Editor's Note: This is the first of what will be a monthly column about the art and business of theater, written by Jac Alder, Executive Producer-Director of Theatre Three, which just opened its 52nd season. This column, called "Bit by Bit"—you musical theater folk will get that reference to a Stephen Sondheim lyric—will run on the second Sunday of each month. If you know Jac, you know that he's one of the most outspoken and fiercest advocates of theater and the arts in North Texas, so he will have no problem coming up with topics to write about.
This column is meant to complement our opera column, Off the Cuff, written by the Dallas Opera's President and CEO Keith Cerny, which runs on the first Sunday of the month. We'll also have a monthly dance column to debut soon. If any of you performing arts people, either in the industry or on the periphery of it, want to write an occasional essay for TheaterJones, pitch it to editor Mark Lowry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Theatre is the most popular of artforms across Dallas and Fort Worth and it exists (and seems to thrive) because it is so heavily subsidized by the artists on stage. I want them to get credit for their generosity. For several years now I’ve been preaching a mantra of advocacy: Dallas and Fort Worth are in a golden dramatic arts period arts right now with astonishing people who are trained, experienced, and dying to do it right.
They come in all colors, sizes and ages. It’s a genuinely mature talent pool of depth and breadth, jangling new keys to the human heart and mind earned with every new assignment. These actors make their investments of talent, energy and time out of an imperative. That imperative includes a certain amount of performer vanity, to be sure. But from where I sit, it’s a reasonable amount of vanity that any artist needs to face an audience. Also, their work connects them to their tribe of choice—other theatre people. Neither of these motivations is trivial, still neither is primary: what’s primary is the powerful appetite actors have to do the work of theatre. Actors tell life stories that are vivid, compelling and memorable—stories that do the essential work of art; to create human joy.
The pleasure good theatrical performers create in an audience is reflected in a rewarding feedback from audiences, but is it adequate compensation for the talent, training and sacrifices the actors are making? (Who wants to answer that question?) Some (even most) splendid actors here—actors as gifted as any onstage anywhere in the country—manage to act because they have secondary occupations to support themselves and families. These days we lose fewer area actors migrating to New York or Chicago to pursue their dreams: we’re more likely to lose them to other occupations more reasonably compensated.
The many who persist in their devotion to the cause of theatre have my thanks and admiration. I recently enjoyed receiving a personal donation from a terrific friend for a special project coming up in the spring at Theatre Three. The donation was generous, but what was most impressive was the glee with which he made it. It reminded me of what actors do: they make their investments with glee.
Oh, do allow for a few actors to be deliberately serious and meanly suppress their own joy. Heaven forbid we might judge them as not being serious human beings! I appreciate their high mindedness, but the fun—and I would argue the art—is down here with the rest of us who are vulgarly curious and gleeful.
It’s those who have fun from the start—even at auditions—I trust. Art belongs in the hands of the joyful, not the glum. I look for that zest. So here’s a salute to actors, the positive and positively irreplaceable philanthropists of theatre. Next time you run into an actor, try using the phrase our warriors hear, “Thank you for your service!” I believe an actor’s service is, as well, a generous act of citizenship.
◊ Jac Alder is the Executive Director-Producer of Theatre Three in Dallas. Look for his monthly musings in Bit by Bit, which will run on the second Sunday of the month.