Keep an eye out for Ohlook Performing Arts, a suburban theater company with an edge
A conservative bedroom community like Grapevine, Texas, isn’t the first burg you think of when you consider a hotbed of nightlife. Maybe you can get a nice dinner, do some shopping, even drinks. But late-night theater with vampire lesbians? That doesn’t seem much like a suburban offering.
But almost defiantly, and with fascinatingly good reason, the folks behind Ohlook Performing Arts Center embrace the idea of edgy shows in the ‘burbs. And, as it turns out, the community seems to be following suit.
“I’m surprised that we haven’t had more of a backlash,” says producing artistic director Jill Blalock-Lord. “But we have a board that supports what we’re doing and hey, there are gay people in the ‘burbs, too!”
In recent months, Ohlook has produced some very queer shows that even urbanites in Dallas proper might drop their jaws at. They just came off a double-feature of Charles Busch plays — Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party — that ran back-to-back as part of Ohlook’s late-show adult series, as well as productions of Debbie Does Dallas and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.
All that begs the question: How are their neighbors in the GOP-friendly ‘hoods of Grapevine, Southlake and Colleyville adjusting?
“Well, the city hasn’t given us a lot of support, but they leave us alone,” Lord says. “We were worried with Trannie, but even in this community, we haven’t had any problems.”
In February, Ohlook debuted Trannie: A Musical written by Lord’s husband and Redneck Tenor founder Matthew Lord, about a cross-dressing prostitute who searches for the men who gave her up when gay couples were denied adoption rights. But the surprise was on Ohlook: People came out for the show.
Still, the company isn’t specifically gay-centric. In fact, Blalock-Lord says it’s really just been a coincidence — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
“I don’t think gay content is the quantifying factor, but I tend to like the message [it] bears,” Blalock-Lord says. “Honestly, we’ll do anything out there because we will do any kind of edgy show.”
They took the gay-themed play Dog Sees God to the American Association of Community Theatre play festival in Rochester, N.Y., and won six awards for it, including best overall production.
Blalock-Lord clearly gets the unbelievable wackiness that her theater company has undertaken. But she wasn’t trying to necessarily step out of the box and be something other community theaters were not.
“Ohlook started as an educational program with student shows,” she explains. “As my kids were growing up, they wanted to be in more adult shows. And so actors that started with us as children are growing into adults in our shows.”
“That’s part of the reason we do those shows,” board member Julie Hahn adds. “We have some talented and serious young people and we offer quality training. These are the shows they wanna do.”
This next season, Ohlook plans to present three shows: The Who’s Tommy, Evil Dead and they’re deciding between Christmas Rocky Horror or Scrooge’s Groovy Christmas. There has been some difficulty in planning because Ohlook is looking for a new home.
“Yeah, we’ve been given our notice so we’re on the lookout,” Blalock-Lord says. “We’re hoping to stay in same area, but we have friends who say come to Dallas. Well, they got theaters in Dallas!”
With a fan base already set, they have every intention of staying close by and they will be in their original space for Tommy, even though it starts later than planned. (“We didn’t want it to open here and then close there,” she laughs.)
Regardless of their struggles, Blalock-Lord feels like Ohlook will always have its peculiar take on theater. And for gay audiences, including some of Ohlook’s students who have made their own self-discoveries, there’s always going to be a place for campy theater — even if it’s way up north.
“I noticed people came from all over to our shows,” she says. “We wanna do shows that bring in an audience and we have revenue from our classes that allows us to be more adventurous. It’s ideal. Part of theater is to educate, but you gotta have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
For more information about Ohlook, visit OhlookPerform.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.