Ready to get FIT? Every summer for the past twelve years an array of intrepid theatre artists from all across north Texas converge on White Rock Lake, but it’s not to bike its perimeter or run a marathon. They meet to create, invent, percolate, explore, perform and produce some of the region’s most unusual, seldom seen, original, and avant-garde performance art in the tiny black box theatre space at the Bath House Cultural Center. Since 1999 small companies without permanent, regular home venues have presented productions lasting less than sixty minutes in a repertoire of rotating two-block segments over a carefully orchestrated four-week span. Filled with a spirit of cooperative, creative adventure that delights audiences and fills the small theater to capacity, each company (including some long-time, established pros as well as novice start-ups) brings something unique to the “family-style potluck” that helps refine every year’s festival into an amazing, well-integrated whole. The longest running festival of its kind in north Texas, the Festival of Independent Theatres promises a dynamic thirteenth season with comedies, dramas, classical works and three new plays by regional playwrights, all imbued with a playful, avant-garde spirit. Back again in the adjacent visual art galleries curated by Enrique Fernandez Cervantes, the Fictional Art Exhibit will showcase regional and local art commissioned to reflect the themes and titles of the plays in repertoire. This year’s FIT introduces “FIT Underground”, a café offering refreshment, live music and stand-up at the shore level of the cultural center for attendees’ and participants’ enjoyment alike.
What’s it like to manage a complex undertaking like FIT, with eight different companies with divergent needs in a small space with limited technical capacity and little to no storage space for elaborate set pieces?
It requires a calm, focused person with boundless energy, strong organizational skills, a great sense of humor and absolute respect for artists and the art they create to “herd these cats” into a unified entity with audience appeal. Regional freelance actor and director David Meglino has held the managing director position with FIT for three years, starting the ball rolling in January yearly, with fresh submissions to review.
Meglino shares some of his perspectives on FIT:
How do you choose the shows each year? Thirteen companies presented proposals this year, a good average of submission. We like to find a balance between established previous participants and new companies, particularly if they can bring a new audience base to the mix. There is no set quota system: not a certain number of comedies or dramas, for example, not always the same number of shows, although eight is the best functioning number for the four week span. We have a selection committee comprised of myself, Marty van Kleeck (Manager of the Bath House Cultural Center) and Russell Dyer (Administrator of the Performing Arts Initiative that manages FIT as a non-profit and its former manager) plus a range of community members. Everyone reads all submissions. Then the group meets to discuss the merits of each play and choose the ones that best work together and compliment the FIT mission.
What’s the great appeal of FIT? There’s something for everyone here—meaning, what offends or confuses one audience member will thrill the next one; and the next show in the performance segment will have the opposite effect. We have a wide community of audience members as well as a wide range of participants, so there is absolutely something for everyone at FIT. I guarantee it!
Who performs at FIT? It’s inclusive, new folks and old hands. Artists find this a vital opportunity to try out something new or different that they may not get to explore in a different production setting. We’ve worked with over 750 actors, directors, designers and producers over the years, just about everyone in the community. New this year?
Dallas Theater Center’s Lee Trull is directing Second Thought’s “Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self”, an original by Texas Theatre’s Eric Steele; and a Hispanic theater company, MaCa Latin Theatrical Group, joins the family. Professional film and stage actress and choreographer Morgana Shaw is directing the seminal gay work “The Madness of Lady Bright” for One-Thirty Productions. On the other end of the spectrum, Triple J Productions, comprised of recent Quad C graduates, has joined the festival for the first time, with a brand new play written and directed by company member Jon Christie. You’ll see short works by David Mamet, Steve Martin, Tennessee Williams and John Guare this year. Eclectic and full of surprises.
How is funding holding up against the challenging economic issues?With the Bath House budget severely slashed by the city, we stretch our dollars carefully. We work with a no bells and whistles bare bones budget. We always get through with Marty and Russell’s ingenuity, and we count on good ticket sales. We also have super interns, sometimes from high school referred by drama teachers, sometimes college, to round out our staff. The next level we’re ready for will be to seek corporate donations. We need to get into grant application cycles, which don’t always seem to coincide with our schedules. Somehow, we always make it work with dedicated in-house teamwork. Everyone involved goes the extra mile to stay on budget and make it a positive, enjoyable, artistic experience for everyone.
Why attend FIT? What better way to spend an afternoon or evening at the theater in Dallas? It’s a real celebration of theater, performed and presented with love, inspiration and commitment by artists who offer something more unique than you’ll find anywhere else in the region.
The 2011 Festival of Independent Theatres runs at the Bath House Cultural Center July 15 through August 6. The four-week one-act play festival features eight shows, each less than sixty minutes in length, performed Thursdays through Sundays in two-show blocks.
The full rundown includes:
- Wingspan Theatre: DOUBLE BILL: “A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot” by Tennessee Williams and “The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year” by John Guare
- Upstart Productions (FIT debut): Steve Martin’s “W.A.S.P.”
- MaCa Latin Theatrical Group (FIT debut): “La Danza de Terpsicore,” an all Spanish work by Frederico Roca
- Second Thought Theatre: world premiere of “Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self” by local playwright Eric Steele
- Rite of Passage Theatre Company: world premiere of “Love Song of the Albanian Sous Chef” by Robert Askins
- One-Thirty Productions: “The Madness of Lady Bright” by Lanford Wilson
- Churchmouse Productions: “Squirrels” by David Mamet
- Triple J Productions (FIT debut): world premiere of “One Phone Call” by Jon Christie
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WingSpan Theatre. Photo by Lowell Sargeant
One Thirty Productions: Photo by Marty Van Kleeck