What do you do as Artistic Producer?
Producing means I get to wear a lot of hats. I get to work on all phases of the entertainment process. My job includes helping to curate the season, selecting and hiring the creative teams, overseeing casting, developing new plays and working with national artists and colleagues on co-production opportunities. It is my job to make sure that the artists who come to work at Dallas Theater Center feel at home and empowered while they are here. And it is my job to help find solutions and provide support throughout the creative process. In addition I act as liaison between the artistic endeavors and the administrative endeavors of the organization. It is my goal to be a bridge between every department and what is happening on the artistic side of the theater equation.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Getting to work with a variety of people – not just across all the departments in Dallas Theater Center, but also with other theaters and artists across the country. One of the great joys of working in theater is that each production ends up creating a sense of family for all those involved in that particular production. And I am so very lucky to work on every single production in our season and also to be creating family members across the country as we develop and plan for future productions.
How did you start working in theater?
I started life as a ballerina taking classes from the age of 6. I spent all my summers during high school training with the best dance companies in New York. And I graduated early from high school, at age 16, so that I could dance full-time with the Washington Ballet Company in DC. But I decided a few years in that I should have a back up plan for the day when I could no longer dance ballet professionally. So I started taking college classes part time and ultimately decided to move to LA and enroll in the UCLA Theater Department with dreams of doing musical theater and ending up on Broadway. I took some detours along the way including a graduate degree at the Yale School of Drama and some time as a producer in film and television. I did eventually end up getting to Broadway…but as Producer not a performer.
You have a passion for ANN. What is it about that show that inspires you?
So many things. Starting with what an inspiration Ann Richards was. Her speech at the Democratic Convention just wowed me and I was a fan from then on. On top of that, I had worked with Holland Taylor before and have tremendous respect for her as an actress. So it was very exciting that she had crafted such a beautiful script and was so utterly devoted to representing Ann honestly and passionately. When I heard Holland was taking the show to Broadway I approached one of the lead producers and begged for the opportunity to join the producing team. I immediately set about raising money for the show and the very first investor I brought on board was from Dallas. He told me that he did not agree with her politics, but he really liked Ann as a person and he wanted to support her voice being brought to Broadway. That was the kind of power Ann had. She was all about lifting people up and making sure each individual was heard. She opened doors and embraced inclusivity as a cornerstone of her career. And people responded to her even if they were opposed to her politically. In a nation that was becoming more and more divisive, it was so important to me to have a part of putting her voice back in the zeitgeist – on Broadway and then at Arena Stage and here at Dallas Theater Center.
You’ve worked in a variety of theater and the arts communities – what drew you to Dallas Theater Center?
I had been actively working on Broadway productions for several years and I loved every minute of it, and continue to keep one foot in the Broadway universe. But it was also clear to me that so much new work … including most of the work that comes to Broadway is created, or finds a start, in regional theaters. I believed (and still do) that in order to be able to do the best work in the country and on Broadway as Producer, I needed to have more relationships across the country with theaters and with artists…beyond who I got to know and work with doing one or two Broadway shows a year. And in the short time I have been in Dallas (only two seasons) I have already produced or been involved in developing dozens of shows with distinctly different and varied artists.
What do you look for when picking a production?
I am usually drawn first to characters and dialogue. I love a script with a real voice that jumps off the page. But beyond that, I gravitate towards projects that will move people, make them think, make them feel. That could be through comedy or drama. But in most cases I am drawn to stories that help us find our common humanity. And, of course, when working with Kevin Moriarty to curate a season, there are so many factors we must consider including ensuring a diversity of writers’ voices are represented on our stages, and ensuring casting opportunities for our Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company members.
What is your favorite Dallas Theater Center production and why?
I always hate this question. It is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. I consider myself so lucky to be part of so many wonderful productions each season. But in the two seasons I have been part of at Dallas Theater Center so far ANN is the most personal to me and I would have to say that In The Heights ranks right at the top as well. I am so very proud of the family we created around that production, the number of wonderful local artists we brought to work at Dallas Theater Center for the first time, the opportunity to work with a stellar creative team including some dear friends from Broadway, the fabulous score, James Vasquez who directed the production with so much heart…but mostly the barrio that the incredibly talented cast and crew brought to life each and every performance. So many of our Dallas community and audience members saw themselves represented on our mainstage with utter joy and an inspiring sense of celebration. It was infectious and so very inspiring.
This is going to be a truly unique season. What are you looking forward to the most?
Wow – the tenacity, devotion and creativity of our completely in-house design and production teams. The remarkable classes and workshops the education department is rolling out all season. The deeply personal engagement that our Public Works Dallas team has been fostering throughout the pandemic and the showcase we will have this summer that will be the culmination and a celebration of the relationship between Dallas Theater Center and all our community partners. And I will not lie…I am looking forward most to the day we can throw the doors open wide and invite live audiences back into the Potter Rose stage in the Wyly Theater. Hopefully that will happen this spring and I cannot wait!
What can you tell us about the immersive experiences?
They are going to be so much fun! Tiffany Nichole Greene and our actors are just starting rehearsals for Something Grim(m). It is going to allow audience members to take a self-guided journey around the grounds of the Wyly, that involves audio and video elements, a little touch of comicstrips and a little touch of a scavenger hunt to create a unique story based on several Grimm fairy tales. But as in all good fairy tales – and theater – just underneath the surface, will lie provocative themes relevant to Dallas today. War of the Worlds is still in the ideation phase with Kevin Moriarty and director Christie Vela. But this will be a new twist on the classic sci-fi novel that allows each audience member to feel as if they have gotten caught in the middle of the alien invasion and must survive to tell the tale afterwards…and tell their friends!
You’ve recently been featured on the news for the first time. Congratulations! How did it feel being in the spotlight?
I must admit, it was a secret thrill to be quoted for the first time in the NY Times, click here to read. But it is truly such a pleasure and an honor to speak to the press about Dallas Theater Center and the work happening here. So when Paula, on our PR team, asked me to do some interviews for television and newspapers I was more than happy to do so. I only hope that it has helped to shine a light on the great work happening at Dallas Theater Center and that some folks who may not have been to see us before will be inspired to check out what we are doing this season.
If you could produce any play or musical, which would you choose?
I have a few pet projects I would personally love to get made. One is about a Black mid-wife in South Carolina named Maude Callen, and the relationship she forged with a famed Life magazine photo journalist when he did spread on her for LIFE in 1950. It was the first time any national magazine had ever published a heroic story about a Black person. And it is a remarkable story of the impact a single human being can have on a community.
Pick a celebrity to have dinner with. Who is there and what are you having?
Oh my gosh. I have been so lucky to have worked with and gotten to know and have dinner with quite a few celebrities. It is such a joy when they turn out to be all you wished for and more. If I could arrange a dinner party with some of the folks I have worked with it would be Morgan Freeman, Holland Taylor and Alicia Keyes for starters. What a conversation that would be! And I would add to that mix some folks I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting like Meryl Streep, Michelle Obama and Anderson Cooper. My head and heart would probably explode. As for what we are having, I am a girl of simple tastes…maybe my mom’s brisket and really yummy salad with some key lime pie (my Dad’s favorite) for dessert.
Libby Villari as Texas Governor Ann Richards in ANN, photos by Karen Almond
If you won the lottery, what are the first five things you would do?
Make sure everyone in my immediate family has a home that is paid for in full. I would set up pied a terres for myself in NY, London and Paris. Then I would take a percentage and start a development fund for new works and pet projects. Then I would create a scholarship fund for aspiring artists in the performing arts – specially dance and theater two great loves of mine. And then I would spend my time traveling and producing.
Do you have any advice for someone who’d like to get involved with theater, but doesn’t know where to start?
Start with the thing that you are most passionate about. Is it performing, directing, playing an instrument, building things, painting things, organizing things, nurturing talent in others, raising money? There are so many diverse jobs in mounting a production or running a theater. There is pretty much a job for everyone. So follow your passion and then do what you can to train and hone your skills. That might mean volunteering if you have the time and can afford to. It might mean going to a university or a local community college. It might mean looking for an apprenticeship or entry level job in the area you are interested in. But most importantly let your passion show and follow your heart.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you like to talk about?
Not unless you want to talk about my hobbies like playing golf (which sadly I haven’t done since arriving in Dallas), playing mah jongg, or pilates and Feldenkreis classes. But that is all for another conversation.