100 Dallas Creatives: No. 72 Classical Thespian Raphael Parry
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Know an artistic mind who deserves a little bit of blog love? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the whos and whys.
via Shakespeare Dallas To be, or not to be?
Dallas' thriving theatre scene can be attributed to a number of factors. The city's investment in a world-class arts district and a continuing influx of coastal expats certainly help create venues and audiences, but the creative forces of actors and directors in Dallas drag the arts scene forward, sometimes kicking and screaming.
Raphael Parry is one of those driving forces. Since the 80's he's been a key player in the Dallas theater scene. Not only did he co-found the 30-year-old Undermain Theatre in Deep Ellum, but when he left that space in the hands of Katherine Owens, he took up a post as the Executive & Artistic Director at Shakespeare Dallas. Since 2002 he has helped bring the Bard to a broader audience in Dallas than ever before. An award-winning thespian in his own right, Parry has dedicated himself to presenting Shakespeare to the people of Dallas in a way that is accessible and audience-friendly without sacrificing the integrity of these historic works.
How have you seen the arts landscape in Dallas change since you took the reins at Shakespeare Dallas in 2002?
Since 2002 in particular, I think we've seen a tectonic shift in terms of quality of programming in Dallas. In the theater world in particular, we've seen a real rise of more people doing better work. And that is great. We've always had a lot of theater going on, though it ebbs and flows with the decades, and we seem to be at a very fertile time right now. The development of the arts district has drawn attention to our community from a national perspective, but there are companies of all sizes here doing really top-notch work. We also see programming throughout the year.
How has Shakespeare Dallas evolved to meet the growing demands of theatregoers in Dallas?
Some of the big changes we've made is adding more programming. When I first started, we only did the summer season. That was it. Then educational tours that worked for about six weeks. Now we're programming year round, which includes summer and fall Shakespeare In the Park, [we've] added one more large production, and now our education program is throughout the full school year and the summer. We embarked on a five-year project with the AT&T Performing Arts Center to cover all of Shakespeare's work in a stage-reading format. At this point, our company is working round-the-clock to produce programming, and I think our quality level has just improved.
How do you go about making Shakespeare more accessible to audiences? Even for people who love the theatre, these are still sometimes boring and esoteric plays.
In my tenure, our companies have also done the first two non Shakespeare plays. I directed Cyrano de Bergerac, and we recently did Tartuffe by Moliere. We're moving outside of just Shakespeare and expanding our company's offerings to include other great classical writers. It's been a huge focus of our work to make Shakespeare accessible to the entire community, and part of that means offering really cheap tickets, but its also in the way that we stage the plays. It's really important that everything we do in terms of production clarifies the play and makes it available to people.
We don't want to be esoteric or offputting. We just did a super-contemporary Romeo and Juliet that was so amazingly fresh. We did Macbeth, set somewhat in the backdrop of the Iraq War. When people saw that production, they understood Macbeth in a way that they hadn't before. Making contemporary parallels to these classic scenes is essential. We're able to draw on our common experience as humans to live production. We've taken those archaic words out that are completely befuddling to people who even study Shakespeare all the time. We're making some judicious edits sometimes, so people don't feel dumb when they watch a play. That's important to me.
What parts of your background in theatre have you brought to Shakespeare Dallas?
I always think about Shakespeare as an innovator. At the time he was writing, he was a creative producer and an actor in his own work. He was pulling from several different models, and I think he became more experimental as he became more skilled as a writer. Especially in the late romances. The Tempest and Winter's Tale are really experimental for their time.
I think of him as the leading force of the avant garde of Elizabethan theatre. And I've always considered myself avant-garde - working with most contemporary playwrights and finding the most beautiful language. That process gave me such a respect for playwrights, and that laid the bedrock for me to enjoy Shakespeare as a writer, poet, and actor. I have to think about expressing these really intense images that he created and make them actionable on stage. All of my work early on with wild, post-modern writers of our current era have helped me handle a writer who is clearly one of the most well-known in the world, and still make his images engaging. We have to use the script and the language to propel the piece forward.
Now that you mostly focus on directing, do you miss acting?
I still split my time. I did a play a year ago, and about every 2 or three years I will. It's important for me to get back on the horse every three years ago, but I am truly focused more and more on directing. The great thing about being a director is that you're serving as this prism, this focusing agent for everyone on the team. The actors, playwrights, and designers. Acting is still enjoyable to me, the adrenaline rush of being on stage and being in front of really large crowds never goes away. You wrestle with those moment to moment decisions as a performer and the crowds, and nothing can beat that rush. As an adrenaline junkie and an actor, I want to be part of that.
5. How can we engage kids and young people to invest in theatre with both their time and their dollars in the future?
Theatre is such a collaborative art form. It requires that everyone work together as a team. We compromise, and find ways of communicating with each other and the audience. I don't see theatre ever going away. Even with all the advent of technology, there's still a primal need for people to come together, for the lights to go down, and for there to be this interchange between performer and audience. The way we consume it may change, but i'm gratified to know that I can go to a patio and see a small piece of theatre. I think we're developing some interesting micro-niches in the world of experimental theatre.
In terms of working with kids, I try to lower the fear factor of performance and creation. When we work as ensembles, I tell them that all ideas have validity. Not all ideas are great, and not all performances are great, but we can validate everyone's artistic impulses. ANd that makes people feel less fearful in participating as both fans and artists. Through this engagement, positive things will come back out.
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