DTC announces 2014-15 season

DTC-DTE Kurt Rhoads and June Squibb - by Brandon Thibodeaux

Oscar nominee June Squibb, last seen at the DTC in Horton Foote’s ‘Surviving the Estate,’ will return to play the lead in ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’

Dracula won’t be swooping into the Wyly Theatre any time soon, but Bruce Wood will make his debut with the Dallas Theater Center, and a recent Oscar nominee will make her return along with a Speedo-clad muscle man, the company’s artistic director, Kevin Moriarty, revealed this morning. The formal announcement will take place later today.

To kick off the season, audiences will get a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania taking a jump to the left in the season opening, The Rocky Horror Show. Joel Ferrell will direct the gender-bending musical at the Wyly.

Ferrell steps immediately into the next production, which will take over the Kalita Humphreys space. Driving Miss Daisy will star June Squibb — who was just nominated for an Oscar for Nebraska — as a prickly Southern lady and her relationship with her African-American chauffeur.

Bruce Wood, the choreographer and occasional stage director, will make his DTC debut with Colossal, a world premiere play-with-dancing about football. It continues the DTC’s preoccupation with sports onstage (baseball with Back Back Back, basketball with Give It Up aka Lysistra Jones, pro wrestling with The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity).

“Consistent with [DTC's mission of producing shows that reflect the community], this show is about people with disabilities — the man character is in a wheelchair,” Moriarty says. “The play will feature full-contact drills, with music provided by a drumline.” And the Wyly will be transformed into a football stadium, complete with bleachers and popcorn.

The musical Stagger Lee, written by DTC writer-in-residence Will Power and developed at DTC for several years, will have its main-stage debut.

“My first year here, I was approached by SMU, who wanted to present the Meadows Prize to a theater artist,” Moriarty says. “I gave them a list of about 10 names to discuss, and [when we decided on Will Power], SMU commissioned him to write a play as part of DTC’s season. The play is a mythical investigation of the African-American experience in the 20th century.

Also scheduled in a regional premiere, The Book Club Play, a romantic comedy about, naturally, a book club.

“Christie Vela runs the perfect book club, but then a documentary film crew comes to shoot it just as a new member joins, and mayhem ensues,” Moriarty says. It will be directed by Meredith McDonough — one of three women directing shows at the DTC this season.

rsDTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty_Photo by Tadd Myers

Kevin Moriarty

There are several significant developments this season. In addition to producing a record nine shows (the current season was only seven shows), Moriarty is launching a five-year “classical theater” initiative, which will mount at least two plays each season written before 1900. The two presented this year couldn’t be more different — at least on the surface: The 17th century farce School for Wives and the ancient Greek tragedy Medea. But Moriarty sees a theme.

“Both are plays about women denied power or justice, who eventually are victorious,” Moriarty says. The plays will be presented in repertory at the Kalita, with the Moliere comedy performed upstairs and Euripides’ masterpiece in the long-overlooked basement space, once known as Down Center Stage. Sally Vahle will play Medea, but will also take a role in School.

“It will be true rep — we’ll rehearse eight hours a day, the first four of one show, then lunch, then the next four with the other,”says Moriarty, who will direct both.

A Christmas Carol — this season performed at the Wyly for the first time, and included as part of the regular season subscription — becomes a bonus show again. The version performed this past December, written and directed by Moriarty, will be revived, though Lee Trull will direct and Jeremy Dumont will serve as choreographer.

Another development is that the traditional family-friendly summer won’t take place — or rather, hasn’t been programmed yet. The final show of the season will be a stage version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. But that production will conclude before Memorial Day of 2015, meaning the summer of 2015 may still have a musical in it … but it’ll be part of the 2015-16 season instead.

The Dracula Cycle,  set to open last year, was delayed when the playwright, gay scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, become entrenched in commitments in theater (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), television (Glee) and film (the Carrie remake). It was expected to return next season but has officially be taken off the books.

Here’s the complete schedule of shows and production dates:

The Rocky Horror Show at the Wyly, Sept. 11–Oct. 19.

Driving Miss Daisy at the Kalita, Oct. 16–Nov. 16.

A Christmas Carol at the Wyly, Nov. 25–Dec. 27.

The Book Club Play at the Kalita, Jan. 1, 2015 –Feb. 1.

Stagger Lee at the Wyly, Jan. 21–Feb. 15.

School for Wives and Medea at the Kalita, Feb. 19–March 29

Collosal at Wyly, April 2–May 3.

Sense and Sensibility at the Kalita, April 23–May 24.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Opera announces 6-show season

KM Stairs

Kevin Moriarty, DTC’s artistic director, will cross Flora Street to direct the season opener for the Dallas Opera, ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’

After several seasons of belt-tightening that reduced the number of fully staged operas from the usual five or six to three and then four, the 2014–15 season roars back with six productions — five classics of the canon and a world premiere for its 58th year.

The season, labeled Heights of Passion, launches (as usual) in October with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro — conducted by the DO’s new music director, Emmauel Villaume and directed by Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty — followed by Richard Strauss’ Salome. The season continues the following spring in rapid succession with the remaining four productions:  Catalani’s La Wally (Act IV) on a double bill with the world premiere one-act opera Everest by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer, then the ever-popular La Boheme by Puccini and concluding with Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta.

Moriarty returns to opera with Figaro, having helmed the one-act The Lighthouse in a limited run in March 2012. Salome will be directed by lesbian stage director Francesca Zambello, whom we profiled here in 2010. Villaume will team with gay German stage director Christian Rath for the final production of the season, the rarely-seen Tchaikovsky piece Iolanta.

Here’s the full lineup:

The Marriage of Figaro, Oct. 24, 26 (matinee), 29, Nov. 1, 7 and 9 (matinee).

Salome, Oct. 30, Nov. 2 (matinee), 5, 8 and 16.

La Wally (Act IV) and Everest, Jan. 30, Feb. 1 (matinee), 4, and 7, 2015.

La Boheme, March 13, 15 (matinee), 18, 21, 27 and 29 (matinee).

Iolanta, April 10, 12 (matinee), 15 and 18.

New company subscribers can purchase subscriptions starting June 1; packages for all six productions start at $76. Single tickets will go on sale around July, and will start at $19. All performances will be at the Winspear Opera House. Learn more at DallasOpera.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: DTC’s 2013-14 schedule

rsDTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty_Photo by Tadd MyersThe Dallas Theater Center’s Kevin Moriarty has said since he started there as artistic director that his goal was to provide every audience an experience in the “city’s theater.” The diversity evident in the coming season reflects that. (Three gay playwrights are represented next season.)

The seven-production season is divided into both “classic” (four plays) and “contemporary” (three plays) series — two musicals, a holiday tradition, a famous play and its unofficial sequel among them.

The “big” news is the first locally-produced professional production of Les Miserables, which closes the season in the summer of 2014. Before then, however, are six more shows.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DTC announces 2012-13 season

The Dallas Theater Center’s fourth season at the Wyly Theatre continues to extend performances into the Kalita Humphreys space where Uptown Players calls home, but this will officially be the last year A Christmas Carol is performed there. The upcoming season itself claims lots of new works or regional premieres in an eclectic season of comedy, professional wrestling, flying men and musicals with the word “fly” in the title.

See the schedule of shows after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theater troupes to release seasons, but we already know one by the Bard

It’s that time of year when theater companies begin to unveil their seasons, and nowadays, they like to make it a show. Tonight, the Lexus Broadway Series will reveal its third season at the Winspear (look here on Instant Tea this weekend for an update!) and next week, the Dallas Theater Center and Theatre 3 both have ceremonies to announce their seasons.

We already know one of the plays on the Lexus slate: The Tony-winning War Horse, pictured, which was revealed last year. But we also know one of the DTC’s upcoming shows.

This fall will mark the start of the company’s fourth season at the Wyly, and artistic director Kevin Moriarty has always opened his season with a Shakespeare play: The comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the history Henry IV (Parts I and II) and the romance The Tempest. That only leaves one of the major tragedies (Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear), and smart money has always been in Lear: It’s less performed than all the others except Othello, and so the production would be pretty fresh. The question was, who would tackle the lead?

Now we know. The DTC may not have released its schedule yet, but Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I. — with which Moriarty has had a long affiliation — has. It released its 2012-13 season brochure a few weeks ago, which I happened upon online, and here’s what it says:

King Lear [Sept. 13—Oct. 21] Our resident acting company joins forces with the acclaimed Dallas Theater Center for a co-production of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. … In the winter, Trinity Rep’s actors will venture to Dallas to remount this thrilling co-production. Resident acting company member Brian McEleney stars as Lear.

It looks, then, like Shakespeare will not kick off DTC’s season for the first time at the Wyly, but will wait until early 2013, following DTC’s annual presentation of A Christmas Carol … another show Trinity Rep is also doing. Might there be other convergences on the two schedules? We’ll find out next week!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Carol’ charming

The lion, the ghost and the wardrobe changes of Carol-er David Ryan Smith

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FROM OZ TO DICKENS | David Ryan Smith got a chance to work at both DTC home bases in 2011, playing the Cowardly Lion in ‘The Wiz’ at the Wyly, and now multiple roles in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Kalita. (Photos courtesy David Leggett and Karen Almond)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

David Ryan Smith isn’t a Dallas native, he just seems to play one onstage.

The  New York-based actor has made the Dallas Theater Center almost a second home in 2011 — first playing the Cowardly Lion in last summer’s The Wiz (one of the triumvirate of friends of Dorothy, along with the Tin Man and Scarecrow, who stole the show), and currently in several roles, most notably the

Ghost of Christmas Present, in DTC’s annual revival of A Christmas Carol.

So what accounts for his sudden honorary Texan status? Even he doesn’t know.

“I’d never even been to Texas until this summer,” he says. He grew up in Asheville, N.C., before attending school in Indiana and later San Francisco; he moved to New York six years ago. But he “had a great time” here.

Really?! He liked spending a record-settingly sweltering summer in a furry lion suit? Well, yeah, kinda.

“I’m not a big musical-theater actor, but I’d always wanted to do The Wiz,” he says. He’d auditioned for the DTC before when the company held casting calls in NYC, but actor and part never quite clicked before. Still, he agreed to assist the casting director, helping read other actors for parts. Then the casting director suggested he would be right for the Lion. DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty agreed, and his Texas tour was on its way.

“The Theater Center is great — the facility and the people. And working with the Dallas Black Dance Theater was amazing, they are all so talented.” He even became friends with his Wiz co-star Liz Mikel, who is in New York right now preparing for her Broadway debut in Lysistrata Jones.

But Smith also wanted to work with DTC’s Joel Ferrell. “Liz and Cedric [Neal] told me, work with him if you can,” he says. So when Ferrell returned this year to direct A Christmas Carol again, Smith jumped at the chance.

It actually wasn’t his first experience with DTC’s annual holiday show — Smith had worked in San Francisco with former DTC associate Jonathan Moscone, who mounted a version of Christmas Carol in the 1990s. “He was really proud of that show,” Smith says.

So what’s it like staying in the holiday spirit 10 times a week since Halloween? Not as hard as you might imagine, Smith says.

“We do original music, not the same old Christmas carols you hear everywhere, so at least it doesn’t make you cranky,” he says. “And wearing those boots [as the Ghost of Christmas Present] takes you into a whole other reality. I see my job in that role as forcing [Kurt Rhoads, who plays Scrooge] into changing. Kurt’s a wonderful acting partner.”

An even better partner is Smith’s boyfriend of five years, Josh. How do they handle Smith being on the road so much?

“It’s part of the job,” he sighs. “Usually he comes to visit, but because of how the holidays fall this year, he won’t get down here, though he visited during

The Wiz. And actually it makes the time we spend together all the better.”

That’s the way to stay in the holiday spirit — especially for a man playing a holiday spirit.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Spirit of Giving: A Gathering to remember

The benefit gala commemorates 30 years of AIDS and its impact on Dallas, North Texas

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RAISE YOUR VOICE | Gary Floyd, right, directs singers, from left, Damon K. Clark, Rachel Dupard and Denise Lee during a rehearsal for ‘A Gathering.’ (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Arnold Wayne Jones  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Charles Santos was having breakfast at Lucky’s with Jonathan Palant last summer when the now-former artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale mentioned that the chorale was born in the time of AIDS. This year, Palant told him, marks 30 years since the first cases of what was first known as

“Gay-Related Immune Deficiency,” or GRID, were reported.

The comment got Santos thinking how deeply the arts — in North Texas and across the world — had been affected by the pandemic.

Some people might have spent time reflecting on how their lives and the world have changed; others might have felt compelled to discuss it with friends.

Maybe some might have written an op-ed piece of the “lest we forget” variety.

But Santos had a different idea.

As executive director of TITAS, which has brought art and music performances to Dallas for decades, Santos was in a unique position. He had access to the Winspear Opera House and a Rolodex that included every major performing arts leader in the region.

More than that, he had a passion to produce a show. And he wanted everyone within earshot to participate.

Santos started by gathering a core group of area leaders, including the Dallas Theater Center’s Joel Ferrell and Kevin Moriarty and AT&T Performing Arts Center external affairs director Chris Heinbaugh. They and others came up with the beneficiaries, how to approach arts organizations, the structure of the show.

“We wrote it, and it’s pretty remarkable, unlike the other events I have done,” says Santos. “We talked about what the pieces were and what we wanted to concentrate on.”

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GETTING READY | Charles Santos, right, and Millicent Johnnie, assistant professor of dance at SMU’s Meadows School of The Arts, second from right, look on during a recent rehearsal for ‘A Gathering.’ (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

The idea of the staging will be like a deconstructed musical that lays out three emotional “arcs” to be covered in two acts: First, loss, heroism and fury; second, faith, family, friends and caring; finally, action and change.

Thus was formed A Gathering: The Dallas Arts Community Reflects on 30 Years of AIDS, a one-night-only concert and fundraiser being held at the Winspear Opera House on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Ultimately, about a dozen performing arts groups signed on, as well as many vocalists, musicians and other leaders. All told, more than 200 individuals will be taking part.

The ground rules for participation were simple: With the exception of certain unavoidable costs (unionized stage hands, licensing fees for music, etc.), everyone involved had to volunteer their time — every penny raised will benefit equally four local charities: AIDS Arms, AIDS Interfaith Network, AIDS Services of Dallas and Resource Center Dallas.

“Everyone’s been great,” Santos says. “ATTPAC donated the theater and waived all the ticket fees; a printer donated the programs and posters.

“I have been very clear that this is all being donated. When I was talking to one of the orchestras, they said they wanted to participate but couldn’t donate their time. I said, ‘I totally understand but I can’t use you.’ There are no comps — everyone is buying their own tickets. All the performers are buying tickets for their loved ones.”

The outpouring of support from the community has been reminiscent of the town of Bedford Falls helping out George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life — a fitting metaphor during the holiday season. And while Santos has been grateful for the generosity, he says it really does not surprise him.

“One of the things the gay community learned during the early days of the AIDS crisis was that we had to take care of our own — we had to change the world. What a remarkable thing it was,” he says.

And it’s that spirit that has driven A Gathering.

“To my knowledge, this has never happened in this community, this many arts organizations collaborating on one event. Everyone has been so generous.

That’s why I’m interested to see what comes of it. I hope it generates more collaborative projects in our community. If these groups all say, ‘Let’s do another project, maybe in our own seasons,’ that would be excellent. In this economy, we are in a real period of wearing collaborative clothes.”

This kind of benefit wasn’t really new to Santos, though it had been a long time coming.

“When I was a dancer, I did shows like this,” he explains.

He put a performance fundraiser together in Austin that became an annual event. But since moving to Dallas in 2001, “I was focused on TITAS and didn’t do any more AIDS work. I haven’t done an AIDS benefit in years, so I’m really excited.”

It is perhaps for that reason that Santos threw himself head-long into producing this show with only three months of prep time.

“It’s a massive amount of work — I force myself to spend time on it every day,” he says. “Chris [Heinbaugh] has been great about keeping my thoughts grounded and relating it back to Dallas.”

Maintaining the focus on North Texas, in fact, was a key decision made early in the process.

“We all jointly made a decision to keep it local,” Santos says. “We all had the contacts to bring in headliners like Kristin Chenoweth and Bill T. Jones, but then that becomes a different animal. This is about our community.”
(The program will include a photo montage of locals who have died of AIDS.)

Nevertheless, Santos’ plan for A Gathering was a scope that extended beyond our borders — both Dallas’ and the gay community’s.

“One of the discussions I’ve had with everyone is that it doesn’t all have to be about the gay community and doesn’t have to be literal. We all know the impact on the gay community, but this is a global issue — gay, straight, single, married. It is a human issue.

“As we’re talking about a particular emotion, we noted that something taken out of context can be very helpful — it doesn’t all have to be Rent and The Normal Heart and Angels in America. There will be a microphone close to the audience where people [including former Mayor Laura Miller and various TV news anchors] will do readings.

“We include facts that deal with the impact of AIDS in Africa, so we have a piece of choreography that’s a tribute to [ composer and activist] Fela Kuti, who died of AIDS. We have a statement about discrimination. The opera is sending us a countertenor to sing for us. Some of the AIDS quilt panels will be flown in and be on display.”

While some tickets have been set aside for clients of the AIDS organizations served by the benefit, Santos’ great hope is that the entire community turns out to participate and reflect on AIDS.

“I hope the community comes out for it. It will be an amazing show, a real spectacular,” he said.

Participating organizations include the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance Project, CharlieUniformTango, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows School for the Arts, Texas Ballet Theater, TITAS and the Turtle Creek Chorale. Vocalists include Gary Lynn Floyd, Damon K. Clark, Denise Lee, Patty Breckenridge, John Holiday, Rachel Dupard and Cory Cooper.

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. $12–$200. 214-880-0202.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

BREAKING: DTC adds summer musical to season

For the last three seasons, the Dallas Theater Center has extended its season into the summer with a family-friendly musical: Sarah Plain and Tall, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman and The Wiz. But not was on the calendar when the season was released last spring.

Well, artistic director Kevin Moriarty has fixed that. Today, he announced the addition of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, directed and choreographed by Joel Ferrell, to the season. (We wrote about how valuable Ferrell is to the Dallas arts scene and DTC here; he’s done Joseph before, in Plano, to great acclaim.) Not only is it a bonus show, but it will be there for an eight week run — pretty long for regional theater.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Tempest:’ You, us

Kevin Moriarty is a director who embraces the full spectacle of Shakespeare, and while you can disagree with his decisions sometimes, you have to respect his commitment. He likes elements we might consider by-products of the Elizabethan Age, its Hey-Nonny-Nonnyisms: Interludes of courtly ballets and minstrel-strummed songs, arresting, fourth-wall-violating asides to the audience, expository speechifying — everything Chekhov and Ibsen and a host of others steered away from.

But he’s also a director who appreciates contemporary stagecraft: Reconfiguring the structure of plays, emphasizing the astonishing pageantry of an evening at the theater — sometimes taking us out of the play, but often with grandeur. The balance isn’t always an easy one, but it can take your breath away.

There are several such gasp-inducing moments in his staging of The Tempest, starting with the opening scene, set on an airplane instead of a boat. As the wizard Prospero (Chamblee Ferguson, pictured left), like Desmond from Lost, rips the jet from the sky, the stage instantly transforms into a barren wasteland, as stark and beautiful as any set the Dallas Theater Center has ever produced. There are trap doors and bits of magic and flying fairies. It will make you say, “Wow.”

But there are also the many edits. Yes, some of the talkiness is removed, but also some of the scope. And keeping it without an intermission leaves one’s butt castigated by those Wyly seats for nearly two hours.

This Tempest feels more like a series of vignettes than a single story: The comic relief, the sappy romance, the political intrigue, the long-stewing recriminations, bracketed by Ferguson’s Ahab-like Prospero. At first, he’s a vengeful terrorist and hypocritical zookeeper, enslaving his island’s native fauna, the ethereal Ariel (lithe, white-eyed Hunter Ryan Herdicka, pictured right) and its Orc-ish Caliban (Joe Nemmers, delivering us Quasimodo of the mud with poignancy and humor). Then Prospero changes gears, softening and showing mercy, moved by his daughter Miranda’s love for his enemy’s son.

The Tempest is problematic Shakespeare, neither comedy nor history nor classically tragic, but a romance with obscure motivations (how quickly Prospero’s mind is changed by Miranda’s capricious libido, when her suffering for two decades went unnoticed) made more obscure in this version — Prospero seems more like ringmaster than protagonist. Ah, well: The Bard was a better poet than playwright, so let’s give credit to Moriarty for taking this Tempest out of the teapot.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Wyly Theatre, 2401 Flora St. Through Oct. 9. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Applause: Joel Ferrell is the hardest working man at the DTC (Sorry, Kevin!)

Over a 30 year career, Joel Ferrell has gone from journeyman actor and dancer to one of the driving creative forces at the Dallas Theater Center

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Joel Ferrell gets a brief respite from his busy schedule with the Theater Center, and gets to sit where the audience does for a change: In the lime green seats of the Wyly Theatre

CLICK HERE FOR MORE STORIES FROM APPLAUSE: THE DALLAS VOICE VISUAL & PERFORMING ARTS GUIDE 2011

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Applause Editor

Joel Ferrell is the first one to admit that he “[doesn’t] do well in giant windowless buildings,” so when Kevin Moriarty tapped him to join the Dallas Theater Center staff as an “associate artist” —basically the No. 2 on the artistic side of the venerated troupe, tasked with directing about a third of the shows there and helping to produce others — he might have balked. Ferrell, like a lot of theaterfolk, has a gypsy’s nature: He likes to move around, trying new things, exploring different theaters and companies and stages. It’s how he’s made his living for 30 years.

But the call from Moriarty came with more than the promise of a steady paycheck and a corporate title. It came with the opportunity to help reinvent how theater could be done. And though he would surely dispute it, almost as much as Moriarty, Ferrell has been instrumental in testing the limits of the Wyly Theatre and bringing the DTC to national prominence.

Ferrell could fairly be called the hardest working man at the DTC, if not in all North Texas theater.

“I don’t know about that — Kevin works much harder,” he says demurely.

But look at the facts: This past season alone, Ferrell produced the acclaimed sell-out comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at the Kalita, and directed the DTC’s best shows back-to-back: The Horton Foote comedy Dividing the Estate, immediately followed by his staggeringly complex and affecting revision of the musical Cabaret, which he also choreographed. He’s also the man responsible for conceiving (and directing and choreographing most productions) of DTC’s holiday staple A Christmas Carol, a task he returns to this winter in addition to helming the regional premiere of God of Carnage.

In some ways, this is a cakewalk compared to the pace Ferrell maintained in his five seasons with Fort Worth’s Casa Manana, where he directed and/or choreographed more than three dozen musicals. It was great experience, Ferrell concedes, but not a fulfilling one.

“I was always a square peg in a round hole there,” he says. “What we did was in essence summer stock, with me playing producer, directing the designers, deciding whether to rent costumes. I was fighting to make Casa an arts organization that did art from the ground up. After years of poking my finger in that bear I gave up. It was invaluable and energizing and I wouldn’t trade it at all, but I’m so glad I’m not doing it now.”

What he wanted was what all artists crave: Freedom to experiment with the limits of their imagination, and “this place has done that for me, with me, to me … in spades,” he says.

By “this place,” Ferrell is referring both to the Theater Center itself and its new home in the Wyly Theatre. The building has not been without its critics: An overly steep entrance, uncomfortable chairs (recently, and expensively, updated last year), confusing and crowded accessways … and that’s just from the audience’s perspective.

“There’s no typical backstage where a director can stand and pace when you’re watching the opening of your new show,” Ferrell notes about the configuration. But he’s adjusting.

“It took significant getting used to because it is unlike any theater building I have been in,” he says. “There have been hiccups, but I have to say — having bopped around the country working at a number of theaters — lot of things are fantastic. But probably the luckiest thing is that Kevin Moriarty was the first artistic director to move into the building.”

Ferrell credits Moriarty with encouraging his creative team to make inventive use of the stage. “This is not a place for directors who want a proscenium,” Ferrell cautions. “I really like working in the theater that is so flexible and with very few limitations about how you can create your space.”

For his part, the depth of that creativity came with Ferrell’s radical staging of Cabaret earlier this spring: Working with his set designer, he turned part of the Wyly stage into the floor of the Kit Kat Klub in the 1930s, complete with café tables, tea lights and beverage service. It was a far more complicated undertaking than merely coming up with an idea.

“You had to be aware of where it would be coherent to have tables, what the number of seats to be sold could be, the safety, ADA compliance. The decision just where to put the service tables for the waiters was a big one. I worked a supper club theater in New York years ago and it was a lot of work. Very quickly it became understood it took a lot of departments working together to make it work. It is a great collaborative process here working with an evolving building.”

Ferrell is quick to share the credit with all the people who help make a show come together.

“I have been lucky to have such astonishing designers working with me — there’s no need for me to lead them by the nose. During tech week on Dividing the Estate someone told me she was in awe of the process, mesmerized by the speed at which the [artists] work. Someone said to me, ‘I don’t know when you sleep!’ During tech week, I don’t sleep.”

His generosity of spirit probably comes from starting out as an actor (he became a member of Actors Equity 30 years ago, he crows) before moving into choreography and eventually directing. He first worked at the DTC when Richard Hamburger, the former artistic director, hired him for a new production of A Christmas Carol in 1991.

“Then about eight years ago, Hamburger hired me to choreograph My Fair Lady — the last show performed at the old Arts District Theater. That was the most collaborative I have even been with Richard,” he says.

Ferrell decided to take a breather when in 2008 he received a call from Moriarty, who had only recently been appointed the new A.D.

“He asked, would I choreograph The Who’s Tommy. It became very apparent he was testing the waters with me, to see if it made sense for me to be connected with the Theater Center. Even still, coming on staff? I did not see that coming.”

Ferrell thinks Moriarty has been instrumental in “making the Theater Center more relevant to Dallas than it had been in a long time, arguing that it should be doing innovate stuff and regain a national footprint. It feels like we’ve made some great progress in that way,” he says.

As for Ferrell himself, he’s still excited about his new role in shaping the North Texas theater scene, and has found a sense of serenity.

“There was a time when I thought the amount of shows I did was the barometer of my success,” Ferrell admits.

Not so much anymore. He’ll take quality over quantity any day. If only he could just slow down.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas