Welcome to Dallas

by Kevin Moriarty

in National Conference

Post image for Welcome to Dallas

Pictured: The Wyly Theatre, home of the Dallas Theater Center.

In June the national theater community will converge on the Dallas Arts District for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach. As the co-chair of the local Host Committee, and as a TCG board member, I am incredibly excited to share the city I love with my friends and colleagues throughout the American theater.

For folks who’ve never been to Dallas, there may be some real surprises ahead. Yes, this is the city where President Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago (the Texas School Book Depository is now the site of a very moving museum, which conference goers will be able to visit), and it’s the home of the Dallas Cowboys (conference goers will be able to take a tour of their truly awe inspiring stadium), and it’s the location for the television series, Dallas (which is filmed throughout the city). But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what the national theater community will find here.

Dallas is the fastest growing urban area in America. We’re adding one million residents to the region every seven years. We’re also an incredibly diverse people, including a large, expanding Mexican American population and a historically vibrant African American community, among many others; also, our citizens are younger than in most cities nation-wide. This stimulating mix of experiences and points of view, coupled with a friendly, outgoing sense of hospitality and genuine civic pride, comprises modern Dallas.

Here you’ll find one of the largest assortments of international corporations (Dallas has the third most Fortune 500 companies in the nation), nationally recognized sports teams, and world class shopping (conference goers can walk from their hotel to the original Neiman Marcus store, or take a trip to NorthPark Center, a jaw-dropping collection of 235 stores and restaurants).

The TCG conference sessions will take place in the Dallas Arts District, which is the largest Arts District in the United States. Conference goers will find an impressive collection of arts organizations housed in eye-popping facilities, including four designed by Pritzker Prize winning architects. From the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Collection of Asian Art to the Meyerson Symphony Center, Winspear Opera House, City Performance Hall, Wyly Theatre and Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, the district serves as home to a broad cross section of visual and performing arts organizations.

Dallas Theater Center’s home is at the Wyly Theatre in the Arts District. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus, the building is like no other theater in the world. It features a completely flexible performance hall (the balconies can recede into the grid, the entire floor can be flattened, the proscenium can be raised, and the three-story walls of the performance chamber are enclosed in glass, which can reveal the city to the audience and actors, and vice versa). This has had a profound impact on the work we are able to create. Rather than assuring our subscribers that they can sit in their same seat, year after year, we instead promise them that, over the course of a season, they will never sit in the same seat twice! (Yes, this has caused stress within our marketing department and tested the limits of our box office software, but it has also proved to be immensely popular with our audiences and allowed for a rush of artistic innovation and programmatic growth.)

Beyond the Arts District, you’ll find a thriving theater community. There are nine TCG member theaters in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Each is doing unique, meaningful work, representing a cross-section of aesthetics and ideas. Dallas Children’s Theater is one of the largest theaters in the region; led by its founder, Robyn Flatt, a legend in our theater community, it produces work for young audiences. Water Tower Theatre produces a variety of contemporary and classic works, including musicals. Shakespeare Dallas produces classical theater, while Kitchen Dog Theater is a member of the National New Play Network and produces an annual festival of new plays. Undermain Theatre has toured internationally and focuses on innovative, language-driven pieces.  Cara Mía Theatre Co in Dallas creates work that explores Chicano and Latino culture. In Fort Worth, Jubilee Theatre produces plays and musicals that reflect the African-American experience, and Amphibian Stage Productions produces innovative, contemporary work.

In many ways the breadth, depth, innovation and energy of the Dallas theater community reflects the broader national landscape of the American theater – as do many of the challenges we face. TCG is constructing the Dallas conference to focus on four of these challenges facing the field. Each of these programmatic arcs will serve as its own smaller, more focused conference within the larger, general conference. This will allow the participants to delve more deeply into their own area of interest and build a greater bond amongst the conference attendees.

Like many TCG theaters, here in Dallas we are grappling with the challenges and opportunities of creating inclusive work by and for an increasingly diverse population. As such, we are intensely interested in the conference arc focused on Diversity & Inclusion. After the excitement and hope generated from the TCG Fall Forum, and with the knowledge of TCG’s deep commitment to advancing this dialogue, as expressed in its recently adopted strategic plan, we are eager to assemble in Dallas to share stories of success, own up to the persistent barriers to entry, and make a plan for moving forward that will result in action. Not more talk. Real action. After years of well-meaning dialogue and good intentions, we are ready to take the next steps: making choices that will result in change. The Dallas conference holds the possibility of being a watershed moment for diversity in our field.

We are also acutely aware of the need to engage new audiences with our theaters. Dallas is growing and changing with such speed that it is clear to us we must dedicate new waves of energy, care and attention to expanding our audiences and deepening our relationships with them. If we simply build a building and make good plays inside that building, our rapidly expanding 21st-century city will quickly pass us by without notice. TCG’s multi-year, strategic focus on Audience Engagement was launched with a convening in Philadelphia this winter. Many new ideas were introduced and initiatives that are working were shared. We are thrilled that the Dallas Conference will include an arc focused on Audience Engagement, not only advancing these conversations but also leading the way to future break-through ideas that will be as liberating and impactful on the field as the introduction of the subscription model was in the previous century.

At Dallas Theater Center, we’re in the midst of a dynamic time of artistic change and growth, spurred on by the explorations of theatrical space and the actor/audience relationship made possible by our unique, new building, as well as by our increased efforts to produce new plays and musicals. Equally importantly, we are exploring the creative impact of long-term artistic residencies, harkening back to the early days of the regional theater movement, including the establishment of a resident acting company and the appointment of Will Power as our Playwright in Residence. We know that artistic innovation is essential for us to remain creatively fresh and relevant to our community, so we are excited to experience the new ideas that will be raised by Howard Shalwitz and others in Dallas this spring. The Artistic Innovation arc will certainly captivate many at the conference.

Finally, as a theater community located in the midst of an enterprising, entrepreneurial, and financially thriving city, we are acutely aware that new business strategies must constantly be explored and adopted to ensure the ongoing vibrancy of our theaters. Here in Texas we are challenged by a lack of government funding for the arts, while also being inspired by the forward thinking acts of immense generosity from individuals within our philanthropic community. We’re very aware that in a time of scarce resources for the arts nationwide, there is much we can learn from each other in the field, and from innovative sectors beyond our own, to help us grow and prosper. The Financial Adaptation arc at the Dallas conference will serve as an inspiration for those of us who face the daunting task of shepherding resources and ensuring the health of the American Theater.

For all of these reasons – the essential conversations embedded in the four conference arcs, the introduction of our local theater community to the broader field, and the home town pride we feel in sharing our lively city with our peers from the across the country – we are eager to welcome y’all to Dallas in June!

Kevin Moriarty is the artistic director of Dallas Theater Center, the co-chair of the TCG Dallas Host Committee, and a member of the TCG Board. Before joining DTC in the fall of 2007, Kevin served as the artistic director of the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY for seven years. From 2002-2007 Kevin was also the Head of Directing for the Brown University/Trinity Rep MFA program in Providence, RI, and an Associate Artist at Trinity Rep Company. Kevin has directed plays off-Broadway, at regional theaters and on tour. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin.