Getting to Know Bryan White - Dallas Theater Center
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Getting to Know Bryan White

What do you do as the Director of Production?

As Director of Production, I am responsible for leading the production department, which consists of our stage management, scenery, technical direction, props, lighting, sound, video, costumes, wardrobe, hair and make-up, as well as the safety of all of our productions. I have a talented team of managers that report to me who lead their individual teams, and I am here to support their work and provide them with focus, guidance and feedback to deliver the highest quality art. In addition to collaborating with these talented folks, I lead our department’s budgeting and scheduling efforts throughout the season planning process, to ensure that what we’re putting on stage we can afford and get done on time. I do all of this while framing our department’s work through the lens of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and figuring out how we can advance this critical work both here at Dallas Theater Center and nationally in production.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Clearing obstacles. Theatrical production is full of obstacles, challenges, puzzles and other rocks that have to be moved in order to make great plays. There’s nothing more satisfying than encountering a challenge, understanding the underlying reasons and leveraging the needed resources to get that thing out of the way so that our teams can focus on doing great work. It requires a lot of patience, persistence and precision, but it is worth it.

How did you start working in theater?

I discovered theater at a young age and couldn’t quite place my finger on what I wanted to do. I always tell people that I knew there was something interesting about the relationship between what was happening on stage, what was happening backstage and all of the conversations that had to occur in order to make it all happen simultaneously. I began working professionally as an actor in eastern North Carolina, where I grew up, but quickly discovered that stage management was my passion. I spent years freelancing as a stage manager and assistant director in educational and regional theater in North Carolina and Virginia before discovering the wonderful world of theme parks, where I stage managed, production managed, assistant directed and produced. From there I pivoted into an operational and production management path, and the rest is history.

You joined Dallas Theater Center during the pandemic. What can you tell us about that experience?

The day before I was going to fly to Dallas from Miami for a week of meetings was the day the theater shut down. (I got a call saying, “Don’t get on that plane tomorrow!”). I officially started in mid-March and didn’t actually move to Dallas until June, so my first several months were spent leading my team remotely with a 1 hour time difference. While this certainly wasn’t the most ideal start for me, it was a stark reminder of the need to trust the knowledge and talents of the managers on my team and clear the way for them to be great at what they do. 

The other major challenge has been the season planning itself. In a normal world, we might make 1 or 2 major plans for the season, budget and schedule them out accordingly, discover a few challenges and have to adjust. At the time of writing this, we’ve made over 20 different season plans, with full accompanying weekly calendars and budgets; this is complex, time consuming and frankly, can be disheartening when it becomes clear that you have to abandon a specific plan.  The uncertainties of the spread of the virus, the governmental and public health response and the general societal risk tolerance make the planning process extremely challenging, but I’m excited for what lessons we learn during this time and how we can apply those for future seasons. 

You just moved across the country! How do you like Texas so far?

I love it. As I mentioned, I came here from Miami, where I was working in a corporate leadership role in the Cruise Industry for a number of years. My husband and I decided to move to downtown Dallas so that we could make it easier on ourselves to discover everything the city has to offer. Once things begin opening up more fully, I’m sure we’ll explore more, but so far I’m very impressed with the variety and accessibility of the city, as well as the hospitality of the people.

In the Bleak Midwinter: A Christmas Carol for Our Time will be a filmed adaptation. How does preparing for that differ from preparing a traditional staged show?

We’re working under an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild for this production, which is different from what we would normally do with Actors’ Equity Association. This makes a big difference to the way we prepare, as the terminology, standards, and expectations are different. We, of course, have robust safety protocols in place, which are well above any union’s standards, and will be testing everyone involved in the production on a regular basis. 

We have engaged a talented videographer who will be collaborating with us on the filmed elements of the production, which adds a layer of complexity to the process – we have to think about things like where the cameras are going to go and how long we need to edit everything that we capture to get it to our patrons in time. These aren’t things we normally factor into a production schedule. 

The rehearsal and technical rehearsals will be relatively similar to our normal process; our actors will work with the director in a room for a few weeks before transitioning into the theater space to integrate all of the technical elements. Then, instead of opening the show for a live audience, we will bring in the film crew and cameras and spend two days capturing the show. 

One of the other big adjustments we have to make is the detail to which we finish things like paint, props and make-up. Normally, the closest audience member may be anywhere from 7 to 12 feet away from the set or actors’ faces; because we’re doing this on camera, there are close-ups, so things you wouldn’t notice sitting in the fifth row, you’ll definitely see (and you can pause and zoom in!). In our process of designing and building the show, our team is taking this into account and coming up with some exciting solutions that we can’t wait for our audiences to see in the finished production.

The 2020-2021 Season is going to be completely unique. How are you preparing?

In addition to some of the detail I’ve already outlined, we really have 2 big principles in the Production department that we’re working off of: 

1 – Worry about everything, panic about nothing. I’m constantly monitoring the state of the virus, local case counts, vaccine progress, public health protocols, government response and any other data point that I can get my hands on. I spend hours each day taking this information in, processing it and figuring out how it will impact every aspect of how we work, how we schedule and how we budget. I do all of that, and then take a step back and make the best decisions possible with the information available. 

2 – Breathe. With so much uncertainty, and the natural desire to want to act quickly and decisively all of the time, it’s easy to forget to breathe, think through priorities and contemplate the consequences of our decisions. Every theater in the country is going through the same challenges we are, and many haven’t fared so well. So taking a moment to think about those artists and artisans who are out of work, with no real plan for when they will get back helps me to put our challenges in perspective, slow down and approach the work we’re doing with a sense of gratitude and purpose.

If you could produce any play or musical, which would you choose?

Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812. It was one of the first musicals in many years to genuinely delight me. The material is rich, the music is memorable and every audience in the world should just get a night in the theater that is pure, irreverent spectacle.

You used to work for a cruise line. What can you tell us about that experience?

Working in the cruise industry is an experience I encourage all younger theater makers to have, regardless of what your specific interest is. Besides getting paid to see the world, you’re also exposed to cultural perspectives, languages and styles of working totally different from your own. The first contract I did on a ship was stage managing a Cirque show for 9 months while sailing around the Mediterranean. I value this experience so much not just because of the 30 pounds I gained from pasta and red wine, but because the cast and crew I was working with were almost entirely from non-English speaking countries. This meant that when I was communicating notes and feedback, or when I needed to restage a scene at the last minute, I had to learn to be clear and concise in how I was communicating, ‘cut the fluff’ and get to the point. I also learned the importance of tone in communicating feedback, and those lessons have stuck with me throughout my career. And the shopping wasn’t so bad either.

What actor would play you in the movie version of your life?

Though he’s a bit older than me, I’ve been told I have a striking resemblance to RuPaul Charles; take that for what it is.

The Production Department along with other Dallas Theater Center staff members made protective face masks that were donated around Dallas-Fort Worth. What can you tell us about that?

This was a great effort spearheaded by our Costume Director Micheal Waid; at the start of the pandemic, we recognized that there was a real need to use the resources and talents that we had to contribute positively in any ways possible. One of the most obvious was to leverage our costume shop to create face masks that could be donated to medical facilities. I’m so proud that not only did our full costume shop dive into this effort wholeheartedly, but many other staff members, and even our Board Chair,

participated. This speaks to the type of people we have here at Dallas Theater Center and how seriously we take serving our community. Our efforts now focus more on the building of costumes for the upcoming productions, but even in the past few days, our Costume team has constructed a full complement of masks for our staff to ensure that everyone on our team is comfortable, while they’re being safe. 

Do you have any advice for someone who’d like to get involved with theater, but doesn’t know where to start?

Do what I did and just start somewhere, even if that isn’t where you think you’ll end up. One of the great things about gaining experience working in live theater is that it’s all cumulative. What you learn as an actor benefits you if you want to be a director; what you learn as an electrician makes you a better stage manager; what you learn as a box office manager could help make you a better producer. So, start somewhere, strive to be focused and prepared in that role and carry any of your experience forward to whatever your longer term plan may be.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you like to talk about?

Dallas Theater Center’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion efforts in Production! EDI is a serious focus for Dallas Theater Center, and is a big part of the national conversation right now that is long overdue.

In production departments in every theater in the world, it’s a big problem usually because the focus becomes on ‘getting the show open’ and everything else takes a second place. We’re engaged in complicated, hard and important work right now to understand the EDI challenges we have in our production department, especially as they relate to representation in many positions, including stage management and our production department heads. I am one of only 5 Black, Indigenous or Person of Color Directors of Production working in the theater right now, and so the seriousness of this problem couldn’t be more clear to me. However, our focus is on spreading the urgency of this work throughout our entire department and inspiring a heart-set shift as we move forward with new thinking, attitudes and actions.