I’ve known Jac Alder for many years, but not nearly as many — not by a long shot — as he has been an arts leader in Dallas. In fact, he has led Theatre 3 for longer than I have been alive … and I’m not a kid. So yeah, maybe for a decade or so I was privileged to say, “Hi, Jac,” or even set up a photo shoot with him or get an exclusive or two in a private conversation, but if you wanna know someone who knew Jac Alder best, well, hell — it wasn’t me.
In many ways, I bet it was Terry Dobson, who was the music director at T3 for nearly 35 years and worked closely with Jac. Sadly, Terry died of sepsis just a few weeks ago … just as Jac checked into the hospital in respiratory distress. Jac’s condition was serious, but he seemed to be improving last I heard. So when word spread last night that Alder had passed away at age 80 … well, it’s a lot to digest in a short period of time.
Jac was widely acknowledged as the longest-serving artistic director of any arts organization in the U.S., which he cofounded (with his late wife Norma Young) in 1961; notably, Jac died just after the final show of the company’s 54th season concluded — Jac knew how to make a timely exit.
That’s because he did it all — not only as a producer and artistic director, but also as an actor (I saw him several time trod the boards, and he was brilliant each time), an entrepreneur (he turned himself in a puppet to give the curtain speech at Avenue Q), a director and occasionally as a designer. He could be prickly, but also droll; fiercely opinionated but also flexible; charming (the first time I met him he told me, “I’ve heard many excellent things about you … but I won’t say from whom”) and defiant. As a critic, I would sometimes write negative reviews of shows he produced, and I could usually tell when he disagreed with me, but never was he rude. He was the gentleman of Dallas theater.
He was savvy, as well, in helping Theatre 3 grow. When it had a reputation for doing “safe” work, he took some risks and put on plays with nudity (Metamorphoses, The Wild Party, The Full Monty), interspersed with Agatha Christie thrillers and song-filled revues. The mission statement of Theatre 3 says it took its name from the interplay between author, actor and audience; Jac really tried to embody that in every production. No one cared more about theater that Jac.
Few cared more about his fellow man, as well. Jac nurtured the young careers of such folks as Morgan Fairchild and Doug Wright; he was well-known to employ theater professionals who needed work so that they could keep their health insurance; he was supportive of AIDS causes and a long-standing friend of the gay community. Theatre 3 embraced its Uptown neighbors.
So, I didn’t know Jac as well as many other people. But I knew him well enough: Through his largesse, his artistry, his commitment. He wasn’t a tall man; but he was a giant.