Dallas — On Jan. 9, one of North Texas’ biggest supporters of the arts, TACA (The Arts Community Alliance) will launch into its 50th year with its annual announcement of grant awards at the Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. In addition to giving out $1.5 million to 50 performing and literary organizations, matching 2016's record amount, there will be a launch party for TACA’s 50th year events, celebrating how the arts have “transformed lives in Dallas for the last five decades.”
They’ll have help from one of Dallas’ treasures, award-winning playwright and actress Regina Taylor.
Taylor was born in the West Dallas projects, grew up in an apartment on Lemmon Avenue, attended Southern Methodist University and, while she has lived in Los Angeles and New York, currently resides in Oak Cliff. Her TV and film credits include Courage Under Fire, The Unit, and I’ll Fly Away. For the latter, she earned two Emmy nominations for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and won a Golden Globe and three NAACP Image Awards.
She says she wasn’t aware of TACA growing up in Dallas, but benefitted from programs that it, and organizations like it, likely supported.
“My mother loved the arts, so she would take me to programs downtown, to the symphony, the [Dallas Museum of Art], to the [Dallas] Theater Center,” Taylor says. “She loved to write poetry and paint, and she learned through a city program.”
Taylor was originally a journalism major at SMU, but took an acting class and found a new passion. Her first professional production was in for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf at Theatre Three with Irma P. Hall. She also performed with Dallas Minority Repertory Theatre (co-founded by Hall); Shakespeare Dallas, where she played Cordelia to Earle Hyman’s King Lear; and worked with Henry Fonda on a TV broadcast of Preston Jones’ The Oldest Living Graduate, part of his Texas Trilogy.
As a journalism major, writing came naturally and Taylor soon realized her talent as a dramatist. She has a number of plays under her belt, including Crowns, which is widely performed around the country. Her first major production was Watermelon Rinds at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 1993. She won an ATCA/Steinberg winner for Oo-Bla-Dee, riffed on The Seagull with Drowning Crow on Broadway in 2004 (starring Alfre Woodard), and premiered the trilogy The Trinity River Plays at the Dallas Theater Center in 2010. This year, Dallas’ Soul Rep Theatre Company will revive those plays—Jarfly, Rain and Ghost(story).
As an actress, film, TV, Broadway and regional theater have been plentiful. For the TV drama I’ll Fly Away in the early 1990s, she was only the third black actress to be nominated for a Best Actress in a Drama Series Emmy, after Debbie Allen (Fame) and Alfre Woodard (St. Elsewhere). A black actress wouldn’t win that category until Viola Davis in 2015 for How to Get Away with Murder.
That wasn’t Taylor’s first milestone. In 1986, she was the first black actress to play Juliet in Romeo and Juliet on Broadway, in which her Romeo was Dallas’ René Moreno, now known as one of North Texas’ finest stage directors.
“René Moreno was my first scene partner at SMU,” she says, “so it was great that we played title roles of Romeo and Juliet on Broadway. I have followed his wonderful directing career in Dallas.”
And that’s not her only involvement in the town where she learned to love theater.
In addition to working with Soul Rep on The Trinity River Plays, she guided Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on her play Magolia, and will collaborate with SMU on development of another work. In 2015 her play stop. reset was done at New York’s Signature Theatre and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, where she has been an associate for more than two decades. She currently has commissions from the Denver Center and the Old Vic in London.
“I’ve always played with form; each of my plays takes on a different style, sometimes multiple styles,” Taylor says about her playwriting trajectory. “Most recently I’ve been focusing on the politics of this time.”
In March, her play about activist Fannie Lou Hamer will premiere at Carthage College in Wisconsin.
“I’m writing about what gave her courage to speak out and be heard in the times she lived in,” Taylor says. “It’s about resistance, it’s about speaking out against the odds. Even when you’re continually defeated you continue on. You have to speak out.”
Another play she’s working on is set in Oak Cliff at the end of the Obama administration, as a couple moves into a home with their two sons and deals with the issues of raising black males in America.
“It’s important to be beacons in this moment,” she says.
» Taylor will give the keynote speech at the TACA event on Jan. 9. It begins with a reception at 5:30, the grant awards celebration at 6 p.m. and the 50th anniversary launch party at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public.