“You stumble onto a Eugene Lee one time in a lifetime. When it happens you just marry him and keep him with you,” exclaims Adrian Hall, with the kind of extravagant flourish that marks his personal as well as his directorial style. “Collaboration between artists—if that doesn’t happen, there’s nothing! No piece of material, no design concept, no movie rights, none of that is anywhere near as important as the survival of a core of artists, working together.”
If there’s anyone in the American theatre who can afford to get on a high horse on the subject of resident companies, it’s Adrian Hall. Everybody talks about cultivating a company, but Hall is one of the few who has done it, first in Providence, R.I., where he has headed Trinity Square Repertory Company since 1964, and more recently in his home state of Texas, where this year he took on additional duties as artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center.
Hall’s two-fisted experiment is off to a good start—productions of Brecht’s Galileo and Shepard’s Fool for Love (both principally cast with Trinity Square talent) have been especially well received in Dallas—but the 56-year-old director admits that the creation of two free-standing yet compatible theatre companies 2,000 miles apart is a demanding and risky business.
“But I’m an optimist,” he insists. “I have a naïve belief that the next major step we need to take is tying it all together. I don’t mean that theatre should be McDonald’s—that we should have the same hamburgers and the same theatre in Dallas that we do in Providence—but we do have to have a way of interacting with one another, instead of just reacting to the commercial world. If a great piece develops in Louisville, or L.A., why not bring it to the rest of the country? Why not bypass the commercial world entirely?”
The main reason such a networking system of “mutually beneficial exchange” hasn’t developed, contends Hall, is that “theatres don’t keep resident companies.” So in order to redo a play six months later, you have to mount a whole new production. “That’s not feasible,” he shrugs.
“Companies can be built economically—it becomes more complicated when you bring in a name actor, a commercial commodity, as when we got Jean Marsh to do Eliza Doolittle at Trinity; or when you bring in a different directorial sensibility, like Liviu Ciulei at the Guthrie, when that theatre was reaching wildly for a new beginning after a decline. But whatever the difficulties, it is crucial to keep a company together. If that doesn’t happen, the whole movement becomes about management, not art. The artist has to stay at the center.”
That’s the route that Hall intends to follow in Dallas, where the recruiting of a locally based acting company is underway—and where Hall’s once-in-a-lifetime designer Lee has jumped in with both feet, redesigning the mainstage of DTC’s Frank Lloyd Wright Theatre and designing a new $1.5 million prefabricated space in the city’s arts district.
“It’s when you get to a massive work like Galileo, or the Tempest we did at Trinity last year, that the ensemble thing really pays off,” Hall emphasizes. “You have Gene, you have actors who have worked together for 10 or 12 years—and they can reach in and find themselves in the work. That’s when you have a chance to create the kind of theatre that changes men’s souls.”
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