Dallas — Ana Hagedorn has just received a Master’s of Fine Arts in Acting at Southern Methodist University, and last week was named the newest member of the Dallas Theater Center’s Brierley Resident Acting Company. She has played many challenging roles at SMU, at the Commonweal Theatre in her home state of Minnesota, and elsewhere, including the title roles in Schiller’s Mary Stuart and Strindberg’s Miss Julie; not to mention performing in plays by Caryl Churchill, Bertolt Brecht, Euripides, and Henrik Ibsen.
She might have found her most complex role, though, in American theater pioneer Margo Jones. She stars as Margo in the one-woman show that she also wrote, Let Me Talk My Dreams, currently playing in the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park through Monday, May 28. (See our review, by Martha Heimberg, here.)
North Texas theatergoers know Margo Jones as a groundbreaker in the resident theater movement, having started a professional theater in Dallas in 1947, Theatre ’47, the name of which she changed annually to reflect each new year, through her death in 1955. (The theater moved to Maple Avenue and ended with Theatre '59.) This was after Jones co-directed the Broadway debut of a young writer who she championed from the days when he was so poor that she had to buy him coffee. The playwright was Tennessee Williams; The Glass Menagerie opened in 1946. She co-directed it with Eddie Dowling, who played Tom. She would later direct the world premiere of Williams’ play Summer and Smoke at her Dallas theater, as well as champion new plays from Texas and national writers, including Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s Inherit the Wind, and William Inge’s Farther off from Heaven, which became The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.
Like Hagedorn before she arrived in Dallas for graduate studies, many in the theater world have not heard of Margo Jones, despite that she mentored Nina Vance, who founded Houston’s Alley Theatre, and inspired Zelda Fichandler, who co-founded Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage. There’s even a Margo Jones Award for excellence in the theater, most recently won by playwright Paula Vogel. Jones also inspired Norma Young, who co-founded Theatre Three along with Jac Alder and two others, in 1961. That was a year after the Dallas Theater Center opened in the Kalita Humphreys Theater, built by Frank Lloyd Wright, who Jones helped talk into designing a theater venue in Dallas.
Hagedorn fell in love with theater in the fourth grade when she was cast in a community theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She did her undergrad in theater at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., has performed at the English Theatre in Berlin, and locally has worked with Dallas Theater Center and Second Thought Theatre.
She originally created her show about Margo Jones for her solo performance requirement at SMU. As she researched and learned more about the “Texas Tornado,” as Tennessee Williams nicknamed her, she expanded it into the current show, which she hopes to continue to perform in colleges and fringe and solo festivals. (Hagedorn says she would like to create shows about fellow groundbreaking women Vance and Fichandler, too.)
“I didn’t know who Margo was until I came to SMU and saw her picture and that plaque on the wall by the Margo Jones Theatre [at SMU]," she says. “I saw that and thought, ‘oh, that’s cool.’ But I didn’t realize that she’s the reason why I do what I do.”
TheaterJones chatted with Hagedorn about Let Me Talk My Dreams—the title comes from a quote by Jones—and being inspired by one of American theater’s pioneers.
How did you land on Margo Jones as the subject of your show?
When I started at SMU, I knew I’d have to create a solo performance… Last year  I was in [Kevin Moriarty’s production of] Inherit the Wind at Dallas Theater Center. At the table read we talked about Margo Jones, and there was a second production that Jerome Lawrence directed. It was another push in the right direction, to learn more about her. I started reading her biography [Helen Sheehy’s Margo: The Life and Theatre of Margo Jones] and I couldn’t put it down. I marveled that, to my knowledge, there hadn’t been a play about her. How could one of the pioneers of American theater not have a play about her?
I emailed Helen, and she got in contact with me, and we ended up talking a lot. She later connected me with Judy Jones, Margo’s niece, and I contacted her and set up a time to go to Houston and go through the personal belongings of Margo’s. I’ve done that several times. I spent a lot of time in the Dallas Public Library, in the archives on the seventh floor. I read everything I could find, her letters, her articles in magazines.
I assume you’ve read Margo’s book Theatre-in-the-Round.
Yes, and I’ve recorded it and it’s going to be available as an audio book soon.
How did this class project turn into the production we see now?
I spent the summer of 2017 gathering every bit of information I could find about her. I used the class, which was taught by Rhonda Blair, as a leaping off point. I realized where it had holes, where it needed work. In January 2018 I started writing grant proposals. I got it fully funded by grant from Meadows School of the Arts at SMU. I was able to gather people who I have great faith in their talent and integrity.
So I got the creative team together, and went back to Houston for more research, and to Austin to the Harry Ransom Center to read correspondence with Tennessee Williams. I went down this rabbit hole, and discovered there are a lot of interviews about Margo at the DeGolyer Library [Special Collections] at SMU. After more research I started writing it again and extending it.
Aside from telling the story of her groundbreaking work, what did you want this show to say about Margo Jones?
Something I wanted to figure out was how to put Margo’s humanity out there. Here’s this woman who dared to start a movement, but so many things were in her way. She couldn’t break past some things and that started taking a toll on her.
Apparently she would walk into a room and there was so much energy around her, like a tornado. It was so present and so big and infectious. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a human like that. But yet she was really lonely and didn’t feel like she was fulfilling her dream.
After she passed, [Dallas Morning News critic] John Rosenfield wrote about how she never felt like she was great. She did so much, and it broke my heart that she felt like that. I wanted to tell her story in Dallas, in her theater, in a time when it’s really relevant to talk about women leaders in this field. So why not go back to who started it, and why she started it?
You’re doing it in her theater in Fair Park, where she started it all, and where Judy Jones donated a portrait of Margo a few years ago that is in the theater’s lobby.
It’s so special. I wish I could take the building with me if I tour this. The play is her words. I’ve compiled her words into her story, her talking in her theater, in her medium, doing a new work—which is what she championed for.