Kevin Moriarty inherited the Wyly design but he’s not complaining. He plans to use his new playground to make the DTC even better
Mark Hadley, managing director of the Dallas Theater Center, remembers almost nine years ago hearing about a new theater in the Arts District. Before long, he was sitting in a room with architect Rem Koolhaus, planning out a theater design with "total flexibility" — a space that could be transformed, not just on a stage, but in the entire environment, changing, from show to show, how an audience would interact with a play.
Nearly a decade later, that space is a reality, as the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre finally opens.
That was all long before Kevin Moriarty was even a blip on the DTC’s radar. All design decisions — from the wall of windows that encase the backstage to the huge fly space (and fairly small wings) — were fixed when Moriarty was still making his reputation. But now that he’s the artistic director of the DTC, Moriarty doesn’t feel like a stepparent stepping into another man’s house. No, he feels like the luckiest kid on the playground.
Moriarty ticks off the versatility of the space with giddy glee: "All the theater seating can move in different ways. The balconies can come in closer to the center. The floor can mechanically lower and rise. Every single thing you can see in this room, except the concrete pillars, can go away and create one big room. And the crew can move all this in four hours!"
A thoughtful theater professional, he believes a space is as much a part of the stage experience as the actors and the play.
"Every play we do will be in a theater space that matches the needs of the artists," he promises. But that also raises the bar for the expectations of the DTC. The Kalita Humphreys Theater, charming as it is, has limitations; the Wyly opens doors.
Moriarty would never have undertaken It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman — next year’s season-ender — at the Kalita. "Where would we put an 11-piece orchestra?" he asks rhetorically. "This space gives us the ability to constantly reconfigure the audience-actor relationship."
In addition to the main stage, there is the smaller 99-seat Studio Theatre upstairs which will extend the DTC’s reach, allowing it to do more intimate plays where every member of the audience sits close to the stage and appreciates the nuances of acting. Moriarty even foresees a time, several years away, when there are no seats in the house and the audience mingles with the performers; where actors perform key scenes outside the theater beyond the glass door. "Why would you not do that?" he says.
Moreover, one of Moriarty’s missions is to produce new works that can then move on to other theaters, and the space is so versatile it can tailor shows that work in a variety of spaces. The Wyly doesn’t just look like the Borg Cube: It has about as much technology stored within its aluminum-tubed chassis.
"There’s no way you can understand everything this building can do," Moriarty says. "Even Rem said the artists will not be able to unlock all the potential of the space for a few years after working in it. Then, once they figure out how to work against the space, we’ll see something special."
For Moriarty, then, his headspace is as important as the physical space.
"The power of this building is, we can serve the needs of the play." The possibilities are almost intoxicating.
And, for that matter, daunting. Moriarty says it was the promise of the Wyly that lured him to Dallas in the first place. Expectations are high — for him and the DTC.
"We’re not holed up in an enclosed cage like actors are used to working in — a concrete building in a park; we are in a glass box in the center of the city. This is huge," he says.
It also reinforced Moriarty’s ethic that the community is an essential collaborator in the theater. In addition to his duties with the DTC, Moriarty is teaching a theater course at neighboring Booker T. Washington High School. And he hopes the DTC can eventually produce theater year-round, including an annual summer musical.
Ultimately, the attraction of the building is just a side note if what’s going on inside doesn’t appeal to the larger community. It may take 10 years, but Dallas will eventually learn whether the Arts District was one of its wisest civic investments or a dinosaur — beautiful and new, yes — but irrelevant. But it won’t be if Moriarty has anything to say about that.
This article appeared in Applause, The Dallas Voice Visual & Performing Arts Guide 2009 print edition October 9, 2009.
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