Carrollton — Every year sees the debut of several new theater companies in North Texas, of varying missions, locations and ambitions. Many of them have baby-shoestring budgets and still figure out ways to target their audience and get it done, and a few have come in with big funding and big talk. There’s no easy formula for breaking into a busy scene.
Uppermost Entertainment, which debuts this week with the world premiere one-man show I’m Always On My Mind, has taken a nontraditional route to the business of theater-making. And the goals of producers and founders Leslie O’Hare and Lisa Bills? Well, they’re pretty out-of-the-box, too.
Could it work? To paraphrase Irving Berlin on the subject of show business: It’s like no business anyone knows—or can predict.
“One thing for me and Lisa,” says O’Hare, “we really wanted to make certain that we’re not copying someone else, but we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel either.”
I’m Always on My Mind is by local writer Scott Rolfe Josephson, but comes from the mind of O’Hare, who has been a TV and radio reporter, actress and model. She met Bills, who has a real estate background, at a networking function several years ago, and they hit it off.
Plano actor Ken Orman plays Brock, a successful and narcissistic Manhattan man who humorously recounts his rise and fall. It’s one of 20 story ideas from O’Hare and Bills that they have mapped out and are having penned for theatrical production.
But the stage is not their end goal.
“Our plan is to launch those 20 shows for consideration for TV, film and online streaming media,” O’Hare says. “We really want to create shows that are entertaining and have an emotional impact.”
If it sounds brazen, consider that they’ve put a lot of thought—and money, much of it self-financed—into it. They’ve hired a well-established local publicist and a respected local director in Linda Leonard. Also, they are reportedly paying Orman above Actor’s Equity scale, even though Uppermost is a for-profit venture.
“It was important to do something to employ local theater artists,” O’Hare says.
As for that eternal problem of space? They found it in Theatre 166, a nice-looking black box theater in an upscale Carrollton (almost Frisco) strip mall. The folks at Theatre 166 also rent to a church and hope to host more live performances, including performing arts and small-scale country and rock concerts. The space can hold between 95 and 150 seats, and has a handsome lobby area. The goal is to attract audiences in Carrollton, Frisco and Plano that might not drive to central Dallas often.
To boot, a portion of the proceeds will benefit Phil Romano’s Hunger Busters, a local charity that feeds disadvantaged children.
“My husband and I are foster parents,” O’Hare says, “so it’s important for us to give back.”
Other scripts in the making are based on real experiences from O’Hare’s life. Uppermost’s second production, planned for the spring, is Living with Rejection, based on O’Hare’s tumultuous relationship with her mother. It will also be directed by Leonard.
Don’t let the title fool you. O’Hare might have had some rejection in her life, but it obviously hasn’t fazed her. Her confidence is palpable.
When the word “if” is mentioned in our interview, she proudly interjects: “I don’t think in those terms. I like to say 'when it happens.' Because it will.”
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» Watch a video promo for I'm Always On My Mind and Living With Rejection, plus hear thoughts from O'Hare, Bills and Leonard, below: