Kitchen Dog Theater: 2 decades of dynamite art

November 17, 2010 interview at Dallas’ McKinney Avenue Contemporary with KDT Co-Artistic Directors Tina Parker and Christopher Carlos as it will appear in  the December 2010 issue of  Arts & Culture Magazine:

“It is the mission of Kitchen Dog provide a place where questions of justice, morality, and human freedom can be explored.” Today’s theater audiences tend to spend shrinking discretionary funds on safe, proven stage productions.  Remarkable to find a company thriving with a mission to produce challenging works, often penned by emerging playwrights without ‘bankable’ cache. For twenty years that’s precisely what Kitchen Dog Theater has done. Too busy to rest on hard-earned laurels, they’re gathering momentum for the decades to come. Co-artistic Directors Tina Parker and Christopher Carlos reflect on the company’s achievements and its positive future.

How did you come up with the name and the mission? Have they changed over 20 years?

Tina: It’s in our playbill: “The name Kitchen Dog Theater is drawn from Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, Waiting for Godot. In this play, the “kitchen dog” is a symbol of the victim/participant in our society’s seemingly endless cycle of ignorance and injustice. We call ourselves Kitchen Dog because our work seeks to question this cycle.” We’ve been around since 1993 and 1996, respectively, and inherited the company from dedicated folks who cam through SMU’s MFA program. Beckett profoundly resonated with them. Their mission is still active and vital for us. Not one word of it has changed. The company has grown, the scope we have, budget size, the number of artists, but the mission holds, cohesive and strong.

Talk about your company? Its structure?

Christopher: We have a little over thirty members. Artists must do at least three shows with us before being asked to join. Aesthetics, work ethics, people we trust, figure into it.

How do you choose a season?

Tina: We start with the mission statement. Every member submits a list. Then we take input from our brothers and sisters with the National New Play Network. Our basic tenet is good acting. We look for actor-driven stories. How creative it allows each actor to be, like in Charm…Chris and I cull the season together, work out logistics. This year we really wanted to showcase the range of our acting talent.

What is your entry for the region-wide Horton Foote Festival?

Tina: We chose three rarely performed one acts and feature an ensemble of five. Blind Date (four actors), The Man Who Climbed Pecan Trees (5 actors), which feels like Tennessee Williams, and The One-Armed Man, (three actors) which feels like Sam Shepard. Minimal set and costume changes, in our smaller, up close and personal space. Horton Foote has been special to me since my SMU days with Dale Moffat. The plays deal with adult themes but appeal to high school students, too.

Talk about producing new works, a yearly part of programming:

Christopher: We’re founding members of the National New Play Network, their regional representative. There are over 26 companies associated in our network, of every budget and size, which chat regularly about producing and marketing, sharing scripts and concepts for producing and fostering new shows.

Tina: We review over 300 scripts yearly. Got a great play? Send it to me @ 3120 McKinney Ave, Dallas TX 75204. Full-length play, due January 1. We look more favorably on non-produced works, for plays that resonate with our mission statement.

What led you to Kathleen Cahill’s play Charm?

Christopher: Charm was read at one of the two NNPN showcases this time last year and fascinated us. It was fun to see feminist Fuller’s impact and the staid “great authors” being so quirky and theatrical. This play is pure theatrical magic. Cahill learned to swim at Walden Pond. It inspired elements in the play, particularly main character Fuller’s fascination with and fear of water.

Highlights from the past twenty years?

Tina: These plays are like our children; aspects of different shows stand out for so many different memorable reasons. We have a long history with Shakespeare. And loved Pinter this year, Chekhov from last year….

Your next show is Macbeth?

Tina: It opens February 4. It’s an eight-person cast, adapted and directed by Matthew Gray. Brechtian? Everybody plays a witch except Macbeth…. Dallas has been amazing for us. The reason we’ve stayed here is the audience. We have a really loyal subscriber base and appreciate every single one of them.

Kathleen Cahill’s Charm runs through December 11, 2010; Macbeth, adapted and directed by Matthew Gray, opens February 4, 2011. 214-953-1055

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