Acting Up Down in Texas
(l-r) Bruce DuBose, Drew Wall, and Ani Celisa Vera take the stage in Zayd Dorn's Long Way Go Down premiering at the 2010 New Works Festival. Photo by Matt Mrozek
Rocco?s in Dallas today, so I thought I?d take a look at one of the projects we support there. Kitchen Dog Theatre (KDT) received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant to support its 12th annual New Works Festival. In association with the National New Play Network---a collective of 26 theater companies from across the country (including DC?s own Woolly Mammoth)---KDT established the festival to highlight new and eclectic voices. Since setting up shop in Dallas nineteen years ago, this feisty company has been working hard to create, nurture, and foster great theater. In fact for nine years of the New Works Fest, it?s featured exciting work in the innovative Playwrights Under Progress, or PUP Fest.
Co-produced by the Junior Players, PUP Fest is a time-tested youth outreach program that deploys local playwrights into Dallas high schools to teach playwriting to students. What?s more, this only happens in schools without a playwriting program, therefore filling a void in the greater arts education curriculum. Kitchen Dog also arranges and coordinates classes in the Dallas Public Library system for students who can?t participate otherwise.
I spoke with Kitchen Dog Co-artistic and Administrative Director Tina Parker who described the company?s work with the young playwrights. ?Here you have about 30 some odd kids writing and acting in their own plays that are directed by professional directors from KDT and the greater Dallas theater community.? Parker explained that, like adult playwrights, the teens are given deadlines for what will eventually become a play of 20 minutes or less. Not only does this disciplined series of workshops offer professional development, but it?s inspiring some students to choose playwriting or theater as a major in college.
The audience enthusiastically applauded the playwrights and actors during the final curtain call at the 2008 PUP Fest . Photo by Fernando Rojas
PUP Fest culminates in five free staged readings where actors read from the text as they perform with minimal staging. The plays range in style from straight-up drama to the highly fantastic. Take for example There?s Something Wrong in Wonderland: A Romiet and Julio Story by Charis Royal, a high school junior. The story---a contemporary, surreal mash-up of Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll---follows a student who?s so stressed out about a test that he passes out and wakes up in Wonderland dressed in drag as ?Julio.? ?It?s a wild comedy that kids can relate to,? explained Parker. She added, however, that like most of the work celebrated at the New Works Festival, the PUP plays tend to ?touch on the same collective consciousness as the adult plays. You can really see where peoples? minds are at. This year escapism is a major theme.?
Asked to define KDT, without missing a beat Parker shot back with vibrant, progressive, and scrappy. She went on to explain, ?We want a response from our audience. If it?s angry, it?s angry. If it?s confused, it?s confused.? Most important, she noted, is the company?s dogged (pardon the pun) determination to use the arts as a tool for enlightenment and education throughout Dallas. Parker?s enthusiasm about PUP Fest is infectious, and the company?s interest in creating and developing high-quality theater outside New York was refreshing. As Parker put it, ?We?re not afraid to get in your face a little bit. When watching a Kitchen Dog production, don?t plan on texting or thinking about what?s for dinner.?
If you happen to be in Dallas, throughout June you can catch Kitchen Dog Theatre?s pay-what-you-can staged readings featuring new voices of local, regional, and national playwrights. The mainstage production of Long Way Go Down