Living Theatre, Part 9

In his column about starting a theater company, Aaron Zilbermann writes about the importance of branding, in more ways than one.

published Friday, February 16, 2018



Dallas — High quality and comprehensive graphic design is often overlooked in theaters. It’s expensive, and for small and struggling organizations there is always someone around who thinks they can do a “good enough” job. Theaters can be guilty of neglecting to look too far beyond the acting space when attempting to immerse the audience in a particular environment.

It is important that every aspect of what we do attempts to connect the audience to the show in some way. For example, during our production of Dutchman, instead of playbills, we passed out NYC-style subway tickets with the necessary information printed on them. This was significant considering the entire play took place on a subway train and the audience was on the train as well. A powerful and cohesive look is critical to developing a brand that is unique and grabs the attention of a wide audience.

When morph was first born, I was that person that thought I could do the design work “good enough.” I did okay, considering my experience, or lack thereof, but it didn’t fit with the type of professionalism we wanted Morph to exude. But what could we do? We couldn’t afford to hire a decent graphic designer and no one was volunteering to do this work for us. So I went ahead and built a website. I was impressed with what I could do with absolutely no training or experience, but it certainly was not sufficient. Then Ace Anderson, an experienced Dallas-based designer, showed an interest in Metamorphosis. We had a meeting, during which we offered him a position on the board and gave him an immense amount of autonomy and artistic control when creating the design elements needed by Morph. Ace graciously agreed to take on the entire design responsibility for Metamorphosis, pro bono, and as he promised in the beginning, he has now successfully and completely shifted our image and has created a recognizable brand. Soon residents of Dallas should be able to look at a flyer for one of our shows and know it is presented by Morph just by the way it looks. Ace has just recently recreated our website and we launched the new site last week. If you haven’t seen it, go to and explore a little.

Ace joins us with a very strong and eclectic background. He is a professional actor, graphic designer and photographer based in Dallas. He began his career as a full-time graphic designer in 2013 after graduating from Southern Methodist University with a BFA in Acting. After designing full-time for a major Dallas non-profit organization for two years he decided to pour his soul into is own design company The Striped Heart. Proving that he feels strongly about all his creative passions, he is  proud to be one of eight members of the Brierly Resident Acting Company at The Regional Tony-winning Dallas Theater Center. He’s also been recognized across the country as a pioneer in the arts and a true Renaissance Man. Google 'Ace Anderson' and you'll find much of his work. In 2014 he won a Dallas Fort Worth Theatre Critics Forum award for his role in August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. He was also handpicked as one of 100 Top Creatives (No. 36) in the Dallas Observer. Ace has been an absolute pleasure to work with and he has transformed Morph from an organization that was hardly recognizable to an organization with a professional image in every aspect of what we do.

As I am budgeting and exploring how we can increase our earned income this year, ideas are beginning to surface. We’ve considered starting with a t-shirt and expanding our merchandise from there. Ace approached me with valuable insight when creating merchandise. He said, “When you decide to go and design a t-shirt, you can’t look at yourself as a theater company making a t-shirt. People are unlikely to buy a shirt simply to support your company. We must turn into a t-shirt design company for this process and design something that people truly want to wear. Slapping a logo on a t-shirt won’t be sufficient.” I treasure this advice because I know how true it is and doing this the right way can produce a lot more much needed “earned income” for our organization, which every grant making institution wants to see. It contributes to greater sustainability for an organization, and organizations with greater sustainability tend to be favored by grant makers. But merchandise is only the beginning. There are countless ways for a theater company to make money and I intend to explore these ideas with the same passion that has helped me to establish this theater.

While I explore these ideas, I am brought back to the overarching brand of Metamorphosis. What makes us unique? What is going to make Morph different from other theater companies that are delving into the world of community engagement and politics? Morph’s work is distinguished from that of the broad theatrical community in Dallas because everything we do is emphatically grounded in social justice work. We are moving our brand past design and into the realm of developing, creating and formalizing unique approaches to confronting the social justice issues brought up in our theatrical work. We need to create our own brand for how to work with specific plays, and in doing so, we need to compile comprehensive education programming for middle and high schools, to accompany any play that we do. What’s truly going to make us unique is to pick up where other groups have left off. One of the concerns I have with much of the social justice work that is accompanying theater today is that it lacks an answer to the question: What next? Now that we have people concerned with an issue and wanting to take action, why do we so often leave them in the dark as to how to proceed with their activism. Therefore Morph is dedicated to establishing time in our post-performance dialogue to discuss tangible next steps. Our guest speakers will come loaded with possibilities, morph will create our own list of opportunities and the audience will also be asked to contribute to the list of tangible next steps. I don’t want morph to be seen as a theater company that engages in social justice work. I want morph to be perceived as a social justice organization that happens to use theater as its tool to engage larger audiences in social justice work.


» 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
  • January 2017: Staff changes and preparation for the next production
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Living Theatre, Part 9
In his column about starting a theater company, Aaron Zilbermann writes about the importance of branding, in more ways than one.
by Aaron Zilbermann

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