So far so amazing. But while the money was enough to buy the space, it wasn't enough to renovate it into a usable theater venue. Kitchen Dog decided to lease out the warehouse and rent production venues while it raised the funds needed to move in debt-free. Meanwhile, fire marshals shut the Green Zone down temporarily in 2016, forcing them to move a performance of I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard to Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys campus for one night. Ultimately, the fire marshals determined that to be a safe theater space, the Green Zone would need renovations that would be too costly for the company. Kitchen Dog moved temporarily to Undermain Theatre for its annual New Works Festival, then signed a lease with KD Studio to use the Trinity River Arts Center this season. The fire marshals shut that down in the midst of David Carl's Celebrity One-Man Hamlet, which the company was presenting as a fundraiser in March. They moved the final performances to the Margo Jones Theatre in the Magnolia Lounge. Trevor had already been blocked, with most of the set built for the Trinity River Arts Center space, when the company found itself with no place to go. AT&T Performing Arts Center offered the company the space on the Wyly's ninth floor for a shorter run. Kitchen Dog had to bring lights and sound equipment, haul their set and figure out a way to make everything fit with a skimpy two days of tech rehearsal. "We're struggling," Parker says. "We're in a great position on paper, but we need at least $1 million to renovate our building. We've learned firsthand how little usable space there is for so many theaters and how hard it is to get traction with patrons if you can't stay in the same place." It's a common complaint for theater artists who are still waiting and hoping for the two black box theaters that were planned for Phase 2 of the Dallas Arts District, with one additional black box planned for the Latino Cultural Center. There is no plan to move ahead. Upstart Theater and Prism Movement Theatre have had temporary venues shut down by fire marshals during performances and have had to scramble to adapt. A handful of Dallas spaces can be rented for individual productions, including the Margo Jones Theatre at the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park, which already serves multiple companies, and the Bath House Cultural Center, which tends to get booked far in advance. The Oak Cliff Arts Center, which aims to provide a venue for local artists, opened April 29 with Cara Mia Theatre Company's De Troya.Joey Folsom, Upstart's artistic director, expresses frustration at what he sees as a lack of access to existing space. "If city spaces and city-supported spaces supported local artists by giving access and affordable rates, we would thrive. The spaces would almost never be dark."
Kitchen Dog is pressing forward, expanding outreach programs that reflect where it hopes to be when it take its place among the few companies in Dallas that produce in their own homes: Dallas Children's Theatre, Theatre Three and Bishop Arts Theatre Center. When the company's black box theater and cabaret/rehearsal studio are ready, it'll host other companies, Parker says. It's also supporting two shows from Cry Havoc, a youth theater that does tough, original work. Kitchen Dog is counting on the repairs at the Trinity River Arts Center being finished in time to present its New Works Festival, followed by a co-production of Cry Havoc's Shots Fired, an original docudrama about the July 7 shootings of Dallas police officers. Mara Richards Bim, director of Cry Havoc, debuted Shots Fired to acclaim at the Margo Jones Theatre in January. She says she's grateful for the opportunity to present it again, this time from July 7 through July 15, with opening night falling on the anniversary of the tragedy."I've been a huge fan of Kitchen Dog Theater for years. Their commitment to telling provocative stories, creating productions of the highest quality and cultivating new voices in theater makes them an invaluable asset to our community."
Kitchen Dog is pressing forward, expanding outreach programs that reflect where it hopes to be when it take its place among the few companies in Dallas that produce in their own homes: Dallas Children's Theatre, Theatre Three and Bishop Arts Theatre Center. When the company's black box theater and cabaret/rehearsal studio are ready, it'll host other companies, Parker says.
One of the most remarkable elements of Trevor is the way playwright Nick Jones tells the dark comedy of a human, Sandra, and a chimpanzee, Trevor, who don't speak the same language, but think they do. In a stunning performance, Max Hartman plays the chimpanzee in Kitchen Dog Theater's regional premiere at Wyly Theatre's 9th floor space.
Since the company's longtime home at McKinney Avenue Contemporary closed in June 2015, Kitchen Dog has endured five moves in two years. Though the group's finances look good on paper and they found a temporary home this week at the Wyly Theater, Parker apologizes for being unable to stop her tears. "All these moves makes it hard for our folks to keep up," she says. "People pass by the demolished area where we used to be and they think we're gone, too. Combine that with the rapidly shrinking media coverage for the arts in general and you have serious attrition at the box office." Running a small theater has never been easy. Kitchen Dog is not the only theater dealing with space issues. But their plight serves as a look inside the problems facing small, local companies.
For more than a decade, Kitchen Dog Theater was housed in the bright blue building on McKinney Avenue known as The McKinney Avenue Contemporary. It was the perfect arrangement: They had small offices, two performance spaces and the bills were kept to a minimum thanks to the building's generous owners. But co-artistic directors Tina Parker and Chris Carlos always knew it wouldn't last forever. Real estate prices were going up and eventually, the location in Uptown became too valuable not to sell. Which was the news Kitchen Dog Theater received last year.
For its 25th season, the theater would have to leave its bright blue home. They were offered a one-year stint at The Green Zone in the Design District, but that didn't exactly work out. Displaced for a second time, Kitchen Dog found itself the recipient of a benevolent offer from the folks at Undermain, who offered their space so Kitchen Dog could finish its season.
Prior to efforts last year, Kitchen Dog hadn't raised that much money in an individual giving campaign. But they met the challenge handily and six months later are moving forward in their capital campaign with both added legitimacy and a financial boost. Plans seem to be lining up well. Next season, Kitchen Dog will perform its season at the Trinity River Arts Center off North Stemmons Freeway, with a contract that allows for three one-year renewal options. And as of last week, they were under contract on a property just north of the Design District and performing due diligence with things like inspections and parking plans. The hope is to move into the building a few years from now, debt free.
Mara Richards Bim, director of Cry Havoc, debuted Shots Fired to acclaim at the Margo Jones Theatre in January. She says she's grateful for the opportunity to present it again, this time from July 7 through July 15, with opening night falling on the anniversary of the tragedy.
Kitchen Dog and the resident artists that drive the company's work have been central to her life for a long time. She's not ready to give that up, but it's harder to keep battling for existence as you get older, she says. In contrast, it felt like a vacation to go to New Mexico to work on Better Call Saul.
Ever since a group of Southern Methodist University graduates launched Kitchen Dog Theater in a sweat-drenched attic of a Deep Ellum pawnshop in 1991, the company has presented tough, gritty work that explores questions of justice, morality and freedom. The company doesn't tell Cinderella stories.
Parker says it was a shock when the anonymous longtime patrons, supporters of the new works that Kitchen Dog champions, made their offer in the form of a challenge grant in October 2015. At the time, the company had learned its rent-free space of 20 years, the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, was being closed. Parker, her co-artistic director Christopher Carlos and managing director Tim Johnson, were considering all their options.
"When the MAC closed, it would have been really easy to say, 'We've had a good run. We're done.' But it just didn't feel like we were done," Parker says. "We felt like Kitchen Dog is a vital part of the arts fabric here in Dallas, and we still had more questions to raise and more things to do."
Johnson says he didn't count on finding their dream space at 4774 Algiers in Dallas as quickly as they did. If he had, he says ruefully, he wouldn't have committed to directing the first show of the company's 26th season. A Stain Upon the Silence: Beckett's Bequest, a series of short plays influenced by Beckett, including two by Beckett and one commissioned by Kitchen Dog, runs Oct. 7-29 at the Trinity River Arts Center in Dallas.