Dallas — Bread-and-butter notes. Know the term? It’s a note (which by my era of etiquette would mean a hand-written note sent through the mail) expressing thanks to someone who has extended a specific kind of kindness; a thank you note for the kindness of providing food and drink or even shelter—in short, hospitality.
I owe that note to Dallas, which continues to extend its hospitality to me. I came to Dallas in 1960 following my two years of active duty Army service looking for a job as a tyro architect. Dallas had appeal – I had come down for the OU-Texas game during my days of studying at OU, and before that had come down to Dallas with my father and some clients of his home-building business to explore materials and furniture in the early days of the Design District. More recently, I’d come through Dallas on my way back to Oklahoma following my Army service in Europe and was gob smacked by the glamour of the women in Neiman-Marcus and the sophistication of the store itself. Yes, Dallas had all sorts of appeal.
I’d shared an apartment with Frank Thrower at OU, so I phoned to ask if I could sleep on his couch while I looked for a job. Frank, with his great good-natured laugh said “sure.” And so I came, camped out with Frank and, amazingly got a job! (A sudden pang: I’m pretty sure I never wrote dear Frank a bread-and-butter note for that couch accommodation. Ooops.)
Frank, also a young architect, had come to Dallas to work for Arch Swank in a large frame house converted to office space a half a block from today’s Theatre Three in the Quadrangle. I arrived late evening from Oklahoma. He fed me, and then took me to see his office where he and Arch were finishing some drawings for a project whose deadline was upon them.
Patsy Swank, Arch’s journalist wife, was there that night, and the two of us struck up a lifelong friendship on the spot that because professionally important when Pasty was doing ALL the arts coverage on Newsroom, which was KERA-TV’s astonishingly important program helmed by Jim Lehrer that made local celebrities of important journalists like the still invaluable Lee Cullum, the unflappable Bob Ray Sanders, and the deeply informed Darwin Payne. Patsy also covered city planning, which was a revelation —these important aspects of civic decision-making were, until then, largely ignored by media. That reporting made a difference! Nothing has come along to equal Newsroom and its contributors. Now that’s a shame, isn’t it? Why not, I wonder: Newsroom was the crowning achievement of KERA, perhaps only challenged by KERA’s buying Monty Python to re-broadcast which was, in its way, as daring as Newsoom. But hardly original to Dallas.
So Dallas hospitality, expressed through sterling people, engulfed me from the start. It’s the nature of that hospitality to treat newcomers genially and give people a chance. I think it’s still true Dallas has a famous appreciation of what entrepreneurs do that benefits all kinds of “start-ups,” including arts organizations.
Early in Theatre Three’s history—way early, back in the ‘60s!—the head of a major national foundation approached Norma and me with the idea of our moving Theatre Three to another state (and I quote this foundation chief directly) “ … where I have this governor.” (Ownership of governors for sale to foundations? That’s how it sounded.) He criticized Dallas as a place for there to be strong support for the arts because he said the monied in Dallas had “green money, not brown money.” “Green” money, he explained, was recently earned—in other words, he saw people in Dallas who were financially well-off as nouveau-riche; without understanding the value of supporting the arts or indeed contributing to civic endeavors of any kind. “Brown” money, in his experience, was good and came from families with generations of wealth.
Norma, the daughter of a railroad worker and native of Oak Cliff, doubted Dallas precisely in the way that most ambitious young people do who want out and away from the place where they were born. But we both thought about the offer and decided that this very nice man was very wrong. Besides, it didn’t take a ton of money to keep Theatre Three going. Piffle! We didn’t need rich people!
Well, it turns out we do. And we need the support of the middle class that constitute most of our donor-subscribers. Hell, we’ll take the widow’s mite if she hasn’t given it away yet. But that’s the deal: now we all know it takes a village to raise this place...to support it through its trials and triumphs both earned and unearned. As long as you believe as I do that “money is a rotten way to keep score,” we’re winners!
It’s a big village these days with lots of folks to serve and lots of artists to support: and lots of hospitality we need to extend to all the newcomers as well as to the true friends who return for play after play.
Dear Dallas, Thank you for your hospitality for—gosh—it’s more than half a century now for me. I’m most grateful.
Yours truly, Jac.
» Jac Alder is the Executive Director-Producer of Theatre Three in Dallas. Look for his monthly musings in Bit by Bit, which run on the second Sunday of the month. Here is a list of previous columns:
- September 2013: Theater's unsung philantrophists
- October 2013: Theater artists and their critics
- November 2013: Ch-Ch-Changes
- December 2013: What the Audience Knows
- January 2014: What's New?
- February 2014: Upgrading to the Modern World
- March 2014: Not to Worry
- April 2014: If Not for Shaw
- May 2014: Back to the Future
- June 2014: 500 Ways to Remember
- July 2014: They're Alive. ALIVE!
- August 2014: Raise Your Voice