Kevin Moriarty, its executive director, announced a devastating round of layoffs weeks ago that sent shock waves through Dallas’ arts community.
DTC has reduced its full-time staff by more than 43%, from 67 to 38 full-time employees. Its former managing director retired not long before the cuts were made. The cuts were necessary, Moriarty says, to balance the company’s annual budget before the start of its new fiscal year on Sept. 1.
And now, seeking to heal from a pandemic that brought the group to its knees, DTC has announced a bold new season — but one staked heavily on financial partnerships with other companies. The idea: lure people back to the theater with such crowd-pleasers as The Rocky Horror Show, to be staged in the days before Halloween.
“We are having to do what everybody else in Dallas has had to do — balance our budget and lean into our mission,” Moriarty says. “That means, how can we reduce costs? How can we maximize income? And how can we do that with creativity and joy?”
Of course, not everyone is celebrating.
Theresa Zicolello resigned as general manager of Dallas Theater Center last December but is working with the company through August as a consultant.
She sees the present moment as existential for DTC because “they have lost all of their talented staff and craftspeople. And now, in order to make the season successful, they’re compelled to opt for financial considerations over people.”
She sighs and says, “I know three other people who just quit, so everyone’s leaving still.”
Shared productions make sense, she says, because they distribute the financial burden.
Live theater appears to have suffered more than any other art form during the pandemic, so, Moriarty says, DTC is not alone in embarking on a reconstruction.
In an interview in April, Moriarty acknowledged that attendance has slumped so badly since the onset of COVID-19 that “70 is the new 100.” The New York Times has reported that “across the country, audiences remain well below pre-pandemic levels.”
As a result, Dallas Theater Center plans to begin its next fiscal year with a trimmed budget of $7.6 million, down about $3 million from the previous annual budget, which Moriarty says hovered between $10.5 million and $11 million a year.
Moriarty, the former longtime artistic director who became executive director in January, admits the layoffs were “a lot,” calling them “the worst thing I’ve ever had to do and the hardest thing for this company to do.” He tallies the number of actual layoffs, however, at 24, with the remaining work force leaving voluntarily.
In his words, “audience behaviors have changed” — people are now far more comfortable staying home.
“People’s behavior outside of theater-going — just in their lives, people’s lived behavior has changed — and that makes it very hard to predict current demand, in the way that we used to be able to.”
So, in announcing DTC’s upcoming season, he puts it this way: “We’re attempting to do a wide variety of plays that will attract audiences to come back to live performance and to continue the pattern of coming back.”
— The Rocky Horror Show opens the season at the Kalita Humphreys Theater and runs from Sept. 23 through Oct. 29. Moriarty calls it “the perfect musical for Halloween.” Audience members will, he says, “be welcome to attend in drag, despite the State of Texas’ determination to stamp out drag and joyful expressions of sexuality and gender.” He adds, “We chose The Rocky Horror Show because we’re launching annual Halloween programming.”
— The perennial crowd-pleaser Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which was first produced by Paul Baker for the company’s 1969-70 season, will open in the Wyly Theatre on Nov. 30 and run through Dec. 30.
— DTC will showcase a world premiere at the Kalita with resident playwright Jonathan Norton’s I Am Delivered’t. The alumnus of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, who grew up in Pleasant Grove, is, some believe, capable of one day winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama. As part of the theater’s new economic approach, I Am Delivered’t is a shared production with the Tony Award-winning Actors Theatre of Louisville. It opens on Feb. 2 and runs through Feb. 18. Norton’s play is set in south Oak Cliff, in the parking lot of a church. The partnership underscores what Moriarty calls a “through-line” of the new season, which is, “How do you increase the work you’re doing on the stage and control costs?” Collaboration, he says, is the answer. He calls it “an example of how we are re-thinking our business while continuing to serve the art and the artists we believe in.”
— Every Brilliant Thing will open on March 12 and run through March 24 in the rehearsal hall of the Wyly.
— Dial M for Murder, a partnership with Geva Theatre Center of Rochester, N.Y., will open April 5 and run through April 28.
— Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer is a regional premiere and a collaboration with Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts Theatre Center, where the show will take place. A member of DTC’s Brierley Resident Acting Co. and a Broadway veteran, Liz Mikel will return to Dallas as Hamer, a 1960s civil rights activist. The show will open on May 2 and run through May 19.
— Disney’s The Little Mermaid will serve as the season’s finale. It will open July 12 and run through Aug. 4 in Potter Rose Performance Hall at the Wyly. Directed by Moriarty, the play will feature 200 “community members of all ages, many appearing onstage for the first time,” as part of the company’s Public Works project.
Last season, DTC staged four plays, plus A Christmas Carol. This season, it’s staging six, plus A Christmas Carol and, adding an extra week to each play, which Moriarty expects to produce “more revenue at the same cost.”
He sees it as a silver lining, saying that “in less than 12 total months, from January of 2023 to January of 2024, we’re going to have a story that is an impressive turnaround story, that is centered in our mission and financially healthy. It’s been an exhausting journey but also one well worth taking.”