Hamburger Done at DTC

Categories: Arts
Richard Hamburger's decision to leave the Dallas Theater Center is accompanied by a press release and a lot of questions.

Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director Richard Hamburger is out. Not for another year, but, as our friends at FrontBurner noted this morning, the timing does seem odd: DTC is due to move into the new Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre in 2009 (or whenever it's finished in the new Dallas Center for the Performing Arts downtown).

Hamburger's been at DTC for nearly 15 years. In that time he's had his hits and his misses. On the plus side, he's brought in local premieres of Topdog/Underdog, Anna in the Tropics and other award-winning plays. On the negative side, he turned DTC into a theater that brings in mediocre shows from out-of-state houses (anybody see that dreadful two-piano My Fair Lady or the one-man Fully Committed?) and employs few local actors, designers or directors. Hamburger prefers to cast out of New York. This past season saw one of Dallas's best actors, Chamblee Ferguson, relegated to the role of mute spear carrier in DTC's The Illusion, coming off three huge starring roles on other Dallas stages. The best shot locals have is to dance around as merry revelers in the annual production of A Christmas Carol, the biggest moneymaker of any DTC season.

It hasn't always been such a closed shop at DTC. Back in the 1960s and '70s, under founding director Paul Baker (his daughter Robyn Flatt runs Dallas Children's Theater), Dallas Theater Center had a resident company of 30 actors and produced the work of homegrown playwrights (including Preston Jones' Texas Trilogy, among others).

Hamburger's cast lists are replete with out-of-towners, mostly Yale and Juilliard grads. Fine and dandy for audience members who don't know the difference, but by excluding Dallas actors from meaningful roles, it perpetuates the idea that the local acting community isn't good enough to work at DTC. It's a closed shop. Don't even try auditioning there.

Recent seasons have been up and down, with audience members walking out of F-word heavy Topdog/Underdog in droves. DTC subscribers don't like to be challenged too much. Cheerful musicals about Fats Waller and Hank Williams sell tickets. Dramas about brain-damaged children (last season's Joe Egg) don't.

Hamburger, from stories we've heard over the years, wasn't an easy artistic director to work for, artistic temperaments being what they are. And when he hired Ryan Pointer, who had almost single-handedly driven Plano Rep out of business, as his director of marketing, well...at least that didn't last long. Pointer's gone too.

DTC's official announcement is after the jump. --Elaine Liner


Dallas, TX (August 15, 2006) -- Longtime Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director Richard Hamburger announced today that he will step down in the summer of 2007.


Hamburger said "The end of the 2006/2007 season will mark fifteen rewarding years in Dallas, and twenty years as an artistic director. I have loved working with the many gifted artists and staff members who give so much to the art of theater; I greatly appreciate the support and encouragement that I have received over the years from the Dallas Theater Center's patrons, contributors, and Trustees; and I consider it a privilege to have served the Dallas community. After a decade and a half, I feel energized and excited to explore new possibilities, knowing that I leave the Theater Center in an excellent position to attract vital new talent."


Hamburger has served as DTC artistic director since 1992 and has staged some of the theater's most important and inspired productions. During his tenure, he has introduced Dallas to a broad range of new work by playwrights that include Octavio Solis, Charles Mee, Eric Overmyer and Tony Kushner. He also has renewed the Theater Center's commitment to reinterpreting the classics for modern audiences with powerful productions such as Hamlet, A Streetcar Named Desire, Our Town, A Doll's House and The Seagull.


Among Hamburger's greatest artistic successes are his innovative productions of American musicals, beginning with the widely acclaimed South Pacific in 1999, followed by Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady.


Hamburger's notable achievements include the expansion of the DTC's education and outreach programs, and the creation, with Melissa Cooper, of the Big D Festival of the Unexpected (1992-2000). This Festival brought writers such as Maria Irene Fornes, Naomi Iizuka, Chay Yew, and Suzan-Lori Parks to Dallas and inspired subsequent theater festivals in this area. Hamburger's focus on new work continues with the DTC's Fresh Ink/Forward Motion new play series. He is nationally known for nurturing and training younger theater artists, several of whom have gone on to run their own theaters, as well as for bringing internationally acclaimed designers to the Theater Center.


DTC Board Chair John Howell said "We greatly appreciate Richard's extraordinary contributions to the Dallas Theater Center over the years. At the same time, we also respect Richard's desire to explore new opportunities, such as the Salzburg Marionette Theater's production of The Sound of Music, which he has been working on in Austria this summer. We will miss him, and certainly wish him well in his new endeavors."


Hamburger's long tenure at the Dallas Theater Center is unusual for artistic directors. He came to Dallas from Maine, where he had been artistic director of the Portland Stage Company for five years. He plans to remain in his post as DTC's Artistic Director until next summer, when he will have served 15 years with DTC, and will direct two classic plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Taming of the Shrew, during DTC's upcoming season.


In recognition of his long and renowned service to the Dallas Theater Center, Hamburger will be named its first Artistic Director Emeritus, and it is anticipated that he will continue to direct productions at the DTC from time to time in the future.
DTC officials plan to conduct a national search for their next artistic director. They believe that the Theater Center and Dallas provide a strong venue for attracting top candidates for the position.


Howell said that, with the theater's upcoming move to the new Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, which is being built as part of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and is scheduled to open in 2009, this is a unique opportunity for the Dallas Theater Center to explore new directions.


"The Wyly Theatre will be one of the finest theater facilities in the world when it is completed," Howell said. "The innovations and great flexibility provided by the Wyly Theatre, as well as the Dallas Theater Center's strong local support and outstanding national reputation, should be very attractive to the next artistic director."


The Dallas Theater Center was established in the mid-1950s and has continued to flourish as one of the nation's outstanding regional theaters. The DTC currently is headquartered in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Kalita Humphreys Theater, located at 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard near downtown Dallas.


During the almost 50 years that it has been producing plays, the Dallas Theater Center has had only four artistic directors. Paul Baker served in the post for 23 years, followed by Adrian Hall, Ken Bryant, and Richard Hamburger.


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