (left), Lee Trull and Barry Nash

Eric Steele of Dallas has made a name for himself in the local film community as a producer. But his first love was writing plays. Now, Steele has now found a way to bring his two artistic passions together:

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Eric Steele has been working on a series of plays called The Midwest Trilogy since 2008. The idea came to him that year after he began to feel isolated in that part of the country while there on business.

STEELE: “I was in a very driven, corporate environment. I began exploring the idea of survival – like modern corporate America being a really interesting analogy for primitive survival. So each of the pieces deals with some aspect of business and some aspect of survival.”

The third play in the trilogy is currently playing at the Festival of Independent Theatres at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas. During the festival, smaller theater companies without their own performance spaces come together to produce new or rarely seen works

Steele’s play falls into the new category. It’s called Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self. In the one-man show, the title character’s invited to give a motivational speech to a sales team. To set up the motivational part, Bob retells a harrowing story of great personal tragedy. Longtime Dallas actor Barry Nash plays Bob.

Steele has worked on his trilogy of plays continuously since 2008. But since then, moviemaking has demanded more and more of his attention. Steele has produced three feature films that have played the festival circuit over the last few years. And along with his producing partners, he’s also transformed the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff into an art house theater and performance space.

Along the way, Steele developed a plan to merge his two artistic passions into one massive project.

The idea is to adapt each play into a short film, and then to combine the three thematically linked shorts into one feature film in three parts. Steele has already shot the movie versions of the two other plays in the series. And when Bob Birdnow ends its Festival run, Steele will figure out how to transform the play from a barren stage to a life-like movie set.

It’s a plan Steele couldn’t have imagined when he began writing the plays.

STEELE: “I now have the comfort level – I now have the experience behind me now and I’m able to tweak these plays into effective screenplays. But at the time when I started, I just knew theater better. That was what I was comfortable with. The pieces have all evolved as I’ve evolved as a filmmaker I think. And I now feel as comfortable doing a film as I did a play.”

Lee Trull is directing Bob Birdnow the play. He’s known Steele since their paths crossed more than a decade ago in high school speech and debate competitions. Trull now works closely with Dallas’ Kitchen Dog Theater, which has staged readings of each of Steele’s plays. Now, the pair is nearly inseparable artistically.

TRULL: “We over-commit ourselves early to make sure that we have to actually do it. I really love that way of working. I love the fact that Eric is like, ‘Oh, we have an idea? We’re going to do it? OK, I’ve already called six people and I’ve already committed them. We have a space for blah, blah, blah. We’re going to have to actually do this.’ It’s nice to collaborate with somebody who moves that fast and is that brave.”

Trull will likely be involved with the Bob Birdnow movie when it shoots later this summer. But after that, Steele says he still has to figure out how to package the films together into one feature. And then there’s the task of getting it into festivals and finding distribution.

STEELE: “I’m at the point now where I’ve crossed the line and I can’t stop now. It’s gone too far. So we just have to finish it. I fear it’s becoming my Don Quixote … I hope in 30 years I’m not still trying to complete this thing.”

  • Eric is brilliant and talented and brilliantly talented on so many levels. Plus, he’s a helluva great guy. Thanks for this, Stephen! Great interview!