This past year, the death of Jac Alder, the co-founder of Theatre Three, was a serious loss to North Texas arts, not just the theater community. Alder was a voice for arts funding and social causes. With Alder’s passing as a starting point, Art & Seek’s Jerome Weeks sat down with Justin Martin to consider the year in North Texas theater.
Jac Alder’s passing was certainly a loss to Theatre Three, to North Texas. But did it have any larger significance?
Here’s Alder in his last live performance. For the Bruce Wood Dance Company, Jac played an older man in the ruins of his childhood home: “My yesterdays are this debris. And I, alas, am 70. And I, heh heh, alas am 70.”
Add Jac to Jerry Russell – he founded Stage West, he died two years ago, and would have been 79 this year – and to Adrian Hall, who ran the Theater Center in the ’80s and is currently in retirement at his home in Van, Texas, plus Paul Baker, who founded the Theater Center and died six years ago at 98 — and you can’t help but see a generation passing, the generation that knew the original ‘founding mothers’ of regional theater: Margo Jones, Zelda Fichandler, Nina Vance, etc.
Not to wax philosophical, but it’s happened before, and a new generation of arts leaders steps up.
Is that anything like being a man of the world?
Arts leaders like that, they become the heart and soul of a company, they teach classes, they inspire younger artists. They shape a theater scene. And all that makes them very hard to replace. It’s like trying to hire three different people. Or having to start the company all over again.
Surely it happens. Otherwise, how does any arts group outlive its founders?
So we’re talking about changes in the theater scene. Any other changes in the scene?
But this impulse really seemed to kick into a new gear in 2015. Kitchen Dog Theatre spent 20 years at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary. This year, they had to move to a possibly temporary new home because of the MAC’s move into the Cedars. The new Doghouse is a converted warehouse in the Design District called the Green Zone owned by MAC developer Claude Albritton. Meanwhile, several daring, little groups like Dead White Zombies and Prismco have been hunting around in West Dallas. They’ve been adapting things like old icehouses and metalworking shops. This year, they banded together with Upstart Productions in the hopes of shaping a more permanent home across the bridge in 2016.
In light of all this, it’s worth recalling the ‘80s, when Deep Ellum warehouses went multi-use, and theaters like Undermain and Pegasus and Deep Ellum Theatre Garage and even Kitchen Dog sprang up. Deep Ellum’s warehouse spaces are much smaller than those in West Dallas, but they’re utterly solid, made of brick and concrete. The problem there often was finding enough space — enough to squeeze a decent audience in, enough for a set and some lighting. West Dallas, on the other hand, has got giant tin barns, really raw and unfinished but abundant space, more space than anyone can really use for a single company. And it’s all inside not much more than a shed with a rusting roof. So some of the basic advantages the Deep Ellum spaces had, West Dallas doesn’t.
Even so, if the small explosion of creative theater life that happened in Deep Ellum in the ’80s taught us anything, it’s this: When North Texas ever has affordable, underused places even for a little while, artists come knocking. It’s one of the upsides of recessions and changing neighborhoods. Adventurous, hungry young artists can finally get their hands on something they can transform. The results may even include unconventional fun like Shakespeare in the Barr in Oak Cliff — which is exactly what its name indicates. Shakespeare. In a bar.
So Jerome, we’ve got time for one more highlight from 2015
“Staggerlee” was different. The Theater Center chose to spend years developing it, finding money for it. It was homegrown, even if much of the talent was imported. In the end, I think Will Power’s book for “Staggerlee” still needs work, but Justin Ellington’s music and Patricia McGregor’s directing were terrific. ‘Staggerlee’ wasn’t wearisomely slick like ‘Moonshine’; it was more akin to ‘Fortress of Solitude.’ It was ungainly at times, but it had tremendous heart, it was an endeavor worthy of our leading company. It had ambitions larger, more serious, expansive and challenging than re-booting an entertainment franchise.