Dallas Theater Center
Q&A with Kevin Moriarty, Artistic Director at Dallas Theater Center
Dallas Theater Center received the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2017. We spoke with Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty about what the honor meant to the community and how the theater used the $25,000 grant to extend a powerful community program.
What did winning the Regional Theatre Tony Award mean to the Dallas Theater Center?
Oh my goodness — it's hard to put this into words. There were two specific moments of discovery. One was receiving a phone call late on Friday afternoon from the Tony Awards saying they were going to announce that we had received the Regional Theatre Tony Award in three days. But they said, "Other than your PR person, you can't tell anyone — not anyone."
For three days I walked around Dallas with this news. I was at a big public event that weekend, seeing leaders in the artistic community, and donors, and audience members, and political leaders.
"It was the most stressful couple of days because I had the most exciting news in the world and I couldn't tell anybody!"
The second moment was when we called everyone together: our staff, the actors who were in rehearsal for plays, the carpenters, the folks in the costume shop, the box office people, and all of the administrators.
Everybody arrived and waited and waited, and the second the announcement was live, I had the great fortune of telling them we had just received the Tony Award. There was an explosion of joy from the entire theater. It was a room full of all the people it takes to make a play, and the pride and the joy and the explosion of celebration was just incredible.
I don't think I'll ever forget that. Even more joyful was being able to stand on stage at Radio City Music Hall to receive the Tony and feel the spirit of so many folks who had given so much artistry, so much time, so much money, so many hours of their lives sitting in seats, watching our plays.
What does it take to receive this type of award?
It's interesting. Some awards in life are for something an individual did that was extraordinary. In theater, though, it's such a collaborative art form. When somebody wins a Tony Award as Best Actor or Best Director, they stand there and they know there are so many other collaborators — the others who acted on stage with them, designed the scenery, directed the play, and helped to get to that moment.
But for a theater company like Dallas Theater Center, the size and scope of that collaboration are almost unimaginable. The number of people it takes to build theater buildings, people to give their hard-earned money so actors can come together to make a play, so that playwrights can be commissioned — the number of people is just astounding. Down to the number of people who sweep the floor of the scene shop, or the number of people who welcome audience members and take their tickets. You need those people — from the president of the board of trustees to the ticket taker.
What did this award mean to the Dallas community?
A week after we received the Tony and had the award with us in Dallas, we threw a massive party and started moving through the city. Over the next couple of weeks, we went to community centers, to schools, to day care centers, to hospitals. We went to City Hall with the mayor and the city council. We went to our board of directors. We went all throughout the city with the Tony Award and set up a photo booth at each location.
"We said 'This Tony Award is for the people of Dallas and the artistry that the people of Dallas support and believe in.'"
And then we let everyone take photographs with the Tony. There was a sense that each person in our community had received a national honor.
There was a lot of pride in that recognition. People know that we are a city of commerce and a city of sports. But I think it was deeply moving for the people of Dallas — from the mayor, to the kids who engage in our education programs, to the leading actors at our company — to stop for a moment and realize how important art is in our city, and how that transforms our own lives and the way our city is viewed.
How were you able to use the grant money to give back to the community?
When we won the Tony, we were in the midst of launching a massive citywide program called Public Works Dallas. It’s a program where we spend all year in neighborhoods, throughout the city, collaborating with adult literacy programs, programs that work with immigrant mothers, and a few others. And we offer free weekly classes in acting — not intending for these folks to become professional actors, but to unlock their creative potential as they move through life.
It starts with an audition process, and it culminates in a massive production of 200 people from throughout the city. They come together on our stage to do a Shakespeare play.
The year we won the Tony Award, we did the Tempest. That production had 195 people who had never acted in a play before. The youngest was five, and the oldest was 93. Then we had five professional actors, including Andre De Shields. It took a lot of resources to make it happen.
"And we weren't sure that it could continue. But then, we won the grant money."
We took the grant money and used it to jump-start the next year of the program, and Public Works Dallas is still going strong. We'll be doing a massive 200-person community production of Shakespeare's As You Like It this summer.
It was important to be able to share the recognition with our community, but it was equally important to share the money with our community, so more people would get to experience more art.
What's your vision for the Dallas Theater Center?
We’re committed to ensuring that the voices on our stage reflect the people in our community — from the plays we choose, to the writers we commission, to the artists and actors that we hire. We've made very conscious decisions to ensure that we have representation for women, people of color, and people of different ages, experiences and abilities who populate our city.
"If you come to the theater in Dallas, the actors on the stage reflect back at you like a mirror, like the city itself."
We're really focused on choosing plays that will spark a dialogue in our community about our own lives. I often think that, as we look ahead, our goal is not to produce. Early theater makers made art for art's sake. But the goal of the theater was to make a play, and if that play was well received, then you'd done your job. I think we're in a different time in America now. We're in a time when making a play beautifully and crafting it with skill and artistry is important, but the purpose is not just to make a play. The play is the catalyst for the real goal, which is to inspire a meaningful dialogue in the community.
So I'm really eager to have our work represent our community. And I'm eager to have the work on our stage serve as a place where the city can come together and share in difficult conversations, but also joy and healing. I feel that, in the moment we live in, as part of an institution with the resources and faith and trust of our community, we need to use that to promote those moments of unity and healing.
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