For the first time in its history, the Kalita Humphreys Theater has a resident company other than the DTC — and it’s Uptown Players. How an upstart gay troupe pulled off the scheduling coup of the year
The announcement a few years back that the Dallas Theater Center would eventually vacate its Turtle Creek digs for the gleaming promise of the Arts District was rightly a cause for celebration. But it left one lingering question for the theater community: What would happen to the Kalita Humphreys Theater, the place the DTC had called home since its inception?
The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building has historic landmark status, protected from the wrecking ball. But that doesn’t mean anyone has to use it. (The old Dr Pepper plant on Mockingbird lay abandoned for decades before finally tumbling.) It has its problems, but cache wasn’t one of them: It is the crown jewel of the local theater scene.
But for the time being, it looks as if the Kalita will have someone to call it home.
"We had been interested in what would happen to the facility since the new space was announced," says Jeff Rane, co-founder of Uptown Players.
Uptown Players has thrived since its founding in the wake of 9/11. Every year has shown a season subscriber increase of at least 10 percent, but the company has struggled to keep up with its audience. Housed since the beginning at the 150-seat KD Studio Theatre on Stemmons, co-founder Craig Lynch says the company often has to turn away patrons for popular shows, and its season ticketholders alone near its capacity.
And then there’s the point that "Uptown Players" aren’t technically in Uptown.
But that’s about to end — at least for a while. With the departure of the DTC (its final planned show at the Kalita is its annual production of A Christmas Carol, ending in December), Lynch and Rane negotiated a coup: Uptown will perform its first three shows of 2010 on the main stage.
Uptown is finally in Uptown.
"People were saying, ‘You guys should go there,’" Lynch says. But the move was more complicated — and maybe a little terrifying.
The main floor of the Kalita seats nearly 400 patrons — twice KD’s capacity — and the venue is much more expensive. And would its audience follow?
"It’s the unknown [that keeps me up at night]," says Lynch. "How many people are gonna show up?"
"From my standpoint, we have become very comfortable with all aspects of the KD Studio Theatre — the lighting and other intricacies we are used to," says Rane, who manages the technical side.
But this isn’t the first time Uptown has risked a move. Several years ago, a mainstage production was moved to El Centro when a fire damaged KD, and the company has mounted two camp comedies at the Rose Room inside Station 4. And the Kalita offers far more promise.
In addition to more seating, there is greater backstage and storage space, and "dressing rooms that have showers," Rane notes — an apparently minor thing, but it gives Uptown more credibility with the companies that license rights to plays.
"We could have asked for [The 25th Annual Putnam County] Spelling Bee, Take Me Out, The Laramie Project" — all shows within the troupe’s mission to produce gay-affirming theater. It’s no accident that Uptown’s big spring musical is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels — a show Rane and Lynch probably would not have attempted at KD.
Certainly at this point, hopes are high. The increased visibility in Uptown Players becoming the first-ever company to take up residency at the Kalita other than the DTC is nothing short of a coup. And while Uptown’s audience has always been well-mixed, Rane and Lynch hope even more straight audiences will discover them.
But whether the move will last or be well-received is still up in the air.
"Ask me this time next year," Rane says. And he crosses his fingers.
THAT’S SO GAY
All stereotypes aside, it’s practically a given that the arts and LGBT people go hand-in-hand. Now you just need a guide to where the rainbow pops up a little more in the Arts District’s inaugural season.
Next spring, the Dallas Opera presents the world premiere of Moby Dick. But don’t think this is a tragic opera about an ill-fated gay bar. Out composer Jake Heggie takes Herman Melville’s novel and turns it into one of the most anticipated operas in recent years, specially commissioned by the Dallas Opera for its new space with a bevy of men singing their hearts and harpoons out.
Former life partners Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson created the acclaimed Complexions Contemporary Ballet, which TITAS brings to the Winspear later this month. Complexions prides itself as being an expression of diversity, but we kinda dig how Complexions is also a sort of love story between these two.
Dallas Theater Center’s artistic director Kevin Moriarty brings it with this season’s opener, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The cast features local favorite Liz Mikel (who has belted out a few tunes at Bill’s Hideaway) and out actor Cedric Neal. As a company member, Neal dots the season with appearances in It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman in June and reteams with Mikel and Death of a Salesman in April.
The Broadway blockbuster Avenue Q comes to the Winspear stage next May thanks to the Lexus Broadway Series. The gay-funny show mixes people and puppets living in New York struggling to live the life in the city.
— Rich Lopez
This article appeared in Applause, The Dallas Voice Visual & Performing Arts Guide 2009 print edition October 9, 2009.