Dallas, My New Home

Will Power is the Playwright-in-Residence at Dallas Theater Center through the National Playwright Residency Program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Find out more  about his residency experience here, and learn about the impact of the program at large here

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 People
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.

The Opportunity
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.

Family
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.

 

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The Dallas Series explores the challenges and rewards of creating theatre in Big D.

Dallas, Texas

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Will Power: ...and easily a dozen other things going on every night. The people are making it happen. Steefen: That sounds intriguing!

Will Power: we are now saving money and paying off debtSteefen: Locational Astrology must be on your side. I moved from New York where I had a Venus line on my Astro-Carto-Graphy map to the Dallas area where I had a Saturn line on my Astro-Carto-Graphy map. After my net worth fell more than 50% in less than three years here, I learned about that area of Astrology: the Astro-Carto-Graphy map. Two years later, I'm down 99% with my net worth. A move from NYC to DFW does not always work financially.

WillPower: 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. Steefen: One of my biggest issues is the commute and the parking. In NYC you can leave Broadway, Off Broadway, Lincoln Center and have a pleasant 10:45 p.m. subway, bus, or taxi ride home with the Playbill in your hand all the way home. To be able to go to walk to a bus stop and have a bus take you to the Arts District would be nice. I don't see enough restaurants, cafes, theatre/music shopsin the Arts District. The streetcar goes to the Museum but that's a couple of blocks south of the Philharmonic. Hopefully, the pedestrian residents are supporting the Arts District . (When I worked downtown at Lamar and Elm, the idea of leaving one parking lot for another parking lot dampens the theatre going bug.) I will say this: the Klyde Warren Park is near the Arts District, so a Saturday matinee would put a smile on my face--for a moment. Hopefully, the playwrights already here will grow in their careers.

Nice people are to be found here. Theatre can enrich the quality of life. Thanks for your contribution to the Dallas area theatre scene.

Yes, we are waiting! I'd be beside myself if we had a couple more Will Powers in the trenches with us here in Dallas. What a shot in the arm this guy has been for the theatre scene in Dallas. And as much as I moan and groan, I have to admit that I've been able to get so much more done in this city than in Atlanta where our theatre was chartered. Grant it, my full time gig back then was selling radio advertising for an oldies format in the ATL but within five years of moving to Dallas a 10,000 square ft. building donated to our theatre. It was cinch raising money for the renovations until the economy plummeted in 2008 but by some supernatural force we were still able to forge ahead and complete the renovations. I just don't think that could have happened anywhere else but Dallas. Yeah, like is good here.

Will, great post! You know, I'm down on the fringe-size/indie side of things and I discovered the same thing about Dallas (which was a surprising revelation because I grew up around here).

I lived in NYC and I visited Chicago for long stints at a time. When I finally committed to a career as a theatre-maker specializing in my own idiosyncratic stage creations, I considered moving to Minneapolis, Seattle or joining the bulk of my playwriting colleagues who have nestled in Brooklyn. Then I started thinking about what I actually wanted to do.

I wanted to create theatre where it didn't cost an arm and leg. Simple things like getting rehearsal space or building sets didn't have to be logistical nightmares. I'll admit, 24 hour places like Walmart are handy. So is having mega hardware stores like Lowe's nearby. After trying to move a couch across NYC one time for a play I realized I liked having space and easy transportation (heck yeah, harnessing the power of a pick-up truck for theatre!). These are all practical considerations of the actual "making" process that I took for granted until I went to other big cities around the country.

I wanted to not spend a fortune just to maintain a sustenance-level lifestyle. Dallas is comparatively cheap and the standard of living is super high. I have rented those four bedroom houses you talked about, complete with huge backyards and plenty of space, central air and heat, etc. for less than the amount I used to spend to sublet a *room* back in NYC. With space comes a surprising level of freedom (for rehearsals, meetings, thinking, etc.)

I wanted to travel. My wife casually pointed out on a map one time that Dallas is centered literally in the middle of the entire country. With a giant international airport here and no aversion to driving places (hell, it takes more than 12 hours to drive across the state... anywhere in the midwest or south seems pretty close by Texas standards) Dallas makes a great "homebase." I consider the whole country my "field of operation" and keep coming back to Dallas as my welcoming HQ. From here I've taken pieces to festivals and venues all over the place.

Lastly, I didn't realize southern hospitality was an actual thing until I went other places. Dallas is a welcoming place. The arts patrons here are curious, sophisticated and actually pretty open-minded. I like that. I'm producing my first large festival - the Dallas Solo Fest - at the historic Margo Jones Theatre later this month and I have solo performers coming in from all over the country. As the lead up to the fest is underway, it has been a pleasure to begin to show off Dallas to them. I'm hoping they leave with a good impression of the place and community here.

Anyway, great write-up, Will. Glad you and your fam are here. Glad you have experienced the positive side of Dallas for a working theatre artist.