Heroes, Villains, Revenge Plots: WWE Is Like Shakespeare, But With Smashed Chairs

Categories: Theater

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WWE Inc.
Roman Reigns over Randy Orton -- and the ladies' hearts.
WWE returned to American Airlines Center this Sunday, and this being a culture blog, we asked Jaime-Paul Falcone to go and send a sketch of what exactly goes at a WWE Live event. Drama, that's what. Lots of drama, plus merchandising.

ACT I
Scene 1: Thousands of neon-clad children run through the aisles of the American Airlines Center, their parents trying to control them as excitement builds. The reason for the neon, and the reason most of the children are here, is professional wrestler John Cena. Cena is a man who looks as if he was chiseled out of marble by a Renaissance artist who received prophetic dreams that gave him glimpses into the pages of Muscle & Fitness and Men's Health magazines. He's also the face of professional wrestling, a man who looks like a real life super hero, and the man every small boy wants to be. Calm, cool, collected and usuall dressed in eye-catching colors that accentuate his giant muscles, he's the reason World Wrestling Entertainment is able to pack an arena on a random Sunday afternoon.

He's also not here.

An announcer stands in the ring and says John Cena is not there (he's off filming a movie with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey at the moment). Any fans who want refunds have 20 minutes to get them. On cue, the theme music of wrestling and pop culture legend Ric "The Nature Boy" Flair hits, and out steps the legend himself. Thoughts of refunds quickly pass.

Scene 2: Professional wrestling's roots are steeped in the world of carnivals; it's stories - and there are always stories behind the wrestling - are simple, steeped in stereotypes and engaging. In the ring below, one of these stories is being told. Seth Rollins may be one of the most handsome men I've ever seen, but he's dressed like a deep sea diver and has a permanent sneer on his face. He's the black hat, the bad guy. His opponent Dean Ambrose is dressed like a low-rent stepfather in a bad play. His eyes look manic, and he's prone to throwing tantrums every few seconds. He's loudly cheered and is considered the good guy. The story they're telling is one of revenge: at some point in the recent past Rollins aggrieved Ambrose, and Ambrose is determined to settle the score. What's interesting about all this is watching how not only the two performers work together, but also how the referee works with them.

Yes, wrestling is scripted, and it might be the most interesting part of it. Watching the referee convey direction from the ring announcer who seems to be in charge of everything to the performers is a marvel to see. To add to the air of excitement, an obviously planted fan sits in the front row starting, and stopping cheers. We may be in a state-of-the-art arena, but we're never far from the carnival.


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Fun House Theatre and Film Puts Theater Critics in the Spotlight

Categories: Theater

There's a running joke among critics that the reason they are given aisle seats is that they are statistically more likely to die during a play than another audience member. On the aisle, the dead critic is more easily removed from the theater.

The death of the critic is something many actors have wished for, if only in jest. Conversely, there are plays that have made critics wish for their own swift demise. Critic as villain is a theatrical trope. For decades, playwrights have written critics into plays only to mock them, and occasionally kill them. Because before the Internet, the critic's pen was strong enough to shut down a show in a week.

In Jeff Swearingen's new play Stiff- which opens at Fun House Theatre and Film August 1 - the producer at Tin Box Theatre finds Mickey Blake, the city's most powerful critic, dead after a show's opening night. The producer, director and playwright don't want the critic to have died in their show, so what ensues is part Bullets Over Broadway, part Weekend at Bernie's.

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Dallas Playwright Jonathan Norton Receives $15,000 Grant for Mississippi Goddamn

Categories: Theater

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Classi Nance
A reading of Mississippi Goddamn

Jonathan Norton almost didn't apply for the Artistic Innovations grant twice. But the third time was the charm for the local playwright, who was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance this week. Of 137 applicants, Norton was one of 15 recipients of the grants, "awarded to support the creation and presentation of new work."

Norton was awarded the grant for his play, Mississippi Goddamn, a fictional account of the events surrounding civil rights activist Megdar Evers. He's been workshopping the play for the past year, thanks to a Diaspora Performing Arts Commission from the South Dallas Cultural Center and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Dan Savage Headlines Uptown Players' 4th Annual Pride Performing Arts Festival

Categories: Theater

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Savage Love Live

For four years, Uptown Players has taken a week to celebrate its existence as the city's LGBT-centric theater. In every season, the company presents shows that that connect with or describe the gay identity, but during the Pride Performing Arts Festival, the shows are more unabashed. This week, Uptown Players announced its festival line-up for September 12 - 20, which includes nine days of cabaret performances, plays and a special presentation of Savage Love Live- a live show featuring sex columnist Dan Savage, who created the "It Gets Better" movement.

It all kicks off at 8 p.m. September 12 with a performance of The Last Session, a show that was part of Uptown Players' first season about a man's struggle with AIDS and the power of friendship and music to restore faith in humanity and life.


The festival takes place at the Kalita Humphreys Theater for the festival range from $10-40 for general admission; passes to all nine days cost $75 and can be purchased at uptownplayers.org.


Full line-up from the press release:


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In Mania/Gift Shelby-Allison Hibbs Explores Bipolar Disorder's Relationship with Creativity

Categories: Theater

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Scott Mitchell
Shelby-Allison Hibbs outside the Bath House Cultural Center.

Standing outside the light brick structure of the Bath House Cultural Center that lies nuzzled against one of the less-trodden sides of White Rock Lake, Shelby-Allison Hibbs happily admits that the artistic hub has been like a second home to her.

Hibbs, a theatre director who obtained her MFA from Baylor University and later went to the New York and New Jersey area to hone her craft, only arrived in Dallas September of last year. Ever since, the Bath House has functioned as a sort of home base for her. She's directed several plays there, the most recent of which, Mania/Gift, is part of the Festival of Independent Theatres, which opens Friday and runs through August 12.


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A Handy Guide to the Festival of Independent Theatres

Categories: Theater

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Wingspan Theatre
So, that's why they call it "FIT"

Tucked into a sleepy neighborhood on the edge of White Rock Lake, the Bath House Cultural Center is one of those venues only locals know. It's part theater, party art gallery and the terrace overlooks the lake with a view of downtown Dallas in the distance. When the Texas sun sets and sky swims in pinks and purples, there are very places more picturesque in the entire city.

For much of the year, the space hosts small art exhibitions or occasionally a play, but for four weeks every summer, the Festival of Independent Theatres offers you just the excuse you need to visit this small Dallas treasure at the corner of NorthCliff and E. Lawther Drives. But navigating to the Bath House Cultural Center is just the first step.


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Best Theater to See in Dallas in July

Categories: Theater

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Courtesy Echo Theatre
Cara Reid and Whitney Holotik in mania/gift by Shelby-Alison Hibbs.

It can seem a bit quiet around this city during the summer, because in case you just moved here, it's about to get really freaking hot. Sure, these summer storms have kept the temperatures in the refreshingly high 80's, but beware the "searing pain" our weather blogger predicts in regard to the impending triple digits. So, as you might imagine, much of our art scene escapes to much friendlier climates in the summer. The only outlier is the local theater scene, where the summer is a time for festivals, musicals, and -god forbid - outdoor theater. Here are our picks this month.


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Dallas Theater Center Puts a New Spin on Les Mis, This Time Without All That Spinning

Categories: Theater

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Karen Almond
Wait, is this a production of Hair? #theaterhumor

The first and last time I saw Forbidden Broadway, one of the sketches lampooned Les Miserables by having the actors run in circles, executing costume changes and singing dramatic songs. The 1985 musical about a man who stole a loaf of bread is infamous for having a stage that rotates through scene changes. If the original scenic designer took the idea of "revolution" to a literal extreme, the audiences didn't seem to mind because for the show's first two decades in existence the stage spun and the audiences bought tickets. It wasn't until the 25th Anniversary Tour that performers were given the chance to stand on solid ground on a stationary stage.

Now, four years later, the Dallas Theater Center has made a few more changes to reignite the beloved musical in truly modern ways. In this new version, Les Miserables - which previewed Friday and opens officially July 4 - is a combustible narrative of rebellion and insurgence carrying themes directly from Victor Hugo's novel that resonate in the world's political climate.

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We Ask Theater Professionals, "Why So Much Shakespeare?"

Categories: Theater

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Shakespeare Dallas
Jeffrey Schmidt and Tiffany Hobbs in Much Ado About Nothing.

In the past month, I have received five press releases about upcoming productions of 13 Shakespeare plays. Well, technically one is a performance of his sonnets. If Mama Mia! is ubiquitous, Billy Shakes is omnipresent. As a nerdy lit major in college, the idea that I would someday grow tired of the Bard or iambic pentameter seemed impossible. He's the king of playwrights, a poetry god and his sonnets fed my romantic urges.

I've never planned a theater season before, so rather than chalk it up to a lack of creativity, I decided to do a quick investigation into the question, "Why so much Shakespeare?" I called up a few directors and actors and posed that simple question. You know what I found? Shakespeare is cheap, well-attended and these crazy dramatists love the heck out of him.


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Playwright Jonathan Norton on Writing the Show Nina Simone Sang About

Categories: Theater

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Playwrights seek inspiration everywhere. Dallas-based writer Jonathan Norton is no exception. The prolific dramatist is constantly on the hunt for a good story, particularly one that strikes a chord with him.

For his newest play Mississippi Goddamn, inspiration arrived on a trip to the titular state where he was reminded of the history of a civil rights activist Medgar Evers. Growing up in the South, it seemed wrong to Norton how rarely he'd heard the story of the Evers family and he thought, "There's a play in there somewhere."

He's been workshopping this play for the past few months, thanks to the support of generous local grants, with a full production slated for next year. He's been inviting local actors, directors and audience members to hear the play and give feedback. Then, he burrows down somewhere quiet for a few months making edits. He's back with the newest version for a staged reading at the South Dallas Cultural Center at 7 p.m. Monday. Hear the story that turned Norton's head and stick around for the talkback. Earlier this week, we chatted with him this week about the show, the story and playwriting in Dallas.


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