Addison — Sometimes you find yourself in a room where everything clicks and you realize that you’re about to change your life. That’s how it felt at my first interview for the Artistic Director position at WaterTower Theatre.
My husband was working at the Dallas Opera last fall, having a great experience with the company and in this city. Encouraged by him, I sent my materials to WaterTower. Not long after I arrived in Dallas knowing little about WaterTower, let alone the DFW theatre community.
The search committee from the WaterTower board, including some board members and the Managing Director, Greg Patterson, had great energy and we truly enjoyed our conversation. That first interview flew by. We had a great time discussing the theatre, what it was, and what it could be. I left the office and told my husband we needed to put some serious thought into moving to Dallas. I needed to learn more about the theatre here.
Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about the Dallas theatre scene. I started researching from afar to understand what I could. I subscribed to the Dallas Morning News, read TheaterJones, and talked to anyone from Chicago who might have any connection with Dallas. I listened to the Little Big Scene podcast. I looked up theatre websites. I tried to understand the community and how WaterTower had historically fit in.
But there’s only so much you can learn from afar. About a month after completing the interview process and accepting the position, I had to depend on my staff and board to fill me in about the unknowns. And there were (and are) so many unknowns. I worked the first month remotely, directing a play in Bloomington, Ind., while I started this job, and finally made my way down to Addison on Feb. 6.
So here I am. Finally, in Texas. I’m meeting artists, seeing work, and introducing myself to the friendliest theatre community I’ve encountered. I am stunned by the welcome I’ve felt at every event I’ve attended. I know that DFW is still wondering what defines this theatre scene, and if I can offer an initial observation, the constant theme in this community so far has been warmth and hospitality. That value permeates this community. It’s very easy to feel at home in the theatres here. Of course, it will take far more time here for me to contemplate the theatre scene before I can truly speak on it. But as someone who currently feels like an outsider this welcome has been very comforting. Thank you to everyone who has made me feel like I made a great decision.
But of course, it wasn’t only the community I was coming to, it was specifically WaterTower Theatre that brought me here.
Becoming Artistic Director of WaterTower was an offer I couldn’t refuse. The strengths of the organization are countless. The history of solid work and the growth of the company over the last twenty years speaks for itself. Then there’s Addison, a town that is supportive of their theatre, and is the hub for a growing community with so many corporations moving their headquarters to the area. And while it’s a suburb, it’s still in very close proximity to downtown Dallas.
The infrastructure of the company is also solid. First off, the board is strong, professional, caring, and eager to support. And although they all clearly have love for WaterTower, they also want to see the organization move towards a new and innovative direction. They were looking for an Artistic Director who would create WaterTower 2.0 as they called it; working off the strong foundation of the last 20 years, but bringing the theatre into the next 20. To find a theatre board that is ready for a transition such as that is remarkably exciting.
Also, the staff is dedicated and energetic. Greg Patterson, Managing Director, was clearly going to be a great partner in leadership. He too loves this organization and is excited about ushering it into its next phase, and he has the tools to do so with his years of experience. The other staff members clearly love this theatre and want to do everything they can to create great art on our stages. And the stages! What a unique and cool mainstage space, I can envision using it in a myriad of ways, and we intend to in the next chapter of WaterTower.
I could go on and on about the strengths of this theatre. The foundation exists for our next phase under my leadership, and as we look towards the future and plan for not only next season but the season five-years from now, I can’t describe how excited I truly am for the work we are going to be doing. Just thinking about it brings me such joy, as I see how we can impact lives of artists and audiences alike, and that the ripples we create will extend from our home in Addison throughout the nation.
During this next chapter WaterTower Theatre will be producing innovative and engaging theatre that fosters empathy, builds community, and creates dialogue. Our goal is to create diverse new work, reenvision classic work, and produce contemporary work that speaks to our moment in ways that are unique and exciting. I want theatergoers to come to WaterTower knowing that what they are about to experience is very special and could only be developed and happening at our theater. I want to create work that challenges, uncovers, and brings people together. I want every single production to be a piece of art that has the force and commitment that can only come from artists when they are supported to risk and challenge their artistic voices. And I want to encourage dialogue among artists and audiences alike through new programming around our performances.
At risk for sounding cheesy: I hope that WaterTower can be a larger version of the office water cooler, a place to come together. And in this place, we will celebrate, discuss, contemplate and confront our community and ourselves. This is what theatre has been since the Greeks. This is what we do best. We are humans reaching out to other humans. Sharing our time, our energy, our stories, our space in the most primitive and yet the most innovative ways.
And now I need to get back to work.
» Joanie Schultz was named Artistic Director of WaterTower Theatre in December. She's currently in town, but will return to Chicago to direct the premiere of Madhuri Shekar's Queen at Victory Gardens Theater. Then she and her husband, opera conductor Francesco Milioto, will move to Texas in April. She'll select the 2017-18 season for WaterTower, which should be announced in May.
» Schultz will participate in the WTT's second 24-HR Play Festival, Feb. 24 and 25 (public performances 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25), as one of the four directors.
» Hear an extensive interview with her on the current episode of the Little Big Scene Podcast, here.
» An Artistic Director Prepares will run on the fourth Friday of the month in TheaterJones.
- January 2017: Where I'm From