While theater companies and musical organizations around the country are having to shut down productions during the COVID-19 pandemic, The University of Texas at Dallas’ theatre program creatively improvised, ensuring that “the show must go on.”
The program’s spring production, “Faust,” was planned to be a big stage event, with a guest director, two professional actors, outside costume and scenic designers, and a guest composer — all complementing the student actors, musicians and production crew. In mid-March, however, it became clear that the production could not occur as planned.
“I was afraid we were going to lose the chance to see this project to fruition and that we wouldn’t have the chance to work together,” said Melinda Kalanzis, visual and performing arts junior in the School of Arts and Humanities (A&H).
Shelby Hibbs, A&H clinical assistant professor and producer of the production, said it was important that the play continue for a number of reasons, one of which was that it was a new version, translated by Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, professor of literature and history and the Leah and Paul Lewis Chair of Holocaust Studies, and Dr. Frederick Turner, Founders Professor of literature and creative writing.
Very quickly, a solution was found: The stage play became a radio play, complete with music, audio effects and a robust website to provide the audience with the feel of the play’s period.
“We were lucky in the sense that this was an original translation, and we didn’t have to get a license or pay royalties, because if we had, the whole production would have been shut down,” Hibbs said. “I wanted to honor the work that the translators had done.”
Although the director, actors, sound technicians, editors and costume designers were all restricted to their homes, rehearsals continued through videoconferencing applications and recording software. High-quality microphones were distributed to the actors, who worked in groups to record various scenes.
“It was a herculean effort to put this together,” said Raphael Parry, guest director of “Faust.” He said the cast and crew have worked diligently to pivot the production, although the technical issues of working remotely were sometimes a challenge.
“There were certain tactical things we couldn’t control,” said Parry, who is the executive and artistic director at Shakespeare Dallas. “If we had a bad computer signal from one of the actors, then we would lose the entire take. Because of Wi-Fi issues, we lost a couple of evenings of work.”
Visual and performing arts junior Hayden Lopez said that while performing in a radio play was different than a stage production, it was fun to learn a new aspect of acting.
“In radio, attention to the spoken language has to be much more precise,” Lopez said. “You have to have a lot more inflection in your voice, and you have to be able to really paint a picture with your words because you lose the visual aspect.”
Lopez said he and the other actors had to be creative to create a quiet area for recording.
“To help absorb the sound, I took a rug into my closet where I recorded. I also had my laptop and the mic that was provided. Then the production team did its best to tune it to get the best possible sound. Obviously, it’s not a studio,” he said.
While the actors laid down their tracks, musicians also individually recorded the newly arranged score that featured solo parts rather than an orchestral ensemble. In addition, students helped create a website to highlight costume renderings and scene designs, which provide a visual connection to the work.
“‘Faust’ really is more of a dramatic poem than a play, so it’s good for people to be able to really listen to the translation and listen to the language. I think it’ll actually work to our benefit to do this version of the play rather than doing a full production of it,” Hibbs said.
The final production is divided into 20-minute segments and, because of contractual arrangements with Actors’ Equity Association, the show will be available online for only two weeks, starting April 26. The show is free, but registration is required.
“It’s been a great opportunity to teach different skills about vocal production for microphone versus stage,” Parry said. “And the mix of professional actors and student actors is an interesting aspect of the project. I’m hoping that people enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed recording it.”
Theatergoers may feel like they are indeed in a time warp while wearing a new LED wristband at The University of Texas at Dallas theater and dance programs’ production of “The Rocky Horror Show” beginning Halloween night.
The PixMob light-emitting diode wristbands will be provided to all audience members; show producers say it is one of the first times the technology has been used at a university theater production.
“We will be the first theater in Texas and, I’m fairly certain, the first university theater anywhere to use them,” said Shelby Hibbs, show director and clinical assistant professor in the School of Arts and Humanities (A&H).
The technology — the infrared devices are controlled and synchronized — has primarily been used for major concerts and sporting events.
“The Rocky Horror Show” has become a cult classic, where audience interaction with the actors and the production is part of the experience.
Christopher Treviño, assistant technical director in A&H, said he and his team will be regulating when the lights are on and off, and what color they are. But he said the audience will take it from there.
“This is going to engage the audience. Everybody’s wristband is going to light up; they’re going to be doing the ‘Time Warp,’ and it’s going to be a big party,” Treviño said.
The wristbands were not originally accounted for in the show’s budget, but Hibbs and Treviño thought they would be a perfect fit with “Rocky Horror.” So, Hibbs set out to raise money through Impact UTD, a campus crowdsourcing platform.
Recently, the project had reached 87% of the goal, and, even with some funding left to go, the school finalized a purchase of 2,000 wristbands — enough for every “Rocky Horror” audience member to receive one.
“The whole idea seemed a little daunting. But the cast was behind this. Because of their commitment to help raise the money, we thought we could do it,” Hibbs said.
“The Rocky Horror Show” is a stage musical created as a parody tribute to bad horror and science fiction films. After it debuted in London in 1973, it was adapted into the film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in 1975, which became a cult classic. Fans returned often to see it and talk back to the screen — even dressing as the characters and bringing props to the show.
“There’s a whole script of things you are supposed to say at different points in ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ — mostly things that are witty and comical because the movie is so absurd,” Hibbs said. “That has transferred into ‘The Rocky Horror Show,’ the musical. It’s essentially the same script.”
“The Rocky Horror Show” will debut at UT Dallas on Halloween night, in a free performance, and will continue Nov. 1-2 and Nov. 7-9 at the University Theatre. On Nov. 9, there will be a regular evening performance as well as a midnight show.
“I’m really excited about the show,” Hibbs said. “I think it’s going to be a special experience for the audience. I already know they’re going to be engaged, but allowing them to be really, truly part of the theatrical design and then having a souvenir to take home — I think it’s going to be really cool.”
Fred Curchack dodges labels. Is the 71-year-old Dallas theater professor an actor, playwright, musician or performance artist? He’s all of them and something else, too: his own man.
While he has directed and appeared in other people’s work, Curchack earned the moniker “true renaissance theater artist” — an honor bestowed on him in 2010 by the Dallas Theater Critics Forum — because he has concentrated on writing and performing his own category-defying material.
Excerpts from seven of the 78 pieces he has created and toured around the world since graduating from college in the late 1960s will be featured next weekend in Retrospecting in the intimate basement space at Theatre Three. It co-stars the actress Laura Jorgensen, his partner.
“My stage work has grown out of my work on myself,” Curchack says in a phone interview from the couple’s second home in Northern California, where the look back will be reprised for two nights in May. “Stanislavski and Method acting come from the same place.”
His use of puppets, shadow play and other forms of stage magic, including a quiet, compelling charisma, inform his search for meaning on stage and off. To that end, Curchack trained in an array of cultural practices, from Indian Kathakali and Balinese Topeng dance to Japanese Noh musical drama.
He studied choreography with modern dance pioneer Alwin Nikolais, and theater with Jerzy Grotowski, the groundbreaking Polish director and theorist.
Curchack’s work may be personal — a third of the pieces in his repertoire are solos — but they’re not always autobiographical, he says. He has performed across the country, from the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival to East Dallas’ Bath House Cultural Center.
A UT Dallas alumna has taken her penchant for comedy and improvisation to Los Angeles, where she is honing her craft through classes at The Groundlings Theatre & School.
Emily Joyce BA’15 enjoys comedy and hopes to make it to a big stage where she can impact a lot more people.
“I am an entirely silly person; I just have a knack for making people laugh,” she said. “I like being able to do really silly characters and to do voices. I know it’s weird, but I like making other people feel good.”
Along with The Second City and a few others, The Groundlings is known for the development of some of the best comedy talent in the country. Alumni of the program include well-known comedians and actors such as Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Phil Hartman, Maya Rudolph and Lisa Kudrow.
“I’m the person that just soaks up comedy,” Joyce said. “A person who wants a career in comedy has to look at places such as The Groundlings, Second City or Upright Citizens Brigade. ‘Saturday Night Live’ pulls from these places, so if you want to be a writer or performer with ‘SNL’, then you have to look into these places.”
She said she would like to not only be an improv actor, but also a sketch writer for “Saturday Night Live.”
“It’s one of the top improv and comedy shows in the business, and working there can open a door to take you wherever you want to go,” she said.
While Joyce had learned a lot about theater before she attended UT Dallas, it was at UTD where she discovered her love for improv, said her mentor, Kathy Lingo.
“Emily told me after she had taken her first improv course that this is what she wanted to do for a living. And I knew she would do it,” said Lingo, clinical associate professor in the School of Arts and Humanities. “She’s got the smarts; she’s got the drive; she’ll make it.”
UT Dallas graduate Jenni Stewart BA’06 enjoys playing parts and directing fellow players — particularly when performing Shakespeare.
“I think it’s the universality and also the richness of the language that keeps me continually engaged with it,” Stewart said. “I think he’s a playwright you can study forever and never unlock all of his secrets and mysteries.”
Stewart is the associate artistic director at Shakespeare Dallas — the first woman to be in a position of artistic leadership in the organization since it began 47 years ago. The group produces Shakespeare plays in an outdoor park setting and will launch indoor productions in early 2019.
As second-in-command of the Shakespeare troupe, she works with the artistic director to select plays, supervise programs and ensure excellence in each performance. She also directs some of the shows.
“We’re serving our community and trying to present the best artistic offerings we can for what we need in the moment, as well as in the future,” she said.
While attending UT Dallas, Stewart acted in a number of shows and performances, worked as an assistant with the theater program and founded a student performing arts theater group called the Rat Pack.
“Jenni is a gem. She performed brilliantly in our UTD plays and professionally. She’s been a force of nature at Shakespeare Dallas and in the Dallas arts community for years, working with internationally significant writers, directors and actors,” Curchack said. “Now she’s directing a major production. She’s so talented, so smart and so compassionate.”
It was at UT Dallas that Stewart met Raphael Parry, the executive and artistic director of Shakespeare Dallas, who was a guest director. After graduation, she interned at Shakespeare Dallas and then quickly landed a permanent job there. She was named associate artistic director earlier this year.
Stewart said when she was a student at UT Dallas, the theater program was a dynamic environment for learning.
“It put out this generation of highly creative theater professionals who were able to work in multiple disciplines. You got to try your hand at everything,” she said. “I still collaborate with a ton of peers that I had at UTD. And they’re some of my favorite people to work with.”
At the same time, current UT Dallas theater students often serve as interns for Shakespeare Dallas and, according to Stewart, are working out well.
“UT Dallas is probably more well-known for its STEM schools and training, but it obviously is putting out some good people from arts and humanities as well,” she said.
At the 2018 Honors Convocation, David Lozano BA’09 received the Undergraduate Alumni Achievement Award. Recipients of this award are accomplished in their industry or profession and engaged in their local community.
Lozano is executive artistic director at Cara Mía Theatre in Dallas, writing, directing and producing original bilingual plays for the Latino community. He is also an activist who advocates for funding of culturally specific arts organizations.
When he came to UT Dallas in 2001, it was only to study theater performance under drama professor Fred Curchack. At the time, he had no intention of pursuing a degree, but was cast in a play that Curchack was directing. He was hooked.
“I was passionate about research and learning my craft,” Lozano said. “I felt like I was breathing nutritious air. I decided I was where I needed to be.”
It took him longer than most to earn his bachelor’s degree in humanities from the School of Arts and Humanities, as he also worked full time at the theater. Trained in physical theater, Lozano prefers to work on collectively created plays that focus on actors’ improvisations rather than a script.
“The presence and dynamics of the actor are the starting point,” Lozano said.
Besides creating new works, Cara Mía’s resident artistic ensemble produces classic plays by nationally acclaimed Latino playwrights. It has produced world premieres of major Mexican-American writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Cherrie Moraga.
“My experience at UT Dallas has helped me to become a better storyteller through theater, filling out my capacity as an artist,” Lozano said.
UT Dallas students will perform two one-act plays by James McLure in a production that starts Thursday.
Two one-act plays about life in small-town Texas will kick off an arts weekend that will also include a concert tribute to a legendary pop and jazz vocal group.
UT Dallas students will present “Laundry and Bourbon” and “Lone Star” back to back beginning Thursday night and continuing through Saturday. Both works are by playwright James McLure.
“Laundry and Bourbon” is set on the front porch of Roy and Elizabeth’s home in Maynard, Texas, on a hot summer afternoon. Elizabeth and her friend Hattie are whiling away the time folding laundry, watching TV, sipping bourbon and Coke, and gossiping about the many open secrets that are a staple of small-town life. The conversation becomes increasingly edged with bitter humor, but from it emerges a sense of Elizabeth’s inner strength and her quiet understanding of the turmoil which has beset her husband since his return from Vietnam. He is wild and unfaithful, but she loves him and she’ll be waiting for him when he comes home — no matter what others may say or think.
“Lone Star” takes place in the cluttered backyard of a small-town Texas bar. Roy, a brawny, macho type who had once been a local high-school hero, is back in town after a hitch in Vietnam and trying to re-establish his position in the community. He cherishes three things above all: his country, his wife and his 1959 pink Thunderbird. However, with the arrival of Cletis, the foolish, newlywed son of the local hardware store owner, the underpinnings of Roy’s world begin to collapse.
Each performance begins at 8 p.m. in the University Theatre. The Thursday night show is free to everyone. General admission tickets for the Friday and Saturday shows are $15 and $10 for faculty, staff and non-UT Dallas students. Tickets are free to UT Dallas students with valid identification. Advance tickets may be purchased online or by calling 972-883-2552. Tickets bought in advance may be picked up at the door prior to the show.
On Friday and Saturday, the UT Dallas Chamber Singers and students from Advanced Vocal Instruction will pay tribute to the pop and jazz group The Manhattan Transfer. UT Dallas students will sing favorites such as “Route 66,” “Operator,” “Snowfall,” “Java Jive,” “Boy from New York City,” and “Tuxedo Junction.” The concert is directed by Kathryn Evans, head of vocal and choral music at UT Dallas, and features Michael McVay as accompanist.
The Manhattan Transfer has been entertaining audiences since 1972 with four-part renditions of vocal music from the last four decades. In 1982, the group became the first to win Grammy Awards in both pop and jazz categories.
The group has released 29 albums and continues to tour. Their music and stunning arrangements cover jazz, pop, rock, soul and the blues.
The concert begins at 8 p.m. each night in the Jonsson Performance Hall. The vocal performance is free and open to the public.
The Fantasticks will be presented this weekend at the Eisemann Center in Richardson. Tickets can be purchased here.
UT Dallas students recently learned skills from members of a touring adaptation of the world’s longest-running musical, which is coming to the Eisemann Center in Richardson. Sponsored by the School of Arts and Humanities, a steampunk version of The Fantasticks stays true to the original funny and romantic story about a boy, a girl and two fathers.
Students from the cast of UT Dallas’ upcoming production Songs for a New World and students in the Advanced Vocal Instruction course had an opportunity to meet with the musical director and cast members of The Fantasticks. With the guidance from experienced performers, the students worked on their audition techniques.
“It’s always valuable for students to have these real world experiences,” said Kathryn Evans, director of Songs for A New World and the instructor for Advanced Vocal Instruction. “It helps prepare them for the audition experiences they will have outside the University once they graduate.”
Assistant director of theater Kathy Lingo and assistant technical director of theater Alex Hill also took their students to the Eisemann.
The plot of the show follows two fathers who trick their children into falling in love.
Theater students also will be present for Friday’s show at 8 p.m. in the Bank of America Theatre at the Eisemann Center. The Fantasticks runs through the weekend.
The new adaptation of the classic adds whimsical visuals and fantastical sets to the expressive parable about young love. Performers from the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, which has a long history as a national touring theatrical production company, give a fresh, engaging and fun new approach to the play.
With music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, the popular score, which includes the classics Try To Remember, They Were You and Soon It’s Gonna Rain, is as timeless as the story itself.
The plot follows two fathers who trick their children into falling in love. The neighboring fathers pretend to feud; they hire actors to stage a mock abduction so that one child, Matt, can “save” the other child, Luisa. When the children find out that the entire debacle was staged, however, they separate. The children, having gone their separate ways, eventually find themselves disillusioned in the real world. They return to each other, both a little more bruised than before.
The show is presented through a special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). “At the heart of its breathtaking poetry and subtle theatrical sophistication is a purity and simplicity that transcends cultural barriers. The result is a timeless fable of love that manages to be nostalgic and universal at the same time,” MTI says.
The original production of The Fantasticks first opened on May 3, 1960, and played 17,162 performances before closing Jan. 13, 2002. In that 42-year span, the show became the world’s longest-running musical.
Tickets can be purchased on the Eisemann Center website.
Arts and Humanities Professor Fred Curchak will perform the lead role in Abraham Zobell’s Home Move: Final Reel by Len Jenkin. This World Premiere is produced by Undermain Theatre at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Undermain is offering UT Dallas students special $10. discount tickets for performances on January 19, 23, 24, 25, 26. Call for tickets: 214 747-5515
From three-time Obie-winner Len Jenkin, Abraham Zobell’s Home Movie: Final Reel… is a play about a man on a Pilgrimage to the Sea, propelled on his journey through song, with the help of a live band, and video projecting his life time of memories and driving his hopeful quest onward.
Undermain returns to the City Performance Hall to create Zobell’s world premiere with dazzling light, scenic wonder, video and a live band performing American roots music and doo-wop.
Abraham Zobell’s Home Movie: Final Reel… has been selected as a recipient of a grant from the TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund and has received partial funding from the Office of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Dallas City Performance Hall Fund
More information about the performance is available at Undermain Website.
BURYING OUR FATHER: A Biblical Debacle
Written by Fred Curchack
Performed by Fred Curchack and Laura Jorgensen
Wednesdays through Saturdays – October 31 to November 17
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm ($15.)
Fridays at 8:15pm ($20.) and Saturdays at 8:15pm ($25.)
Senior, Student, KERA & Group discounts available
Tickets: (214) 747-5515
www.undermain.org for easy fee-free online ticketing
3200 Main Street. Dallas, TX 75226 (between Hall & Exposition in Deep Ellum)
Free attended parking at Trunk & Main