Dallas — On the eve of opening their first show since moving from their 20-year home at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary (The MAC) in June, Kitchen Dog Theater Managing Director Tim Johnson talked to TheaterJones about the move, their new temporary space at the Green Zone in the Design District, and Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, the show he’s directing to launch the company’s 25th season.
TheaterJones: Many Kitchen Dog Theater fans associate the company with the bright blue building in Uptown, the McKinney Avenue Contemporary (The MAC), the non-profit multi-arts center which gave up its lease in June and plans to reopen next year on South Ervay in the Cedars neighborhood. What was it like to leave the MAC?
Tim Johnson: Moving was a monumental effort. A lot of people assumed the MAC and Kitchen Dog were one and the same because we were the resident theater company for 20 years. The closing was a loss to the neighborhood and the city; there’s a phenomenal lack of multidisciplinary art spaces in Dallas. The MAC was my artistic home for most of my adult life. I did my first show there in 1997. The place was always home. So, yes, it was definitely strange to move out. We had accumulated 20 years of props after so many seasons, and we held a big garage sale in July. We all had moments of remembering when we used this or that, but we were ruthless, and all of the same mindset on keeping it lean while transitioning to a new space. I would say we got rid of 97 percent of all the stuff. The good part is, there’s something freeing in knowing it’s all gone.
When did you learn of the MAC’s decision to move, and how did that affect your plans for the upcoming season?
We found out about a year ago, so we were aware of a move as we planned the upcoming season. We kept shelving smaller projects because we knew we would be scaling back, and we wanted to do an all-company season for our 25th. The goal is to cast internally so all the company can be involved. We’re up to 42 members, and that includes about two dozen actors, plus our design people. A number of people have made a consistent commitment to the company, and their work is so intertwined with Kitchen Dog, that we want to be sure they are part of the season ahead.
You’re about to open a new season at The Green Zone, a converted warehouse that housed the Project X Studio, which produced a series of theater and musical events. How did Kitchen Dog end up there, and what’s the new Design District space like?
We came here through a good turn of fortune. Project X used to be housed here. I think the last show they did here was in 2012. The space was supposed to be undergoing restoration, which was postponed for a year. We saw it would make a good temporary space, so we’re set to be here for a year. The black box theater is slightly smaller than the one at The MAC, so it has the same intimate feeling. [The MAC black box space was 2,400 square feet.] The location is easy to reach. We’re just a mile off 35 down Oak Lawn to Irving [Blvd.]. Take a right and Riveredge is the next street. I live in Oak Lawn, and it takes me an entire minute and a-half to get here. The Design District is a safe neighborhood with lots of restaurants and easy parking, and that’s all to the good.
Is there a chance you will eventually move to the new MAC location in the Cedars when they complete renovations next year?
We spent much of the spring trying to make that happen, and the Albrittons [Claude Albritton is founder and director of the MAC; he’s also behind the Green Zone] were very generous in our offer, but ultimately it was not sustainable for us as an option.
So what’s the next step for Kitchen Dog?
We are in the beginning phases of a capital campaign. We are working with a company called Clarkson Davis, a firm of non-profit fund-raising consultants. We have hopes that when we move out of the Green Zone in a year, we will have found a longer-term temporary location while we raise money to keep us in a single location.
Any particular reason you’re opening the new season with Harold Pointer’s The Dumb Waiter?
The origin of the project came from my desire to work with Chris Carlos [co-artistic director of Kitchen Dog and founding company member]. I set out to find a piece good for him that we could work on together. It’s a two-man show, and also features Mike Federico.
Pinter wrote 29 plays, including The Birthday Party, The Caretaker and Betrayal. He won a Nobel Prize and every honor two continents could bestow on him. So why this play, and what makes The Dumb Waiter ”humorous and provocative,” as you say in the season description?
This show is a little different from the Pinter plays most people are familiar with. A lot of the comedy comes from the theatrical gesture of using two men waiting to kill someone as the source of humor. Researching the play, I learned that when he wrote The Dumb Waiter, Pinter was traveling in repertory in stock theater, alternating between Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. It’s a mix of highbrow and lowbrow humor; he’s pulling from a variety of aesthetics, and that’s a source of humor, as well.