Dallas — Theater visionary, artist, founding artistic director of Dallas’s Undermain Theatre and Texas Woman of distinction Katherine Owens has died after a five-month prolonged illness. She was 61 and lived in Dallas with her husband and artistic partner Bruce DuBose.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1957, Katherine was raised in Odessa, Texas by her father and mother Jack and Gloria Owens, where she worked as an intern at Odessa’s Globe Theatre at an early age. She started her career in the theater after graduating from the University of Texas with a B.F.A in Theater in 1981, first as a visiting artist at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and directing for the Oklahoma Shakespeare Festival. She soon made her way to Dallas, where she embarked on an artistic path to run one of the most noted small theatre companies in the country, the Undermain Theatre. Arriving in Dallas she soon met a young actor named Raphael Parry and finding common interests the two excavated a basement space beneath Main Street in Deep Ellum in a building at 3200 Main Street in 1984. Within the year they asked actor Bruce DuBose to join them in forming a company of longtime collaborators consisting of actors, designers, directors and writers. Initially sharing the artistic direction of the theater with Mr. Parry, who would move on from the theater after a decade and a half, Katherine embarked on a cultural legacy that would take her and her future husband and executive producer Mr. DuBose on a 35-year history of award-winning productions, many of them premieres, along with tours in Europe and productions in New York city while forging relationships with a number of playwrights, with experimental and new American work as its main focus. The company would also present reimagined stagings of classic works by writers they saw as key artistic influencers of their experimental tradition.
In 1989 she directed David Rabe’s metaphysical underworld gangster drama Goose and Tom Tom in an award-winning regional premiere that became a turning point for her in her work and that of Undermain. David Rabe himself traveled to Dallas to see the production and said, “her production reached into the essence of the play and with superb technique had made it manifest.” This began an artistic friendship which would lead to the production of two more of Mr. Rabe’s lesser-seen works, The Black Monk and The Dog Problem, and continues with Undermain to the present day.
Ms. Owens also forged a long-time working relationship with avant-garde writer and Undermain company member Len Jenkin and premiered many of his later plays. The two were admitted as Fellows to the Sundance Institute Theater Lab in 2015 to develop his play Jonah, which premiered at Undermain in 2016. Jenkin said of his work with Undermain, “The same people have run it throughout [founders Katherine Owens and Bruce DuBose]. I don’t think that situation duplicates in any theater in the United States. I love their work, and I think they are a great American theater. Kat Owens is a marvelous director. She runs on a powerful combination of great theatrical instinct and a wonderfully wide and deep knowledge of literature and human nature and she loves and understands actors and directors which is best of all.” Another key collaborator was Tony Award-winning designer John Arnone who said of Ms. Owens, “She gave each of us a part of herself to develop and elevate to an art form that she herself would marvel at.” Other design collaborators include costume designer Giva Taylor, lighting designer Steve Woods, and scenic artist Linda Noland.
She received multiple awards for her directing of such notable productions as An Iliad, by Lisa Peterson and Dennis O’Hare, Sarah Kane’s Blasted, Young Jean Lee’s The Appeal, classics such as Macbeth, Three Sisters and Galileo, and world premieres including Gordon Dahlquist’s Tomorrow Come Today, Len Jenkin’s How is it that we Live, or Shakey Jake + Alice, and Matthew Paul Olmos’s trilogy so go the ghosts of méxico.
Ms. Owens work was not exclusive to the Undermain basement. In 1996 at the invitation of the Republic of Macedonia, Ms. Owens and the Undermain company ventured to Macedonia during the siege of Sarajevo in neighboring Bosnia & Herzegovina to perform Goran Stefanovski’s Sarajevo for the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations; they performed in Ohrid in the amphitheater of the 10th century Orthodox church, St. Sophia, in Bitola at the ruins of the Roman amphitheater Hereclea and in the capitol city of Skopje in a performance attended by the Macedonian President. She returned to eastern Europe in 2001 to present a performance of Judges 19 by Ruth Margraff at the Belgrade international theatre festival in Serbia.
In 1999 Katherine and Mr. DuBose began producing plays Off-Off Broadway in New York City at the Ohio Theatre, HERE Arts Center, and Soho Rep’s Walker Space, culminating in a premiere production of Neil Young’s Greendale as a rock opera adapted for the stage by Mr. DuBose and directed by Ms. Owens to a sold-out run at The Ice Factory Festival. More recently in 2018 she directed the world premiere of Lonesome Blues, a play about legendary blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson Off Broadway at the York Theatre, a play created by Alan Govenar with Akin Babatundé. In all, she directed well over a hundred productions in her career.
She eloped with Mr. DuBose in 2000 and they married in London in a private ceremony at Rosslyn Hill Chapel in the Hampstead Heath district. The couple honeymooned in Morocco and Spain.
Her awards and honors include Texas Woman of Distinction, Fellow of the Sundance Theater Institute, Dallas Institute of Humanities Fellow, D Magazine "Best of Dallas" and the Dallas 40 Influencers, multiple Dallas Theater Critics Forum awards for directing and ensemble performance, Dallas Observer and Dallas Morning News 'best of" lists, the Dallas Historical Society Award for Excellence, the Ken Bryant Vision Award and the McLean-Paris Award for Artists. She was member of the SDC [the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society].
Owens said of her approach, “I think there are two traditions in the theater—the hermetic and the heroic.”
She is survived by her husband Bruce DuBose, her sister Kimberley Owens and her brother Carl Owens. Her husband will continue their work at Undermain as producing artistic director to lead the Undermain in accordance with her artistic vision. In addition to her directing career she was also a painter and photographer. Throughout the Undermain’s 2019/2020 season there will be a celebration of her work in an exhibition of her watercolor paintings, drawings and photographs as well as her notebooks in the Undermain lobby.
» Click here to read critic Martha Heimberg's appreciation of Katherine Owens
» The funeral service will be 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7 at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas. Flowers can be sent to the Church of the Incarnation starting Tuesday, Aug. 6; and donations in her memory to the theater where her legacy will continue can be made at www.undermain.org.