Dallas — For the final interview of our Dallas Solo Fest coverage, we chat with Brad McEntire, who runs Audacity Theatre Lab and produces the Dallas Solo Fest. This is the event's fourth year (he skipped 2017 because had recently become a father, and to rethink the festival).
The event runs through Sunday at the Rosewood Center for Family Arts (home of the Dallas Children's Theater).
TheaterJones: This year's festival is different from the first three. Tell me about the changes.
Brad McEntire: Since the beginning, the team behind the Dallas Solo Fest, myself included, really have focused on making the festival a little better year by year. This year, we’ve tightened the whole thing up. There are six performers instead of eight, one week instead of two weekends and no daytime workshops. We have also moved the festival to a new venue. We are now in the studio theatre at the Rosewood Center of the Family Arts instead of where we were previously, at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park.
While we have made a few changes, we have kept the good parts that have developed over the last three incarnations of the fest. We have continued to focus on content-diverse shows to give a good cross-section of what solo performance can offer. We have also continued the tradition of 70% of the ticket sales going directly to the artists, who still don’t pay any form of festival fee to participate. We even arranged housing for visiting artists who were coming in from out-of-town. We want to insure that the performers get a nice dose of Texas hospitality.
What is your submission/acceptance process? Are you looking for fully formed works? Stuff in development? Both?
The application process began last fall. We received dozens of submissions. A selection committee combed through each submission and we whittled it down to the six that audiences will see at this year’s Dallas Solo Fest.
We are not a “fringe” fest, so we don’t do selection by lottery or on a first-come-first-serve basis. We curate the selection very closely because it is such a focused, intimate festival. I call it a “boutique” arts festival. In place of the big, blustery, street fair-like atmosphere audiences can get at other performance festivals around the country, especially fringe festivals, we are aiming for a more personal experience for both the performers and audiences alike. With just six performers, we do our best to fit the programming together so each show is different and offers a unique theatre experience.
To answer your question more directly, we ONLY look for developed works. In order to deepen and grow the quality of the festival, we have made it a mission to seek out shows that have already played at several venues for several different sets of audiences. There are places that cater to shows in development, allowing artists to experiment and workshop, but we aren’t looking to be one of those kinds of fests. I actually host a quarterly workshop event called the Audacity Solo Salon for that kind of thing. No, we are looking for virtuosity, originality and a bit of hard-won experience from the performers we choose for the Dallas Solo Fest.
You've done fringe and solo festivals for years as a performer. Describe how networking with other artists and presenters on these circuits helped you with Solo Fest.
Independent touring fringe festival artists, particularly those that perform solo shows, are a wonderfully tight-knit community. There are Facebook groups and performers really do kind of keep track of who’s doing what and where.
I have noticed two things again and again when meetings solo touring artists around North America. First, solo performers almost always have an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm. They are real champions for their own shows and like to talk about what they do with audiences and fellow artists. They also are amazingly self-sufficient. Solo performers aren’t just the single actor on stage during their shows, but more often than not, the driving force behind the scenes, too. They are interested in their own marketing, ticket sales, technical requirements, and a bunch of off-stage concerns that traditional actors aren’t always that into. I think this is maybe because the production for a solo performer is by its nature a rather personal endeavor.
Since becoming a dad at the end of 2016, I have, of late, had to curtail a lot of my adventuring around performing my own solo shows. Kiddos, it turns out, take up a lot of time, energy and love. I am slowly getting back into it (I’m off to Minneapolis and Canada this summer to perform my solo piece Robert’s Eternal Goldfish). I hope to strike up some new friendships, see some great new shows, talk with other festival organizers and build out my network more and more.
Despite small audiences for the previous festivals, are your artists generally happy with their experience in Dallas?
On the whole, yes, the performers from the past several years have sent us overwhelmingly positive feedback about the festival and about Dallas. This has been important because one of my personal core beliefs is that the theatre should serve the artist first, then—and only then—the artist can serve the audience and the community.
Crowds have been rather uneven. Some shows sell out, sometimes you can hear crickets. It is especially difficult to market out-of-town performers to local audiences who have little name recognition outside of the fringe touring circuit. Plus, there is a lot of other great stuff happening around Dallas this time of year, such as Kitchen Dog’s wonderful New Works Festival. My hope is that audiences don’t chose one over the other, but instead turn out to both.
The team and I have gone out of our way to really push the content of the shows when marketing. We hope people will see what a given show is about, and then, based on that, decide to come see it.
To make it more worthwhile for the artists, we video shows for performers and drum up as much press for their individual shows as we can. We also offer billeting (touring speak for housing) with local theatre artists acting as hosts. We encourage interaction with audience members before and after the show in the lobby and we do our best to make them feel welcome and appreciated.
What would you like to see for DSF 2019? 2025?
Okay, don’t get ahead of yourself, Mark. If the festival goes well this year, I will do at least one more in 2019. I originally intended to do at least five years of the festival when I started. This is the fourth one. We’ll see. This is really contingent on whether audiences show up and support the event.
I’m not producing in a vacuum. If the message is, “Hey, buddy, Dallas doesn’t want or need this in the cultural landscape,” then that will come through loud and clear. If it fills a gap in the theatre community, then, of course, I’ll keep it going.
Personally, I am an advocate for intimate, indie theatre such as these one-person shows, but I’m not aiming to shove it down Dallas’ throat if it is not wanted.
If it does continue, I can promise we will try to make it better and better. I dream of a multi-week event in several close together venues with panel discussions, workshops, open mics, food trucks and a roster of the best, brightest and most diverse solo shows in the world converging on Dallas. Dallas could potentially become known as a hub for these kinds of shows, bringing in as well as exporting one-person productions. I mean, that’s the dream.
Anything else to add?
Yep, tickets are on sale. The welcome mat is out for audiences. All info one could want is here on TheaterJones and at www.DallasSoloFest.com.