Living Theatre, Part 8

In this edition of his column about starting a theater company, Aaron Zilbermann writes about staff changes and preparing for the next Metamorphosis production.

published Friday, January 12, 2018



Dallas —  I met Tiana Johnson at the Starbucks adjacent to Half Priced Books, prepared with a daunting amount of work to do and things to address. I walked in and happily greeted Tiana; we talked pleasantries for a while, catching up and then, almost immediately, my preparation had become futile. Tiana disclosed to me that she intends to resign from her position at Metamorphosis. She expressed that she felt she was doing a disservice to Morph, acting as co-Artistic Director, as she was not able to dedicate sufficient time to the projects we were working on. I listened to her, I heard her, and I understood. In fact, I was a little surprised that it took her this long to get to this point. Tiana is an incredible person. The first thing anyone ever told me about her, is that if she says she is going to do something, she does it. She sticks to her word. I have learned this fact to be an absolute truth. She is a highly committed person and the fact that she couldn’t properly commit herself to Morph and still maintain a healthy personal life didn’t settle well with her. It was a pleasure to have worked with Tiana on developing and growing Morph and I truly value the time I spent with her working on Dutchman. I have learned so much from her and I sincerely thank her for her time and dedication to our little theatre that could. She helped to initially establish Morph in our communities and she was responsible for a successful inaugural production of Dutchman. Thank you for all that you have done, Tiana!

With such a drastic change to Metamorphosis, now we are now put into the position where we intend to hire our first part-time employee (which will hopefully soon develop into a full-time position). We finally have our determination letter from the IRS and are classified as a 501(c)(3) organization, therefore we are beginning to solicit donations and request grants. I am confident, yet realistic, in our ability to fundraise to sustainably support this new position, and much more. We have posted the job description for a part-time Director of Education and we are actively seeking applicants by experienced teaching artists, particularly those who are familiar with the work of Augusto Boal. We intend to establish our education programming, creating an after-school program for traditionally marginalized youth. Hopefully that program will begin in the fall with the start of the new school year. If you are interested in the Director of Education position at Metamorphosis, contact me at and I will send you a job description.

Photo: Michael Warner
Aaron Zilbermann and Tiana Kaye Johnson

While Metamorphosis has suffered a great loss with Tiana’s resignation, we have also experienced a tremendous gain with the addition of a new board member, Morgana Wilborn. Morgana is a Dallas native, educator and actress. She currently holds the position as the Director of Education at D​allas Theater Center (DTC) and theater adjunct at El Centro Community College. She continues leading the charge in theater ​and ​education through her work at DTC and through partnerships with Dallas ISD as a consultant for the Department of Dance and Theater and as part of the Arts Advisory Board at Booker T. Washington HSPVA. Prior to her work at Dallas Theater Center, Morgana worked as a theater director in Dallas ISD ​for over a span of eight years. She is a proud graduate of The University of North Texas (BA, Theater), and The University of Houston (MA, Theater Education). Morgana has stepped into her new role as a board member full throttle. Because of her extensive experience in education, theater and social justice work, I approached Morgana, almost immediately after she joined our board, to seek her support to design and facilitate the post-performance workshop/dialogue for our next production, Douglas Turner Ward’s 1965 play Day of Absence, the work that marked the debut of the famed New York City group Ward co-founded, the Negro Ensemble Company (the group revived it at the end of 2016). She welcomed the opportunity with open arms and I feel strongly that we will be able to build upon the dialogue we started with Dutchman, and offer a more purposeful experience with opportunities to support further action.

The “Notes on the Production” for Day of Absence state that the play is intended to be performed by a “Negro cast, a reverse minstrel show done in white-face.” The foundation of the play can be quite controversial, and I have no delusions about the emotions that might be stirred up. With auditions starting this week, I’ve already heard one report that an actor who auditioned for the show this week was harassed by a local actor and conspiracy theorist. The actor auditioning for our play was sent a text message stating that “Day of Absence is a Jewish trap.” Now there is only one motive I can conjure up that would encourage an individual to text a hostile comment like that: One explanation for the reason that white Jews are the white people that white people love to hate is because Jews have historically been blamed for supporting Black Liberation. As white Jews we have been countlessly accused of using our privilege to support the cause and encourage its legitimacy, enraging white people who don’t support Black Liberation. Knowing all of that, I am a white Jew who is directing a controversial play in white-face that supports Black Liberation, therefore Day of Absence MUST be a “Jewish trap.” Right? Perhaps I am overthinking it too much and I am giving this lost soul way too much credit by assuming he has that complex of a thought process. Either way, I am learning early on, that the safety of my cast and crew is a vital part of what I need to address as the Artistic Director of this organization. We are doing this work, for the exact reason that people like this exist. We won’t hide from them; we are here to confront them. We are doing this work and we know it is hard and we intend to support each other through the process and keep each other emotionally and physically safe.

We received no threats, no warning signs, no causes for concern with our production of Dutchman, a quite revolutionary and controversial piece of theater that also supported Black Liberation. However, Dutchman is lacking a highly controversial element that Day of Absence has: Black actors in white-face. That is the first thing people will likely learn about our upcoming production and it is the thing most likely to stir up dangerous emotions. Which leads to a very important concern: At each performance, we do not want to fill the seats with like-minded people. This practice is not helpful to our process. Everyone needs to be at the table, especially those who disagree with the premise of the play or are offended by the use of white face as a theatrical device. But how do you get someone who is offended by a show in white face to come to a show that is in white face? I don’t know the answer to that question yet, but I assume it involves stepping out of my comfort zone and reaching out to divergent communities, to communities that wholeheartedly disagree with what we are doing.


» Aaron Zilbermann, executive artistic director of Metamorphosis: a new living theatre, has worked with Big Thought and other local teaching institutions.

» Visit the Metamorphosis website here; and its Facebook page here.

» Living Theatre, returning after a short hiatus, runs on the second Friday of the month on 



  • Februrary 2017: Introductory column
  • March 2017: Going non-profit, boards of directors, and creating original work
  • April 2017: Finding space
  • May 2017: Zilbermann and Johnson discuss Amiri Baraka's Dutchman, their June production
  • June 2017: No column
  • July 2017: On starting a theater for social justice
  • August 2017: No column
  • September 2017: On starting a playwriting collective
  • October 2017: Is the non-proft model the only way?
  • November 2017: No column
  • December 2017: No column
 Thanks For Reading

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Living Theatre, Part 8
In this edition of his column about starting a theater company, Aaron Zilbermann writes about staff changes and preparing for the next Metamorphosis production.
by Aaron Zilbermann

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