Joanie Schultz moved to Dallas from Chicago about six months ago to become the new artistic director at WaterTower Theatre. Before she got here, she changed the company’s season opener from “Sunday in the Park with George,” a mainstream Sondheim musical, to “Hit The Wall,” a raucous off-Broadway show about the origins of the gay rights movement. For this week’s State of the Arts, I talked to Schultz about stirring things up in Addison.
Here are a few excerpts from our chat.
On choosing “Hit The Wall” for her debut: “I picked this play when I was still living in Chicago, and it was a huge hit in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. I thought, Well it seems to me that my new community could really use something like this.
Things that I didn’t realize at the time were that profanity was going to be a problem, that adult language was something that people felt more strongly about here than I had ever encountered in another city.
On the tension between pleasing long-time subscribers and attracting new people to the theater: “I think there’s a generational difference in the way we look at some of these things. The subscribers are an important part of that, and I don’t want to [overlook] them, but I really want to start opening our arms to other people. I was looking at the demographics of Addison not too long ago, and something like 48% of Addisonites are between 24 and 44 years old. So, there is this really robust community of young professionals. You go around Addison — which is mostly restaurants — and there’s incredibly diverse populations in those Addison restaurants. I think that tapping into those people is what I’m looking to do. All of these people in Addison that I look around and think, You should be at WaterTower Theatre. Please come to WaterTower Theatre!”
On the North Texas theater community: “I think it’s a really exciting, well-kept secret, actually. I think what surprised me more than anything was all these new plays that are being done here. That’s a really exciting niche that’s happening here. For instance, I saw Second Thought Theatre’s production of “The Necessities,” by Blake Hackler. That’s a really exciting voice that’s coming out of this area, and that’s one of the things I’m interested in. Getting more people nationally to look at this theater community as a viable theater community. I think that the Dallas-Fort Worth area has something to teach all of America because I think that what’s happening here is a really interesting American story that we haven’t gotten to hear very often.”
On the toughest adjustments to life in Texas: “How people drive on these expressways, which is fast and scary! It’s very dangerous. It’s true, though. I did take the subway a lot in Chicago, and the thing about that is I think that’s what makes the theater even more vital when I talk about it being a place where the conversations happen. It’s easier for people to silo themselves here. People can just pretend that those other people aren’t doing those other things over there because you can really choose not to encounter “other.” You can really choose your grocery store and that drive that you take. You might drive past something people that are really different from you, but that’s really different than walking down the street or being on the el train with people who are really different from you. So, that’s been a pretty big adjustment.
I also had to learn to stop eating queso at every restaurant because I gained a lot of weight.”