Dallas — The Tribe is at it again. The group’s mission is to support one artist at a time, giving that person whatever resources they need to cultivate or produce a piece of work they have created. The Tribe has produced the world premieres of company member Janielle Kastner’s Ophelia Underwater, a staged reading of Widows by member Brigham Mosley, a workshop of Lil’ by Mosley and performed by member Katherine Bourne, a devised theater piece in Deep Ellum featuring an ensemble of local performers, two cabarets featuring performances by more than 20 local artists, and a solo salon of short solo performances by six different artists. Most recently was Stacy Has a Thing for Black Guys by company member Ruben Carrazana, performed at the Latino Cultural Center. That play was supported through grants from The City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs and The Oak Cliff Cultural Center.
The theater collective—comprised of local playwrights, actors, directors and musicians—is producing a play by a non-company member for the first time, local playwright Claire Carson’s Hypochondria, which will be directed by Jake Nice and plays July 28-31 at the Margo Jones Theatre in Dallas.
Nice and Carson are both company members at House Party Theatre, another local theater collective comprised of young people, many of them students or alum of Southern Methodist University. Both say the two theaters sometimes get lumped together. Each is doing theater of a more grassroots nature in Dallas, raising funds on their own, or even putting up the money themselves. House Party Theatre is an events-based way of doing theater, Carson and Nice say. The party is central to the theater, and drawing in theatergoers who might otherwise not turn out is key. It is a fully formed event. The Tribe is filling a need to cultivate young, emerging artists who couldn’t dream of having their work produced in the Dallas Arts District. Their mission states: What does this artist need?
Nice says the location to produce work is a real challenge in Dallas. Recent struggles with the Fire Marshall have made the usual “venues” these smaller theaters were using next to impossible to utilize. Warehouses and empty buildings were a gold mine for these younger developing theater companies. “I get it,” says Nice, “you can’t cram 300 people into a space with old nails sticking out, but on the other hand where are we supposed to go? We don’t have the funds to pay rent somewhere bigger. If it wasn’t for the Margo Jones Theatre we would be doing it on a street corner.”
“It does feel kind of punk rock, actually,” Carson says, smiling, “like ‘the Fire Marshall might show up! What’s gonna happen?’”
“This is a real problem for the DIY theater community in Dallas,” Nice adds. “We are young, self-produced, and we want to pay our actors. These older buildings are being torn down and new things are coming up. We can’t afford the rent in new places like that. We need spaces to become legally available to us.”
Carson’s first play, Michelle with Wet Eyeballs, which she wrote, directed and self-produced, took place in Nice's garage. She also participated in the Dallas Playwrights' Workshop with Will Power at DTC. She’s glad this time for the opportunity to have the support from The Tribe to give her play this kind of life.
“Finding a space, getting funding, PR—these are things I had no idea how to do. It’s so nice to have this kind of support I couldn’t have had otherwise,” she says.
Nice is also building his repertoire and has been looking for a reason to work with The Tribe. Having previously assistant directed at The Dallas Theater Center and Second Thought Theatre, among other theaters, he knows working with as many people and theaters as he can will be the way to get work in Dallas.
The pair discussed the very real crossovers between the play and their own experiences as young artists struggling to make it in a business that doesn’t often reward the work put in. Hypochondria explores “what it is to exist simultaneously and in equal measures inside your head and as a (mostly) functioning member of society. And that feeling you feel when you notice a strange mole and it’s probably nothing, but maybe it’s something? And the dark rabbit hole that is Web MD. Among other things.”
The play, which stars Holly Settoon, Yusef Seevers, Braden Socia, Abigail Birkett and Christine Sanders, examines real and mental tensions that exist in a character’s mind, and also explores something very real to this younger and newly graduated crowd.
“It’s also about anxiety, which I think most of us experience to some degree,” says Carson. “With the internet. WebMD, and basically your life being broadcast on social media, there’s a lot to worry about.”
As recent college graduates, both Carson and Nice have experienced the fear and frustration of not having health insurance. “If something happens to me, I can’t afford it. But I also can’t afford health insurance,” says Nice.
“And not all people can be on their parents’ insurance when parents can’t afford your coverage,” adds Carson.
Both Nice and Carson are from Denver, and met at the theater program at SMU. Navigating the artistic landscape out of college has been a learning experience for both. Nice quit a job as a hotel concierge when it dawned on him that his day job in no way reflected what he spent four years getting a degree in. Carson manages the Village Baking Co., a bakery in Dallas that has become a sort of home to artists in its own right. “Everyone that works here is either involved in theater or dance in some way. It’s an amazing place to work.”
Nice, also a musician and member of the local band Surprising Flavor (which has composed music for House Party Theater musicals), plays music for small children at Kidville, a Dallas-based arts, music, and dance center. He says without the help of local actress Martha Harms, he never would have made the move. “She’s been so important to me,” he says.
The Tribe continues to produce quality work, learning as they go how to raise the money, and dispelling the idea that original work can’t happen in Dallas. So many of these younger, DIY theaters continue to rewrite the rules as they go. As the Dallas arts landscape continues to grow, artists like Carson and Nice hope to continue to be a part of that story.