Dallas — After a six-month national search for an Artistic Director, the Board of Directors at Theatre Three has named Jeffrey Schmidt, a longtime local freelance actor, director and designer, to the position. He follows Theatre Three's co-founder and Executive Producer and Director Jac Alder, who died in 2015; and Bruce R. Coleman, who has been Acting Artistic Director since Alder's death, and was in the running for the permanent position.
Schmidt, who will begin the post Jan. 1, 2017, has worked as an artistic associate at Theatre Three for 13 years, directing, acting and designing. He last acted in The Novelist at Theatre Three and will direct the area premiere of Beth Henley’s Laugh in January. He will select the 2017-18 season (usually announced in early spring), with help from his staff.
Theatre Three is an Actor's Equity Association Small Professional Theatre with an annual budget of $1.2 million.
The announcement comes as somewhat of a surprise as many assumed the position would go to Coleman.
In a statement, Coleman wrote:
"Of course I am disappointed. The theatre has been my home for many, many years. But I am immensely proud of the theatre we have created together over the last two seasons. These have been some of the happiest times of my life! I look forward to continuing my journey as a life-long theatre artist here in Dallas in whatever way that may present itself. Thank you again to the Board of Directors of Theatre Three for the incredible opportunity. I can’t wait to see what the future may bring! ...When the board made the request of me last year, I knew there was a possibility that the position might be temporary, and that the national search could result in the board selecting a different, terrific, candidate. I would like to extend my congratulations to the new A.D.!"
Coleman was slated to direct the final show of the 2016-17 season, Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, but Managing Director Merri Brewer says "at this time, it is to be determined."
Board chairman Scott Williams, who took that position a few weeks before Alder died, confirms that there were several non-local candidates considered in the final rounds, out of an intitial field of more than 100 applicants. The board kept coming back to Schmidt.
"Jac had a succession plan, and he said 'I hope that person has the vision that the theater has, but I know it will be a different and changed vision too. I hope for it," Williams says. "What [the board wanted] to see is someone who echoes that. For Jeff, his understanding of who our audience is and understanding of who we need to reach is impressive. You can tell his passion for making interesting, thought-provoking and challenging artwork, and he has the vision to take us in new directions."
Schmidt, 43, who runs the small and acclaimed outfit The Drama Club with his wife Lydia Mackay, is a graduate of University of North Texas. He began his local theater career working in Fort Worth at such theaters as Shakespeare in the Park and Stage West, and co-founded the short-lived group MoonWater Theatre Company in the late 1990s, and has also worked at Dallas Theater Center, Undermain Theatre, Echo Theatre and many others.
We caught up with Jeff for a quick interview. You can read the full news release below the Q&A.
TheaterJones: When this opportunity arose, was it an instant decision that you would apply? Were you surprised that you got the job?
Jeffrey Schmidt: I did think about it, and Lydia really encouraged me. I knew what a big job it would be. I haven’t had a 'J-O-B job' in 20 years; it has all been freelance. For me the biggest factor, what trumps everything else, is that I get to have a seat at the table for what happens in Dallas. … It really was a surprise. I’m in the business of being told 'no' [at auditions], so I was expecting that.
What are some of the immediate challenges for Theatre Three?
The landscape in the arts in general has changed dramatically in Dallas, especially in theater. There are more players than there used to be. I think Theatre Three has been a little rudderless. Everyone involved in this transition [after Alder’s death] has done a good job of keeping the theater going. But the theater hasn’t always been as nimble in reaction to the changes in the local scene over the years.
Theatre Three is an established repertory theater with a full season of plays and musicals of various styles, classic and contemporary. What changes can we expect from you?
For me it’s a marathon and not a race. You’re not going to see a total 180 from what they produced in the past. One of the things I’ve talked a lot about with [with the board] is quality control. I think it has been mercurial in the past.
Whatever we produce I want it to be good.
I’m looking at both, contemporary and classics. I want to be the bridge from what this theater has been successful at for 55 years, and looking forward to the future. Everyone’s in the game with contemporary playwrights now, and I think this theater has the infrastructure to work with them, to nurture new plays, giving them time to workshop and to make mistakes. Establishing an artistic advisory board is a priority for me.
You have not worked directly in administration for a large-budget company before. Do you expect your learning curve to be big?
There’s going to be a learning curve. I don’t think it’s going to kill me. I am fortunate to have a great staff there, with managing director Merri Brewer and company manager Kat Edwards, to help me along the way.
Here is the complete news release from Theatre Three:
A six-month national search conducted by the Board of Directors of Theatre Three has resulted in the naming of Dallas-based director-designer-actor Jeffrey Schmidt as the theatre-in-the-round’s new artistic director. Schmidt will assume the position on January 1, 2017.
An accomplished actor, director and designer, Jeffrey is well-known in the Dallas-Fort Worth theater community. His extensive career includes over 20 years of experience in directing, performing, creating and promoting live theater. He has worked with several Metroplex theater companies including Undermain Theatre, Dallas Theater Center, MoonWater Theater Company, The Drama Club and 13 years as an artist-in-residence at Theatre Three. He has been recognized for his work, receiving numerous honors and awards from critics and publications including D Magazine, TheaterJones, Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Voice, The Column Awards and DFW Theater Critics Forum. Theatre Three audiences will likely recognize Jeffrey from his recent critically-praised portrayal of Ethan in The Novelist last fall. Further, he is directing the next Theatre Three Main Stage production, Laugh by Beth Henley.
Jeffrey states, “My history with Theatre Three, my extensive work throughout the DFW area and my passion for innovation positions me to be the vital bridge between the past and the future. With its over 50-year history, Theatre Three is poised to be a major contributor to the arts conversation and to assume a more prominent leadership role in the community. I am excited by the opportunity to be the one who focuses the theatre’s potential. Honoring the legacy of Jac and Norma while securing Theatre Three’s place in Dallas’s future will be no easy task. I am eager for the challenge.”
The national search attracted nearly 100 candidates from across the country and was led by Theatre Three Chairman of the Board Scott Williams and a sub-committee of the board.
Of the new artistic director, Williams states, “Jeffrey laid out an artistic vision for our theatre that was truly impressive. I can’t wait for our audiences to see that vision come to life. Plus, Jeffrey was a trusted friend and valued colleague to Jac. Jeffrey’s 10-plus-year tenure as an artistic associate at Theatre Three undoubtedly prepared him for this new role in which I know he will flourish and enjoy great success.”
The naming of Schmidt as artistic director comes a year and a half after the passing of Theatre Three co-founder, executive producer and director Jac Alder. The national search was part of the succession plan that Mr. Alder laid out for the theatre. Director and designer Bruce R. Coleman assumed the role of acting artistic director upon Mr. Alder’s passing on May 22, 2015.
Williams explains, “The board and I are tremendously grateful to Bruce for stepping in for us during a very difficult time. Without missing a beat, he kept Theatre Three moving forward over these past eighteen months. Bruce is a great talent and we know he has a bright future ahead.”
Theatre Three is in the middle of its 55th season. The season continues with the aforementioned Laugh, a new comedy by Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley; the Tony Award-winning musical Passing Strange; a 1940s comedy-drama Susan and God by Rachel Crowther; and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning best musical A Little Night Music. For more information about Theatre Three, visit www.theatre3dallas.com.