Dallas, My New Home
The Dallas Series explores the challenges and rewards of creating theater in Big D. Join us this week as we journey deeper into the heart of Texas.
“You did what?” This is the question I’m asked by colleagues in the field when I tell them that I’ve recently moved to Dallas. So, here are the reasons why I moved, and why Dallas is such an exciting place to be when it comes to making theater.
The beauty of Dallas is in the people. And theater artists here are open and generous. The city is large enough to allow for a diverse array of voices, and small enough so that the biggest theater in town doesn’t feel like it’s too big (just busy!). As I write this post, on the tenth floor of the Dallas Theatre Center building (called the Wyly), Michael Friedman, Itamar Moses, and Daniel Aukin are downstairs in the main theater with cast and crew ready to open their new musical Fortress of Solitude. (The play will go on to have its East Coast Premiere this Fall at the Public).
Meanwhile, on the ninth floor last night, we had our weekly convening of a program I created called the Dallas Playwrights Workshop. The idea is to mentor the next generation of writers, giving them the tools and craft to express themselves creatively and elevate their career without the price tag that usually comes with theater training at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We explore the principles of drama, bring in opportunities for networking and resource sharing, and provide a place for collaboration and creation.
On the sixth floor, Cara Mia, a very exciting Latino Theatre Company here in Dallas, will begin a long term collaboration with the Dallas Theatre Center, and on the eight floor, the staff of the Center is readying for various upcoming productions, including a fresh take on Les Miz directed by Berkeley Rep’s associate artistic director Liesl Tommy. And that’s just here in this building. Add to that the amazing work being done by Kitchen Dog Theatre and their leading role in the National New Play Network, Dean Bowen and Stan Wojewodski’s innovative approaches to theater at Southern Methodist University, and easily a dozen other things going on every night. The people are making it happen.
Dallas is at a fascinating juncture when it comes to the arts. The city, outside of New York and Houston, is arguably the biggest business hub in the country. There are more Fortune 500 companies here than L.A., Atlanta, and Chicago. What this means for the arts community is that there are amazing resources here. There are advocates in the city who are deeply committed to supporting the arts, and this has resulted in the creation of new arts buildings, new programming, more money for artists and arts leaders, and more possibilities that are actually being realized.
If you have an idea down here, you have a chance to get it funded and make it happen. The opportunity also stems from the fact that the arts, though ongoing and exciting, don’t yet reflect the sprouting going on in the city. Dallas is one of the five fastest growing cities in the U.S. (Austin and Houston are also in the top five, making Texas the fastest growing state in the Union). We in Dallas are charged with creating both the artistic programming and the infrastructure not only for those that are here, but also for those that are coming. That is a daunting challenge, and a thrilling one. The artistic director of Arena Stage, Molly Smith, once said that in the East, one finds their place in history, and in the west, one makes history. I find this to be true with Dallas—artists here have the opportunity to define an aesthetic that is not yet defined, to build and lay in an energy for future generations, and do it in a way that is not so needed in the East, because in the East many of those critical foundations have been laid already. In Dallas, the cement isn’t even dry yet.
Living in Dallas has allowed my wife and I to really get our finances together. Though I had received acclaim in the East, we were racking up debt, and were both still carrying student loans, because the cost of living is so high. My whole life, I’ve only ever lived in New York and San Francisco. These cities are considered cultural meccas of the world, and for good reason, because they are. But my wife and I had to balance that with what kind of life did we want to be living now and into the future. A studio apartment in New York City is more money than buying a four-bedroom home in Dallas. And even if you don’t care much for space, as a family we are now saving money and paying off debt. I have been fortunate in that as an artist, I didn’t have to choose one region over another. Meaning, my agent is in New York, many of my mentors and colleagues are there, and I’m still quite active in the theater scene back East. At the same time, my family and I are able to maximize the opportunities in Dallas, good schools, more space, on the road to being debt free, and being a part of a vibrant local theater community. Yes, the traveling is sometimes too much. Still, I enjoy the balancing act. I’ve been welcomed into this new theater community in Dallas with open arms. And now when I’m in New York, I hear a little more frequently now, “Oh, so you’re in Dallas huh? Yeah Dallas, I heard about the theater scene down there. I’ve got to get down there and do some work.” Well come on, we’re waiting.