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PIANO MADNESS CONTINUES AS DALLAS JAZZ PIANO SOCIETY RAISES FUNDS FOR KEYS4KIDS

 

Dr. Mike Bogle Trio playing the Music of Victor Young at Sammons Center for the Arts.

Dr. Mike Bogle Trio playing the Music of George Gershwin at Sammons Center for the Arts. Photo courtesy of DJPS.

DALLAS: If you like jazz, you’re in for a toe-tapping treat. And if you missed the first of two Piano Madness concerts presented by the Dallas Jazz Piano Society (DJPS) on April 14, not to worry! Madness Too, DJPS’ second concert benefitting their Keys4Kids program, will be infecting more jazz enthusiasts on April 29.

Piano Madness One

The concert’s audience enthusiastically embraced the April 14 concert, held at the Sammons Art Center, with featured world-class pianists William Foley, Steven Harlos, Kelly Durbin and Kent Ellingson. The players performed a solo number and two duo piano numbers (two pianos) with each of the other three pianists. Bassist Jeffrey Eckels and drummer Steve Barnes accompanied them.

During the concert Dallas Piano Society Artistic Director, Dan Haerle, explained how the concert provides a setting for piano players to get together and exchange ideas and musical conversation with each other, a rare treat for the musicians and audiences. The ensemble included tunes from composers Richard Rodgers and Thelonius Monk.

“The musicianship was as well matched as could be imagined,” reported Bill Martin, DJPS Board Member.”

How the Dallas Jazz Piano Society come to be

Nearly a decade ago, when Jim Calloway’s home began turning into standing room only for fans that gathered for the jazz concerts he hosted, he knew he was on to something. Fortunately, as a jazz piano student at the Dallas School of Music (DSM), he was able to bring his concerts to their recital hall, accommodating  more people. With fans following and happy to support the concerts, in 2010, the Dallas Jazz Piano Society (DJPS) was born.

Dallas Jazz Piano Society Artistic Director, Dan Haerle

Dallas Jazz Piano Society Artistic Dir., Dan Haerle

With the nucleus of its board formed, the Dallas Jazz Piano Society was on it’s way to getting serious about music. One of the first professional musicians to play that first year was Dan Haerle. Haerle is a polymath — composer, performer, and Regents Professor Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the University of North Texas. Since its founding, he has served as DJPS’ artistic director.

“I told Jim that I was willing to help out anyway I could,” Haerle fondly recalls.

Part of the Dallas Jazz Piano Society’s mission is to support the study and growth of young musicians. “We want to help students of need who otherwise wouldn’t be able to pursue the study of music.” The money raised by the non-profit will be used to provide piano lessons and keyboards to students who want to study music, but can’t afford to do so.

In 2012, when the DSM headed to a different location, DJPS moved into the Sammons Center, “A logical next step for its growth and stature,” Haerle says. “For the past few years now, all of our performances have been held at the Sammons Center with the exception of our first Piano Madness event, which was held at Steinway Hall in Plano because they had the two pianos we needed.” This year a piano will be moved down from upstairs at the Sammons Center so the event can be held there.” 

How the Madness began

“I had played music with two pianos when I was asked to play at a special 88th birthday party for a longtime fan and supporter of Leon Breeden, head of the jazz program at North Texas (1959 to 1981). There were four pianists, Steve Harlos, Stefan Karlsson, Dave Zoller and me,” Haerle says. “Each of us played a solo piano number and then we played two duo numbers with each of the other three pianists. It was a total blast! All of the pianists loved it and the audience really enjoyed an extremely unusual concert.”

So, in the spring of 2015, Dallas Jazz Piano Society presented their first Piano Madness, with a similar program. The madness was so contagious there was no doubt there would be more to come.

Keys4Kids 2014-15 Rising Stars. Photo courtesy of DJPS.

Keys4Kids 2014-15 Rising Stars. Photo courtesy of DJPS.

Piano Madness Too

The April 29 concert, which will be held at Steinway Hall in Plano, will feature world-class pianists Dave Zoller, Fredrick Sanders, Stefan Karlsson and Dan Haerle. Like the earlier concert, the players’ will performed a solo number and two duo piano numbers (two pianos) with each of the other three pianists.

So come out and hear some of the world’s best pianists play some great old show tunes and help give kids a chance to learn and play music.

“We really hope our fans will become supporters of an original American art form and infect others with their love of the music,” Haerle says.

DJPS presents Piano Madness Too from 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. on April 29 at Steinway Hall in Plano. Please go to Dallas Jazz Piano Society for more information.

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CARA MIA THEATRE’S “BLOOD WEDDING” – AN OLD WORLD TALE ABOUT DESIRE AND PASSION

The Blood Wedding painting by Armando Sebastian. Photo courtesy of Cara Mia Theatre Co.

The Blood Wedding painting by Armando Sebastian. Photo courtesy of Cara Mia Theatre Co.

DALLAS: Blood Wedding, presented by Cara Mia Theatre Co., opened Saturday night at the Latino Cultural Center at 2600 Live Oak Street in Dallas.

It was a grand experience: the audience was first treated to spicy food, then to fiery human appetites on a cold Texas night. The play, written by one of Spain’s most beloved poets and playwrights, Federico García Lorca and directed by David Lozano, is about a tormented young bride who abandons her groom on their wedding day then flees into the forest with another man.

There was a gripping, elemental quality to the play, raw passions surfacing once and again, reminiscent of southern European or South American culture. Death and bloodshed make this an old world tragedy, and it is well portrayed by the ensemble in this very moving and emotional play.

The majority of the dialogue was performed in English, but mixed throughout with Spanish. The mixture of the two languages seemed to mirror the nature of the audience, many of whom have identities rooted in two cultures.

The simplicity and boldness of the stage sets gave a classical feel to the evening. They consisted of caramel colored stone walls intersecting at angles. In one particularly striking moment, an old woman came on stage for the beginning of Act 2, dark fabrics rose behind her, gradually taking on the appearance of gnarled trees in the midst of winter.

The other tragedy that occurred Saturday night was that the theater was only a third filled. Blood Wedding is a performance worth experiencing and Cara Mia Theatre Co. is a Dallas treasure worth supporting. The play runs through December 13. Please click here to learn more about the play, Cara Mia and for ticket information.

(Look for my full-length feature celebrating Cara Mia’s 20 years, coming in May.)

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MAKE ART WITH PURPOSE: ART CONSPIRACY’S 2015 BENEFICIARY

 

04_JaneilEngelstad_TEDX copy

Janeil Engelstad, founder of Make Art with Purpose, speaking at TEDX SMU, “Individual Expression to Community Transformation: The Evolution of Public Art”: click here. Photo courtesy of Make Art With Purpose

DALLAS: On November 14, artists, musicians, art lovers and supporters gathered for ArtCon11, Art Conspiracy’s signature fundraiser. It’s a unique event, where this year’s beneficiary, Make Art with Purpose, was honored.

Make Art with Purpose (MAP) is an artist-led non-profit that has been developing and producing inter-disciplinary projects that bring communities together to work for the greater good, all around the globe. Under the guidance of its founder, Janeil Engelstad, MAP is making its mark on Dallas.

Introducing Ms. Engelstad

After graduating from New York University with an MFA in the 1980s, artist, writer and educator Janeil Engelstad took, as she calls, “a big left turn” in her career. Over the next two decades – she immersed herself into the world of social practice (community engaged art). Here’s how it happened.

It began with her volunteering for The Education Project (TEP), teaching photography to youth at a homeless shelter in East New York. It was the dead of winter when she walked through the neighborhood to get to her classroom. What she saw during those chilly walks moved her.

“I saw homeless people trying to keep warm with fires in old oil containers,” Engelstad recalls.

Volunteering after school at the homeless shelter, and other locations that produced programs for at-risk youth, Engelstad experienced the positive impact that art can have on people. “Whether using art as a tool to investigate social concerns, or working directly through arts education. So I took a left turn away from my studio practice where I was producing work for exhibitions and devoted my career and practice to working with communities, and over time that grew.”

Next, she co-created ART WORKS, which attracted some of the most celebrated artists of the 1980’s into the project. A TEP project, ART WORKS was produced in partnership with The Polaroid Corporation and included creative input from Stacy Fischer, the then manager of Polaroid’s 20 x 14 studio in lower Manhattan. The list of participating artists included: Chuck Close, Andreas Serrano, Félix González-Torres, William Wegman, Laurie Simmons, John Reuter, John Divola, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Jean Vong, and Carla Weber.

Arieana R. + Felix Gonzalez Torres, Polaroid 20” x 24”, 1993, for the project Art Works: Teenagers and Artists Collaborate on the Polaroid 20” x 24” Camera, created by Janeil Engelstad with The Education Project, NYC. Photo courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

Arieana R. and Félix González-Torres. Polaroid 20” x 24”, 1993, for the project Art Works: Teenagers and Artists Collaborate on the Polaroid 20” x 24” Camera, created by Janeil Engelstad with The Education Project, NYC. Photo courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

For the project, each artist was paired with a youth from one of The Education Project’s outreach programs. The collaborating teams met in groups and in one-on-one workshops, designed by TEP and the professional artists. Then each team created photographs on the renowned Polaroid 20 x 24 camera, which was hand-made by Edwin Land, the inventor of Polaroid. The photographs were exhibited at museums around the country including New York City’s International Center of Photography, Photographic Resource Center in Boston, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, and California Museum of Photography. At each location, The Education Project produced a local media arts program for at-risk youth. In New York, The Education Project placed many of the ART WORKS youth into internships at companies such as Sony Music.

As a result, their lives changed. One of the participants, Engelstad reports, was accepted at the prestigious High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. But at first, his mother wasn’t open to the idea.

“Initially his mother was not supportive because she felt that he needed what she thought would be a more structured environment of a parochial school, but by the end of the summer, when she saw the impact the program was having on her son, she agreed that he should go to the High School of Art and Design.”

Next Engelstad moved to Los Angeles where she established the West Coast headquarters of The Education Project and began to produce independent projects. “That was the beginning,” she says.

To accomplish this she has partnered with several organizations over the years. “We’ve created projects that I felt art could respond to, or where I saw the voice of different people missing,” Engelstad says. “For example, creating access to the media for people who often do not have a public voice. In 1999, when the massacre in Columbine happened the media reported on the event, and other school shootings, without asking the students why they thought this was happening and what the impact was on their lives. No one was talking to students. “So, in partnership with New York City based World Studio Foundation, We created a national project where students worked with professional designers to create billboards and bus shelter s in San Francisco, L.A., D.C., New York and Chicago. In each city where the project was produced we worked with local arts organizations and social service non-profits, building local networks as we went.”

After building these coalitions in the U.S. and around the globe, in 2010 she decided to create her own non-profit, and Make Art With Purpose was born.

"Together We Stand, Divided We Fall" MAP mural produced by students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas, 2014 as a part of MAP's "Dialogues on Race," a national project that uses art and design to jump start conversations about race. Photograph courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

“Together We Stand, Divided We Fall” MAP mural produced by students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas, 2014 as a part of MAP’s “Dialogues on Race,” a national project that uses art and design to jump-start conversations about race. Photograph courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

Many MAP projects have taken flight under Engelstad’s direction. MAP 2013, MAP’s inaugural social practice triennial, was a successful undertaking. MAP activated local artists, schools, museums and galleries to work with people from around the world. Together, the teams produced 30 projects and public programs that investigated environmental and social themes, deep-rooted in art. Other recent projects include Dialogues on Race, a nationwide initiative created to advance racial justice in communities was started in Dallas with the support of the Embrey Family Foundation. Through this project, local artists created billboards and students in South Dallas and Oak Cliff created murals that investigated themes connected to racial and social justice. A community conversation that explored the themes brought about in the work was held at UTD Centraltrak.

One of the Dialogues on Race murals was produced at Billy Earl Dade Middle School. “Dade had gone through so much turmoil in the previous year for various reasons and the students were eager to participate in meaningful work, so it was a rewarding school to work in,” she says. “In the summer of 2014, Hispanic and African-American students created a mural centered on the theme of racial justice, which featured civil rights leaders, including Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr.” Under the guidance of MAP Program Manager, Alpha Thomas, the students studied social justice and civil rights history and learned how the ideas and work of these leaders have lifted up the entire country.

She has dozens of projects in the works and big ideas for North Texas.

“MAP is working with artists, business leaders, foundations, universities and others to create dialogues about what’s going on here [in Dallas] and how can we understand each other better. Together we want to learn ways to make our city a more equitable place to live and work.”

ART CONSPIRACY

Early this year, Anne Bothwell, director of Art and Seek introduced Engelstad to Art Conspiracy’s Executive Director, Erica Felicella. Art and Seek is a service from KERA providing North Texans a comprehensive guide to the local art scene.

“The work MAP does continues to set them apart, from the students involved to internationally know artists, says Bothwell. “Whether students decide to have a career in art or not, they are learning self-expression and learning to do it authentically, a skill that has to be developed.”

Janeil Engelstad at SKEWED, Art Conspiracy's summer fundraiser. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

Janeil Engelstad at SKEWED, Art Conspiracy’s summer fundraiser. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

To make the cut for Art Conspiracy funding, interviews had to be completed. When the AC team arrived, Engelstad was ready. “It was fun. They came over and we sat and talked,” she says smiling. I believe in what I do and I like to talk about my work because often, it is in the talking to people where I actually hear what it is that I am doing or thinking about and sometimes ideas are worked out in the process. The Art Conspiracy team liked what they saw and heard.

“Looking at MAP’s previous projects, we were impressed by the dialogue they foster, and the issues they face,” says Todd McCaulay, Beneficiary Chair and Art Conspiracy Board Member. “Our choice to award MAP our 2015 beneficiary will allow the organization to not only engage the communities of Dallas and Fort Worth in a dialogue, but also invite volunteers of all ages and local artists to have a hand in creating some truly beautiful, if not thought-provoking art.”

Being the 2015 ArtCon beneficiary is a huge honor Engelstad admits. “Some of the money we received from Art Conspiracy will be directed to a project looking at the Trinity River and climate change. “The river is going to take its natural course. It’s going to expand, flood, and create wetlands, she says. “Questions to be answered: how are we as a society going to help people relocate? Can we turn some of the impacts of climate change, in this case the flooding of a river, into new jobs? Such as creating fish farms in wetlands where there were once houses and other infrastructure.”

How MAP does it

First, Engelstad says, many artists are taking the skills they’ve developed and leaving their studios “They use creative thinking and problem solving skills to move the bar, create community, and positive change.” Second, artists have a knowledge base. “They’re coming out of school with BFAs and MFAs and often they understand social concerns from a place of empathy. They are able to develop ideas that can create productive platforms.”

MAP is a collaboration of many. Associate Director Oto Hudec helps with projects on a global level. He has been with MAP since its founding, designed the organization’s logo and worked with Engelstad to design MAP’s website. Program Associate Matthew Horton helps with everything from social media to the production of Dallas projects. Artists lead the various projects. It can be a project that an artist or teams of artists have conceived of, or one that is initiated by MAP. “And our funders are also a part of our team. We all come together and bring skills and strengths to accomplish things that we could never do alone.”

Janeil Engelstad with MAP Associate Director and artist Oto Hudec in front of installation of MAP megaphone project produced by youth at MAP residency at ARTMill Horažďovice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

Janeil Engelstad with MAP Associate Director and artist Oto Hudec in front of installation of MAP megaphone project produced by youth at MAP residency at ARTMill Horažďovice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

Engelstad and her teammates are doing just that. The dedicated individuals who make up Make Art with Purpose are changing the face of North Texas, literally, with amazing artwork that highlight social concerns. By bringing awareness to North Texas, MAP is creating positive change for all of us who live here.

(Click here to read my feature about Art Conspiracy.)

 

 

 

 

 

DALLAS SUMMER MUSICALS: A LOOK BACK AT 75 YEARS OF MAGIC

Dallas Summer Musicals President and Managing Director, Michael Jenkins. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Michael Jenkins. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Dallas Summer Musicals  has been delighting audiences of all ages since the Roosevelt administration—from its first production of Blossom Time at the Fair Park Band Shell in 1941 to the closing of its 75th season in July at the Music Hall at Fair Park, a tour of Pippin. And while entertaining has been significant to its longevity, DSM President and Managing Director Michael Jenkins knows that there is another component that has contributed to the organization’s success, a principle that was introduced in the 1940s by Charles Meeker, the first managing director of Dallas Summer Musicals. Having worked alongside Meeker in the 1950s, Jenkins has never forgotten this principle:

Customer service is not everything; customer service is the only thing.

“Those words have carried with me through my entire career,” Jenkins says with pride. “People loved Meeker, as I did. He really understood the theater business and he gave me a great deal of opportunity that I would never have had.”

Jenkins developed an early interest in the world of musical theater, including investing in it. At 14 he was hired as an usher at the Music Hall. At 17, he was promoted to Meeker’s assistant. One day while in Meeker’s office he spotted an ad seeking investors for a new Broadway show. He had a hunch, so he spent the summer working three jobs to earn the $5,000 he needed to invest.

“That summer I worked from 6 a.m. to noon mowing lawns, then Meeker took me over to the Cotton Bowl to paint numbers on the seats and then I’d help out in his office.”

Impressed with her son’s perseverance, Jenkins’ mother loaned him the additional $2,800 he needed, when he fell short of his goal. The show, My Fair Lady, was a hit and so were the returns. With his earnings he bought his mother a new car, studied theater design at Baylor University in Waco and architecture under Ray Hoeiben.

That initiative has paid off for him and for Dallas Summer Musicals. Across seven decades, DSM has become the largest producer of live theater in the Southwest and a recipient of numerous honors, including some two-dozen Tony Awards due to Jenkins’ increasing role as a Broadway producer.

As DSM begins its 76th season this week with The Sound of Music, directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, lets look back at some of its remarkable 75-year history through the eyes of Jenkins, who is remarkably only the third leader of the organization and has had some kind of involvement under the previous two.

The new tour of The Sound of Music opens Dallas Summer Musicals' 76th season. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The new tour of The Sound of Music opens Dallas Summer Musicals’ 76th season. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The callback that came 30 years later

In 1993 Jenkins was working in Europe when out of the blue he got a call from Don Spies, Board Chairman of Dallas Summer Musicals. “He told me Tom Hughes [DSM’s managing director from 1962 to 1993], had passed away and they were having some difficulties.” Spies asked Jenkins if he could return to Dallas immediately. Having stayed connected to the summer musicals as a member of the executive committee, Jenkins got back to Dallas as soon as he could.

On his return, he headed to the Music Hall office for a meeting with the board. Within minutes they told him that the union contracts had expired and there were no shows. “I’ll never forget my dear friend Charles Pistor saying to me, you’re the only one who knows how to do these shows, you have to do this.”

At the time Jenkins was managing 17 projects at Leisure and Recreational Concepts (LARC), a successful design and consulting firm for theme and waterparks he founded in 1971. When he realized the musicals might close, Jenkins stepped up. After all, this is where he’d gotten his first job.

“I said I’ll do it for one year.”

Now with two full-time careers to manage, he returned to the Music Hall office with assistant Wanda Crow and the two got to work, first working on some very unorganized files. When Jenkins discovered a box of complaint letters in a hall closet he vowed to answer each one.

At the time he was raising three small children alone and even with a busy travel schedule, he made it a priority to be home every evening. So he took six of the complaint letters home each night, read them, and then called the people who wrote them. One night, one of the women he called shared something that prompted him to make some changes to the areas surrounding the Music Hall.

She told Jenkins that she loved coming to the theater, but when her husband passed away, she was afraid to go alone. He thanked her and invited her to return. Then he got to work.

That first year he had the security guards dress in red jackets and he put them on horseback in the parking lots. “Red jackets so they could be seen, on horseback so they could see,” he says.

“And from my life at Six Flags, I put twinkle lights on the trees, and a guest relations attendant to open the door for her, what we call a blue jacket.” Jenkins also hung large lights in the parking lots. The woman did return and later she told Jenkins that she felt secure and thanked him for inviting her back.

What she didn’t know, Jenkins admits, was that there were actually two less security guards on the grounds than before, but instead of dark blue jackets, red jackets up high, where they could be seen. From then on ticket sales began to rise.

From the top

In the early 1940s the summer musicals were held at Fair Park’s Band Shell under the name Opera Under the Stars. The first show was an operetta inspired by Franz Schubert titled, Blossom Time. Crowds, dressed in their Sunday best, came out like the stars to enjoy the live musical productions. The season was a hit and so were the ones that followed.

“In those days people came out to see the show dressed up in long sleeves and ties, no matter how warm it got,” Jenkins fondly recalls.

Realizing they were on to something, in 1944 the State Fair Association hired show business legend Charles Meeker to be the summer program’s first full-time Executive Director. A native of West Virginia and graduate of Southern Methodist University, Meeker had stayed in the area honing his show business skills. The summer musicals, now non-profit, also acquired a new name: Starlight Operettas.

Charles Meeker

Charles Meeker. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Once on board, Meeker made technological changes to the Band Shell, including a moving platform system. And after persuading Mary Martin and her national tour of Annie Get Your Gun to come to town in 1947, it was clear, his “star system” was a success, attracting big names and setting box office records.

In 1951 Meeker moved the musicals into the newly air-conditioned Music Hall, making audiences happier and more comfortable. Because the shows were now inside, he was able to create further innovations to stage shows. Then the summer program was renamed again to The State Fair Musicals. The next year Meeker revived Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin’s opera featuring an all black cast, on the Music Hall stage. It was quite a risk in those days, but audiences loved it. The opera toured worldwide, and the performance put Dallas on the map as a real musical theater contender.

Throughout the 1950s Meeker brought big stars to the Music Hall, including Debbie Reynolds, Jose Ferrer, Gisele MacKenzie, Jeanette McDonald, Jack Benny and Judy Garland.

Then in 1961, he left State Fair Musicals to produce shows at the new Six Flags Over Texas. When he left, he took Jenkins with him.

“I was always interested in stage design, not in being an actor,” Jenkins says. “When Meeker left I was studying architecture and that took me to Six Flags with him.”

There, they created all the shows. Meeker trained the staff and created a program that had no employees, only hosts and hostesses and no customers, only guests. A program Jenkins would implement when he returned to Dallas Summer Musicals.

“It was very effective,” Jenkins says.

They called him Mr. Summer Musicals

In 1955 Dallas native Tom Hughes headed for New York hoping to launch an acting career but when it was clear that was not going to happen, he returned to Dallas and began working as Meeker’s assistant at the State Fair Musicals. With the experience he had gained staging shows in high school, at Denton’s North Texas State University, and in Japan during the Korean War, Hughes knew he was back where he belonged.

As he learned the ropes, he was promoted to the Music Hall’s house manager and replaced Meeker as managing director when he left for Six Flags. The summer musicals split from the State Fair of Texas that year and became an independent non-profit organization, called Dallas Summer Musicals.

During the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, under Hughes’ leadership, several shows were produced by DSM and toured nationally, including Peter Pan starring Sandy Duncan, and Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing. Other stars that graced the Music Hall stage during his tenure were Pearl Bailey, Angela Landsbury, Rock Hudson, Carol Burnett, Gene Kelly and Tommy Tune.

“Tom loved the theater and loved to go to New York to audition the actors,” Jenkins recalls. “He would rent a place at the Plaza (Hotel), bring in a grand piano and sit for days auditioning them for new shows coming to Dallas.”

Throughout his 30 years with the Dallas Summer Musicals, Hughes developed into one of the most successful musical theater producers in the country.

Tom Hughes. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Tom Hughes. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Places everyone

“When I came back there were no shows and not to take anything away from Tommy, he produced several shows, but quite honestly there weren’t that many national tours at that time,” recalls Jenkins.

The price today to tour and to produce a show is very expensive. According to Jenkins, it costs between $12 and 15 million to put a show on Broadway and about $1 million per week to bring a show to Dallas from New York.

“There are 17 unions on Broadway,” he reports. “When you buy a ticket, when someone scans your ticket, and when someone hands you a playbill—you’ve already dealt with three of those unions and you’re not even to your seat.”

DSM stopped producing shows for a while but now they’re back in business: In 2014 it was The Little Mermaid (returning in 2016), in 2015 it was The King and I.

Major investments in Broadway shows are how Jenkins secures them for the Dallas market. As a producer, Jenkins’ 135th show on Broadway, An American in Paris, won four of the 12 Tonys it was nominated for. The tour will come to DSM in 2017.

When it comes to promoting DMS produced shows, Jenkins’ system, he says, is similar to the NFL football draft.

“I remember Jekyll and Hyde (1995) had gone to Tempe, Arizona but they didn’t really want it,” he chuckles. “But they were trying to fill their season so I called them up and they told me they wanted Cinderella and Singin’ in the Rain. So I said, ok I’ll give you Cinderella and Singin’ in the Rain in a future season if you take Jekyll and Hyde this season.”

“So that’s how I got that show and the same with Stage Door Charlie with Tommy Tune and several others, so if was kind of like the draft, and we eventually produced and toured Singin’ in the Rain, so that’s how it all got started.”

More hats

Jenkins’ role as DSM’s President and Managing Director doesn’t stop here. He also manages the Music Hall, the Majestic Theatre for the City of Dallas, and negotiates DSM-produced tours with others cities. He also oversees the DSM’s Academy of Performing Arts as well as some of the other community outreach programs associated with Dallas Summer Musicals, which includes bringing younger audiences to the Music Hall, many for the very first time.

“Bringing more than 2,000 children into the theatre every year, who have never seen a live theatre production is one of my greatest thrills.”

In 2014, Jenkins formed a partnership with Performing Arts Fort Worth, bringing the best of Broadway not only to Dallas but to Bass Performance Hall in Cowtown.

“Since Dallas can get shows for two weeks and Fort Worth for only one week, sometimes the one-week venues have to wait a year or two before they can get the bigger shows,” he says. “But by partnering with DSM, Fort Worth is able to get the bigger shows sooner. And from DSM’s point of view, we can market our shows together in the various publications for both cities. This is an extreme advantage.”

It’s become especially strategic since a third presenter of Broadway tours arrived in North Texas when the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened in 2009, and often bids against DSM for the tours.

Performing Arts Fort Worth President and CEO, Dione Kennedy, couldn’t agree more. Kennedy, who has known Jenkins for years, took over the reigns at Bass Hall in early 2009 after serving 18 years as President and CEO of Dayton, Ohio’s Victoria Theatre Association and the Arts Center Foundation. She and Jenkins are both members of the Broadway League as well as Tony Award voters.

“Right now it’s working really well,” Kennedy says. “The two organizations are saving money by pooling their marketing efforts. Presenting live musical theater is challenging when there is less product, as shows have become more expensive.”

“Michael is an incredible force who’s made a mark on the industry,” she adds. “He’s one of those people who help insure that there is new product coming along because creating new shows is critical on Broadway and Broadway on the road. I have complete trust and faith in him.”

Kennedy also believes that customer service is the only thing, and says that Fort Worth patrons are pleased with the partnership. “They love the idea of two non-profit organizations working together for the betterment of both.”

Another showman who has also collaborated with Jenkins on several business projects, and starred on Broadway and at Fair Park Music Hall, is former Olympic gymnast and Tony Award nominee, Cathy Rigby. She’s best known for her role as Peter Pan.

“He’s a pro and that is a given within the theater community,” Rigby says. “The shows he produces in Dallas have the same quality as the shows he produces on Broadway.”

Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

The secret of his success

So how does he manage two very demanding and successful careers?

“When you surround yourself with better people you make your life easier,” says Jenkins. “I’ve seen situations where people would hire employees so they would always be on top, the king, so to speak. But I’ve never believed in that. I believe in hiring people much better than myself.”

While he is very involved with DSM’s operations, Jenkins gives his team freedom and flexibility to do their jobs, and says that 99 percent of the time they exceed all expectations. “I think that creates loyalty. So I am very proud of our team, our DSM family.”

And that kind of loyalty, which works both ways, includes the Music Hall ushers and a certain fountain on the lower level of Fair Park Music Hall.

A few years ago an usher told Jenkins that he was convinced his job would be the best job he was ever going to have. But Jenkins told him no, that he would go to college, get an education and a better job. The usher, knowing he could not afford it, was convinced it would never happen.

But the young man was given a scholarship from the coins dropped by patrons into the white, circular fountain in the Music Hall.

“We sent him to Oberlin College and he’s the youngest oboe player in the Memphis Symphony today. “It all started from that fountain, which yields between 8 and 13 thousand dollars a year.”

Two Americans in Paris

One night in 1959 Meeker had put Jenkins in charge of assisting legendary actor Maurice Chevalier, who was preparing for his show in his dressing room on a rainy Monday night. When Jenkins suggested he turn down the lights and close the doors of the Music Hall in preparation for the entertainer’s first number, Chevalier said “no,” that the people would be late making their way through the rain. “It’s the audience that is important, not me.” He repeated it, as he gently guided Jenkins to a seat by placing his right hand on his left shoulder. This was truly a defining moment for young Jenkins.

And then it happened again, nearly 39 years later when Jenkins and his wife Wendy were walking down the main street of Paris. It was a Monday evening and suddenly, it began to pour down rain. They quickly headed for cover under the red canopy of a café, and then ducked inside hoping to find a table.

Jenkins told the maître d’ they did not have a reservation but because it was raining they were hoping they could get a table. The maître d’ told the couple the only table he had open was a bankett, so they gladly took it. At the time, Wendy had an issue with back pain, so she sat on the outside of the booth facing Jenkins, and, happy to oblige his wife, he sat with his back against the wall. Suddenly Wendy said to her husband, “You’re not going to believe this, look over your right shoulder.” When he did, he saw a plaque on the wall that read: “This was the personal table of Maurice Chevalier.”

The 2015 tour of Pippin was shared by Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth. Photo credit: Terry Shapiro

The 2015 tour of Pippin was shared by Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth. Photo credit: Terry Shapiro

Some things never change

Something that continues to inspire Jenkins is seeing young children mesmerized by what they see on the stage. Perhaps they remind him of his own childhood, of attending musicals with his mother or riding the streetcar to Fair Park to watch the performers rehearse at the Band Shell from high atop the Ferris wheel.

And while new technologies in scenery and lighting are changing the way theater is presented and experienced—something that also inspires Jenkins—he still remains focused on the component that has been important throughout his entire career: taking care of his customers.

“Every time someone comes through the doors of the Music Hall, it’s like we are inviting them into our home and we want to treat them as good as we can. Sometimes we don’t get it right but we try to fix it. Without the customer we’re out of business.”

(This feature is also published on Theater Jones. Click here to view it there and to read more news about the Dallas performing arts scene.)

CHANGING THE WORLD THROUGH FILM: MEET DALLAS VIDEOFEST CO-FOUNDER: BART WEISS

 

Bart Weiss. Photo by Robert Hart. Courtesy of Theater Jones

Bart Weiss. Photo credit: Robert Hart/Theater Jones

DALLAS: What do Bart Weiss, co-founder of Dallas VideoFest, and a polka band have in common?

A lot.

Let me explain. When Weiss arrived for our interview in Oak Cliff to talk about his background and the 28th annual VideoFest, which runs Oct. 12-18, he asked me about my drive down from Denton. Having been reminded of Denton, he began talking about a well-known polka band based there: Brave Combo, a Grammy-winning polka/rock/world beat band—and self-described “nuclear polka”—that has been part of the North Texas music scene for more than 35 years.

“I’ve known about the band almost as long as I’ve been in Dallas,” Weiss says. “They take all these songs and play them up-tempo and they attract a lot of people. They are really reviving the art form and keeping it alive.”

When he asked the band if they had ever had a film made about them, their response was “no.” He thought there was something wonderful about them so he said, “Let’s do it.” Now, Weiss has nearly 75 hours of performance footage of the band and is working on a documentary about them.

“When the group formed they could make money selling records. But now they have to survive on touring, these guys are not young and are constantly on the road. It could go away easily.”

“This is one little part of everything else I do,” Weiss says, modestly.

That’s an understatement, considering that like Brave Combo, Weiss is never lacking for things to do. When he’s not producing, programming, teaching or involved in some aspect of filmmaking, he’s spreading his infectious love for film wherever he can.

Bravo Combo. Photo credit: Jane Finch

Bravo Combo. Photo credit: Jane Finch

How he got his (film) groove on

Weiss grew up in Philadelphia and chose Beloit College in Beloit, Wis. to study psychology. Being a quiet town, he soon discovered that Beloit had a flourishing film society that showed two films every night. He went as often as he could.

“These were films that I’d never seen before—foreign films, independent films—a totally new world for me,” he admits. Then one night someone in the dorm was showing experimental films and projecting them onto the dorm room walls. The films were like nothing he had ever seen before and he thought, “this film world should be really fun.”

When he had taken every film class that Beloit offered, he knew he wanted more. So he returned to the city of brotherly love and enrolled at Temple University, which had a reputable film department. There he earned a BA.

Weiss says his family was totally supportive of his desire to study filmmaking.

“My father’s idea of a good movie was a James Bond film,” he chuckles. “But my mother was more into the arts so she understood a bit more. They significantly helped me through graduate school, and going to graduate school at a relatively young age (right out of college) allowed me to teach as I was developing all the other things that I was doing.”

Next, Weiss studied documentary and narrative film making at Columbia University and earned an MFA in Film Directing in 1978.

After Columbia he began teaching at Manhattan College and College of Mount Saint Vincent. “I realized teaching was a really good thing, something I could do very well, and it’s remained very much a part of my life,” says Weiss, who teaches film at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Three pillars

Everything he does professionally comes from one core philosophical point of view: “The world can be changed by people watching good films.”

To him, film is an important medium because films have a transformative quality. Movies can cause audiences to have empathy for people they don’t know, help them understand things they don’t, and alter their moods.

There are three pillars in Weiss’ life that support this viewpoint: Running VideoFest, teaching aspiring want-to-be filmmakers, and making his own work.

“I want to teach people how to have a positive impact,” he says. “I want to show films that present different ways of dealing with the world and I make films as well.” The security of teaching allows him to pursue all of his passions with the sense of vigor that he might not otherwise be able to.

Photo credit: Google photos

Photo credit: Google images

In 1979, Weiss was offered his first tenure-track position at Charleston State College in Charleston, W. V. After a couple of years, he realized that he wanted more from his life and his work. So when he told a colleague, Don Pasquella, that he was ready for a change, Pasquella told him he had a job for him, teaching at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

At the time Pasquella was the head of SMU’s film program. While it wasn’t a tenure-track job, he told Weiss the position could be become one after he started teaching. So in 1981, Weiss gathered up his possessions and drove down to Texas. He excelled at his craft at SMU, but the tenure-track job never came and within two years he was without a teaching job. The quality of his work at SMU was validated in 2002, when one of his students, John Davis, was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

The video bar scene

“One of the great things about being in Dallas is that opportunities are everywhere if you look for them,” Weiss says.

One night while having dinner in a restaurant, a man struck up a conversation with him about how popular music videos had become in New York nightclubs.

“So he called me up, while I was still at SMU and said: ‘I just got this place on lower Greenville and I could either turn it into a gym or do that video club thing we were talking about. Do you want to do that?’” Weiss said yes and began working at On the Air in 1983.

It was a small place with a large TV screen in the front, and a DJ booth upstairs. In no time, the club became very popular. People would show up before and after going to other places.

“It was one of the few totally integrated clubs in Dallas, meaning: black, white, Latino straight, gay—every kind of people. It was an amazing place,” Weiss recalls.

Now that he was in the music business, he soon discovered that every major record label had an office in Dallas. So once a week he would go over to Warner-Electra-Atlantic, Polygram, and CBS records and ask for the latest VHS or Beta hi-fi copy of their music.

“We always had the newest material for all these records. People would dance to Devo, Talking Heads, and Michael Jackson videos. This was a big deal, a major cultural force.”

 

Michael Jackson's Thriller. Photo credit: Google images

Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Photo credit: Google images

To add to the club’s music video collection, Weiss would take the 7-minute records and 3-minute videos and re-edit them to make dance versions. If a piece of music didn’t have a video, he would shoot one and reedit and recut it so people could dance to it.

As far as he knows, Weiss and his crew were the first DJs in Dallas to do record scratching. They also had VHS Beta decks wired through cable that allowed them to switch live and play images from all over. It was an incredible experience, he says.

Weiss had come from a long established tradition of making film, where you work on it a long time, and when it was finished, you had a print.

“At the club, I could easily cut a video to make it quicker or slower and then watch the audience’s response. It was like a gift to get a really difference sense of audience. Most filmmakers never get to do that, so it worked out really well,” Weiss says.

Weiss as a video columnist

When On the Air closed its doors, Weiss helped open The Video Bar in Deep Elum. While he worked there he met a lot of people, including writers for the Dallas Morning News (DMN).

“One day I said to one of the DMN writers, it would be nice to write a story about music videos and she said ‘good, work on it.’ ”

He was working on it when he got a call from the same woman, Ellen Kampinsky, now Senior Editor at Glamour Magazine, asking him if he would like to write a regular column on music videos.

“I’m not a good writer, it’s a struggle for me, too much ADD to focus to write well,” he laughs. “Ellen worked with me for about a month and helped develop me into an almost acceptable writer.”

Photo credit: Googles images

Photo credit: Googles images

Then came budget cuts.

Next, he literally went across the street, to the Dallas Times Herald, and they picked up his column. At about a month into it, Weiss discovered an emerging new home video business and told his editor he wanted to write a column about what was new in music video. So he would find out what was renting and selling and in his column, list what was popular.

Then came more budget cuts.

Next, he traveled to New York and sold his column idea to United Features Syndicate and that worked well for a year and a half.

“I was in hundreds and hundreds of newspapers and paid $50 per week,” he chuckles. “My column was included in these slick packets filled with horoscopes, ads and all kinds of junk that went out with a lot of newspapers.”

“That was an exciting time in my life when I was writing.”

While he was writing, Weiss continued to teach part-time at the University of Texas at Dallas, Northlake Community College, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Austin.

The birth of VideoFest

One day, John Held, a friend who managed an alternative gallery in town, asked Weiss if he would like to produce a video art program at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). It sounded like a great idea to him, so they created an event called Video as a Creative Medium. It was a two-night event that showcased local and international work and it attracted a lot of people.

“It went way better than we had expected,” Weiss admits.

Yes, the event went better in more ways than one because during one of the two evenings, he met the woman who is now his wife, Susan Teegardin. Little did she know, the next year she would be working side-by-side with him on the first Dallas Video Festival.

Later when Held and Weiss met with Elizabeth Berry back at the DMA to discuss further plans, Held decided he was not interested in doing more. Suddenly, Weiss had an idea. “What if we do a video festival for four days? Berry said yes and instantly became the festival’s co-founder. “When do you want to do it?”

They looked at the calendar and scheduled the festival over four days in the fall of 1987.

“I had no idea what I was doing but there were a few things that I did know.”

One of which was to get a good video projector. Good projection was a challenge at that time and very expensive. Luckily, he had a contact in Las Colinas who owned a high quality projector. They made a deal and he had his projector.

Next he had to get the word out.

“I was still writing for the Dallas Times Herald, so I called the programmer at the USA Film Festival and asked how much they charge for an ad. He told me ‘$650 for a full page.’ ”

Then he called his contact at Warner Home Video and told him about the festival and sold him an ad for $650. Weiss sold three ads that day and had the funding to pay the festival’s projectionist and from there, he found interesting works and created the programs. He’s been producing the evolving festival ever since. Weiss never sold another ad beyond the first festival. As the festival’s programmer, it could be a perceived as a conflict of interest.

The nitty gritty about film and video

In 1987, there was an incredible difference between film and video, says Weiss.

“Right now people use the terms interchangeably, back then there was a lot of difference. Video was inexpensive and people were doing edgier documentaries. Artists (music, painting, sculpture) were using it but there were very few places to have their videos screened. Film festivals out there were screening films and did not know how to show video.”

At the time, other video festivals around the country were aimed at small niche audiences, but Weiss’ reach was broader, hoping to attract a more diverse audience. So it was important to have good projection, a classy program and good design elements. As a result, people responded positively.

He also had this idea: instead of individual tickets for each program, they would sell day and full festival passes.

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

“I wanted people to come because of a film connected to a political or a social issue or a cultural identity issue they are interested in. But my hope was that they would come to see a particular program, then wander around and find other things to see that were interesting.”

Over the years Dallas VideoFest has covered a large body of work including the history of video art and documentaries, just in terms of media. And each year they have programs about how media affects all of us. Weiss believes it’s important to understand the media’s role in our lives.

At this year’s festival, one of the films that will be screened is called The Brainwashing of my Dad, directed by Jen Senko. It’s about her father, who starts watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh. She soon notices a change in him. The film covers the history of how right wing media has evolved.

Weiss says we are at the intersection of art and technology and as different technology emerges, he wants to showcase the many ways art can be made from it, from video walls to virtual reality, to high definition.

“We do show films like other festivals, but there is a total difference in what we do…every year we drastically try to change and do something we’ve never done before,” Weiss says. “I tell my board, if there isn’t a possibility of failing I’m not interested in doing it.”

He is serious about that.

A triple hit

This year Weiss has included two new works that he says are radical. Last year, The Lodger, a 1927 silent Hitchcock film was set to a musical score performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. This year they’ve added a third dimension: dance.

On opening night, VideoFest will present the 1927 silent film, Metropolis, along with an original musical score by composer Brian Satterwhite and again performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. Making this a triple collaboration is dance, choreographed by Christopher Dolder and presented by SMU’s Meadows Dance Ensemble. The dancers will perform on two platforms at the Dallas City Performance Hall while the film rolls and the musicians play.

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Dallas Chamber Symphony Artistic Director Richard McKay is very excited about this year’s alliance.

“What’s so special about the program is that we are pioneering a new day of digital collaboration,” McKay says. “We’ve created a cohesive experience between film, music and dance so nothing seems separate. And working with Bart, who is an expert in silent film, makes this a wonderful partnership. He is great working with people and a good influence on all of us.”

That’s the number one new thing. The number two new thing happens during the weekend evening programs of the festival. Before each of the film screenings, percussionists, poets, and performance artists will perform. The purpose, Weiss says, is to bring the entire artistic community into the festival.

There’s something about Big D

Like most things in his life, producing a television show for KERA was not something he sought out or planned to do. But friends at the station suggested he create a show, called Frame of Mind, which features independent films produced by Texas-based professional filmmakers. So he did. And a few years later, when both producers left the show, he in 1995, he became the sole producer.

“It started out being on the air once a month, then once a quarter, then whenever I had time. Then last year we got together and made this a real TV show with a regular season.”

It’s incredible he says, that someone who doesn’t work for KERA is able to program for the station.

“There is something about the Dallas community that will let me do this and it’s really rare,” Weiss admits. “Most cities, most film festivals don’t talk to each other or help each other.”

Weiss serves on festival juries (watching and evaluating films), and does Q&As in Dallas and beyond. This year he worked with the McKinney Classic Film Festival and the Asian Film Festival of Dallas as well as many others.

“He a funny guy,” says Alicia Chang, Executive Director of the Asian Film Festival. She serves on the board of the Video Association of Dallas, which Weiss is president of. The two support and help each other. “He has so many interests and projects he’s involved with and still offers to help each year. He’s what you think of when you think of an artist—extremely passionate and cares about people.”

“It’s the personalities within the art community,” Weiss says. And in the same vein, people who teach film and video work together. Whether it’s SMU or UTA or UNT. “There’s a real spirit of cooperation.”

Downtown Dallas. Photo credit: Googles images

Downtown Dallas. Photo credit: Googles images

Finding a home at UTA

Weiss joined the film program at the University of Texas at Arlington 17 years ago. It’s a place, he claims, where students don’t make student films, they are students making films.

“We don’t let our students make films that don’t mean anything or don’t have the potential to change the world. We are really hard on our students, if they bring something in and it isn’t right, they do it and again and again.”
Most of his students don’t come from privileged backgrounds. Many are first generation college students, so making it in the film business is a really big deal, Weiss says. “Sometimes it’s fighting their parents to let them do this.”

As we were wrapping our interview, he tells me a story about a student named Iris Lopez. Having made some nice films in his media class, he asked her if she had shown them to her father. She said her father was not interested and didn’t support her decision to study filmmaking. In her next class with him, she made a beautiful Spanish film about two kids who were broke and hard up. At the film’s screening, Weiss was facilitating a Q&A and said, “I understand there is someone special here tonight.” Iris responded, “Yes, my father,” then motioned to the back of the theater where he was seated. Unexpectedly, her father stood up and in front of everyone, told her how proud he was of her. In that moment, the entire dynamic of their relationship changed.

“We do things like that at UTA,” he said as he wiped the tears from his eyes.

Bart Weiss believes that the world can be changed by people watching good films, whether they’re about the media or a polka band.

Listening to him passionately speak about his life’s love, there’s no doubting that he’s right.

For information about the more than 200 films that will be screened during the festival beginning Oct. 13, click here.

 

Photo credit: Google images

Photo credit: Google images

The Brainwashing of My Dad
This feature is also published on Theater Jones. Click here to view along with full coverage of the festival.

GO BACK IN TIME THIS WEEKEND TO THE MCKINNEY CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: SEPTEMBER 11 – 13

 

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”. Photo courtesy of mckinneyclassicfilm.com

MCKINNEY, TX: Dena Hill, founding director of this coming weekend’s inaugural McKinney Classic Film Festival, has been passionate about preserving and sharing classic films since she can remember.

“This is a life long dream for me,” Hill says. “This brings back all those happy memories of times when my parents and I watched films together, and I want to promote that.”

Together, Hill, a journalist and arts and entertainment writer with a background in theater, and executive producer, actor and lawyer Bert Pigg, are excited about bringing the classic film festival to McKinney’s Performing Arts Center.

McKinney Classic Film Festival Founder and Director: Dena Hill. Photo courtesy MCFF

Dena Hill

The McKinney Classic Film Festival begins Friday, September 11 at the McKinney Performing Arts Center at 111 N. Tennessee Street and runs through Sunday, September 13. A total of five classic black and white films that span the 1930s to the 1960s, will be screened throughout the festival.

“I think it’s important to preserve the legacy of classic films,” Pigg says. “Current films own much to classic film and modern audiences don’t understand that.”

The five films that will be screened are: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Inherit the Wind (1960), 12 Angry Men (1957), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and Adam’s Rib (1949). The films connecting theme – the issue of justice – is more than fitting, when you consider that the McKinney Performing Arts Center is located inside the Historic Collin County Courthouse. The theme is also one that we can all relate to on a human level.

McKinney Classic Film Festival Executive Director: Bert Pigg. Photo courtesy MCFF

Bert Pigg

“We thought for the first festival, justice would be the perfect theme,” Pigg says. “It’s a way to honor the Performing Arts Center since it was a courthouse for many years. It’s a beautiful building. What a great way to preserve it rather than turning it into restaurants or tear it down.”

Hill admits that they hope to create a family friendly trip back in time.

“Going to the movies used to be an event. People used to dress-up. We want to recreate that.”

“We want to create a community and build something special for people who love classic films. I hope we get 16-years-olds who say, ‘Wow I didn’t know there was a big to do about evolution and wow that Spencer Tracy is a really good actor.’”

The festival’s inaugural guest of honor will be Mary Badham who portrayed “Scout” in the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird. Badham will discuss her career and life during an onstage interview prior to the evening’s screening of the movie on Saturday evening, Sept. 12.

“Mary will walk the red carpet, then there will be a pre-show and VIP reception with her,” Hill says with excitement in her voice. “Anyone can come and walk the red carpet and have their picture taken!”

To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“To Kill a Mockingbird”. Photo courtesy of mckinneyclassicfilm.com

And, there’s a closing party after Adam’s Rib on Sunday with the McKinney Community Band playing music from the eras the films were made.

“We’ve encouraged people to dress up, in 1920s glamour style, Hollywood style, or in other ways that they would like!”

McKinney is #1 on the list of Best Places to Live in America, (Money Magazine) and is located 30 miles north of Dallas and is the county seat of Collin County.

“We’re getting support from locals putting our posters in their windows,” Hills, who also lives in McKinney, says. “The concessions are all provided by local vendors and businesses on the square are very supportive. People in the community are very excited.”

Pigg says there are two things that set the McKinney Classic Film Festival apart from other film festivals: there are no other classic film festivals in North Texas and the film selections are based on genres. Hill and Pigg have already selected net year’s genre – screwball comedies.

“We’ve got to see how this year goes,” Pigg says. “We’re not trying to become TCM but we want a base hit. If we get that, maybe next year we’ll hit another. So we’ll see what works, what doesn’t, and what can we do better because it’s a learning process.”

Pigg adds that if this year’s festival is successful, he’d like to add an educational element, perhaps an hour session on what screwball comedy is, for example.

12 Angry Men. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“12 Angry Men”. Photo courtesy of mckinneyclassicfilm.com

So this weekend, let’s go back in time to a special place and watch some great classic films. Let’s go to the McKinney Classic Film Festival. For tickets, screening times and directions, please click here.

# # # #

DOING IT HER WAY: ENTERTAINMENT PUBLICIST KELLY KITCHENS CELEBRATES 20 YEARS OF CHEERING HER CLIENTS ON

Kelly -TCMFF-Judy dress

Kelly Kitchens in her “Judy Garland” dress at the 2010 TCM Film Festival. Photo credit: Mark Wickersham

DALLAS: When Kelly Kitchens attends the Turner Class Movies (TCM) Film Festival in Hollywood each year, she dresses like Judy Garland and other classic stars. It’s her way of celebrating her love of classical film.

When she hosts a round table session – where writers, bloggers and podcasters gather to interview film producers, directors and actors – she doesn’t rush them, she gives them plenty of time to have a “real conversation” with her clients.

And when public relations’ newbies, (who could become potential competitors) ask her for advice on how to get ahead in the media relations/entertainment publicity business, she always says yes.

With this kind of passion for the entertainment industry, appreciation for the media, and genuine concern for others, it’s no wonder that this well-connected media relations and entertainment publicist is one of the most respected in Dallas. And this year marks her 20th anniversary.

HER FIRST LOVE

Kitchens first discovered her love for writing when she joined the yearbook staff during her sophomore year of high school.

“The instant I was in there I knew,” Kitchens recalls. “I thought then that if I could work on the yearbook for the rest of my life, I’d be happy, because it gave me the excuse to know absolutely everything that was going on at school.”

This was also a time when she learned a valuable real life lesson, thanks to her yearbook advisor.

“She stood up on a chair and ripped up a story that I had written into little pieces and say, ‘Now, do it again.’ Even though that was really hard on me, it was good for me because when you enter the world of journalism, if it’s not up to par you have to start over.”

Eva Smith and Kelly Kitchens working on Houston High School Year Book in 1986. Photo credit:

Eva Rover and Kelly Kitchens, members of the Cy-Fair Senior High School Yearbook Staff in 1986. Photo credit: Cy-Fair Senior High School, Houston, TX yearbook

After spending her childhood in Fort Worth and El Paso, at the age of 12, Kitchens moved with her family to Houston. Having always loved the North Texas area, she planned to return to that area to attend college. When she heard that the University of North Texas (UNT) had an excellent journalism program, in 1986, she headed to Denton.

Beyond her degree plan, she studied art, astronomy, esthetics of film, philosophy of art and music, the Texas blues and more. Kitchens also studied at the American College of Switzerland for a semester in 1989 as a part of UNT’s Classic Learning Core Capstone Seminar program.

“That was such a gift to me.”

With a solid foundation in place, she headed into her journalism classes. But half way through her junior year when she met with her advisor, she told him she didn’t want to go into news reporting.

“I didn’t want to write about murder and politics, I wanted to do feature writing and I wanted learn about criticism.” When he refused to let her go down that path, Kitchens quit and became an English major.

What a coincidence it was that as soon as she switched from journalism to English she started doing journalism, when Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) student “rag” publication came looking for UNT writers. They wanted to expand their student paper, The Student Voice up to North Texas.

“The two schools are as different as night and day,” Kitchens says. “SMU’s paper covered Greek life. At North Texas, you’ve got to cover music, the arts, and theater.”

When the SMU publisher said he didn’t know anything about the arts, she told him not to worry because she did. So she started covering all the bands coming out of North Texas as well as writing theater reviews. It helped that all her friends were artists, so she starting writing features about them. And that’s how Kitchens became UNT’s entertainment editor of The Student Voice.

Kelly Kitchens with Martin Mull at the 2000 Dallas VideoFest. Photo credit: Photo courtesy Video Association of Dallas

Kelly Kitchens with Martin Mull at the 2000 Dallas VideoFest. Photo courtesy of Video Association of Dallas

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

When Kitchens graduated from UNT in December of 1991 that was about the same time the Dallas Times Herald folded. And with D Magazine having been sold to American Express the year before (the magazine returned in 1996), that created a void in Dallas’ hard news coverage.

At that time, the Dallas Observer covered the entire local music and arts scene in their weekly guide, but they soon shifted their focus to hard news, now that The Dallas Morning News had less competition.

In 1992 the Observer went from having local bands on the cover to covering the mayor and city hall. “Entertainment stuff got pushed to the back,” Kitchens says.

Suddenly it was clear that there was an opportunity knocking on Kitchens’ door. So in December of 1993, she became the first editor hired for a new, all arts and entertainment magazine called, The Met. In her role as calendar and film editor, everyone, including arts organizations and their publicists big and small, had to contact Kitchens to get into the paper. In no time, she became the person who knew everything that was going on in the visual, performing arts and film world in North Texas.

“I just loved it! That’s when I figured out that I loved working and talking to people more than I loved writing, which was weird because all my life I thought I wanted to be a writer.”

While at The Met, Kitchens’ ability to work well with others did not escape the notice of co-worker, Todd Johnson, hired on as the advertising art director within a few days of the paper’s launch.

“Kelly is a great communicator and has a great presence. She really knows how to make you get excited about the story she is telling!” Johnson says.

So when Kitchens’ editor wanted her to do more writing and less editorial work, she knew it was time to consider her next move.

“I called six of my favorite publicists and asked them if they thought I could do what they do.” Inspired by the willingness of each of them to take her under their wing and give her a shot working on some projects, Kitchens left The Met on March 31, 1995.

(left to right) Todd Johnson, Kelly Kitchen and Chad Tomlinson during their "Met" days in 1994. Photo credit: Kris Hundt

(left to right) Todd Johnson, Kelly Kitchen and Chad Tomlinson during their “Met” days in 1994. Photo credit: Kris Hundt

Unintentionally but appropriately, she says, she started her own business the very next day: April Fools Day.

CREATING KELLY J. KITCHENS MEDIA RELATIONS & ENTERTAINMENT PUBLICITY

It started with JoAnn Holt with the Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM). One of her very first projects was Hello Dolly starring Carol Channing. ” She was absolutely delightful,” Kitchens’ says with a smile. She worked with the DSM on more of their projects, and then some of the other publicists started giving her projects when they were too booked to work on them.

Other clients she helped early on were the Dallas Classic Guitar Society, Little Tuna Theater and Kitchen Dog Theater’s Hamlet. And a little later some of her first “solo” clients included: actress Morgana Shaw, actress and singer Denise Lee and Playwrights’ Project Fundraiser.

“Public Relations is such a huge umbrella. It can include crisis management, investor relations and much more,” Kitchens says. “I do media relations. I am the liaison between my clients and journalists.” And her clients are from the entertainment side, primarily film and theater.

While ninety-five per cent of Kitchens’ business has been referrals, many have come from the press she worked with during her time at The Met. Jane Sumner, a former film critic with The Dallas Morning News, was the first person to recommend her for a film.

“To have the press recommend me, that to me is the highest compliment,” she says proudly. “What a gift.”

So as it happens, Kitchens learned the media relations/publicity business from the other side – as a film editor and critic. “During those early years, I went to countless movies and screenings, and I knew everybody else (in the media) going. So I just started contacting them, and 20 years later many of them are still on my list. I didn’t have to network my way into it. We knew each other so they approached me differently.”

Kelly Kitchens and Mark Wickersham on the red carpet at the 2014 TCM Film Festival. Photo credit:

Kelly Kitchens and Mark Wickersham on the red carpet at the 2014 TCM Film Festival. Photo courtesy of TCM

ONCE A JOURNALIST ALWAYS A JOURNALIST

Kitchens feels fortunate to have a background in journalism. And she takes the ethics of journalism that she studied at UNT, very seriously. She is careful to maintain professional boundaries with the media.

“That’s been my philosophy along the way, what I give them is what I would have needed as an editor. To know what they need is an important part of it. Pictures, the b-roll (broadcast quality footage for TV news), having access to the people they might want to talk to, things like that. My public relations training was being a journalist.”

And while many publicity firms that have an A, B and C lists of media contacts, Kitchens has only one. “I include everybody as equal because they might pick up a smaller film, which is great because then it can be pushed out on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a one-woman band so I try to do everything I can on the media side so my clients can rise to the top of their game.”

BACK TO BASICS

According to Kitchens, 2001 was her biggest and best year ever. Her client, the Angelika Film Center opened that summer in Dallas, and everything was wonderful. Then 9/11 happened and everything changed.

“People stopped leaving their homes and did not go back to movies or go out to eat,” she recalls. “Clients were saying we love you, and we want to work with you, but we just can’t afford it.”

So for a time she relied on her editing skills and went to work at ad agencies doing in-house editing and proofreading.

“I was really glad that I had those hard skills, and they were sharp enough for me to be able to go in and take on those high-pressure jobs,” Kitchens admits. Still, her most valuable lesson was learned during the post 9/11 lean times, when she approached Stan Levenson, with the Levenson Group, an icon in the public relations world.

“I was so honored when he responded back to me and asked me to work with him on growing the arts district (to what it is now). But the politics at the time (2004) were not her cup of tea, and it was challenging work. At one point she left Levenson a message letting him know that things weren’t going that well. Then he called her back and left a message for her, one she will always remember.

He said, “I think it’s important that I manage your expectations on this.” Meaning that when you’re dealing with things that you can’t control – the City of Dallas, politics, and all that back and forth, you have to be realistic about results, Kitchens explains.

“Those are the most valuable words that I have gotten from anyone, and I use those words all the time because it is my job to manage my clients’ expectations. Meaning if I have a client come to me and say, ‘Oprah would love to read my book or Ellen needs to hear my music.’ Those are usually unrealistic expectations.”

While Kitchens admits she too is a dreamer, it’s very important to keep her clients’ feet planted firmly on the ground. “While you want more than just your mom, your aunt and your best friend to read your book or come see your play or film, you want people who you don’t know, to talk about your work, and that is where I come in,” she says with a chuckle.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

Kelly Kitchens with George Schlatter and Bart Weiss at 2013 Dallas VideoFest. Photo Credit:

Kelly Kitchens with George Schlatter and Bart Weiss at the 2013 Dallas VideoFest. Photo courtesy of Selig Polyscope

Some of Kitchens’ current clients’ include: Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas – DFW, the McKinney Classic Film Festival, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: the Musical and Dallas VideoFest, the oldest and largest video festival in the United States and one of her oldest clients. It’s co-founder, Bart Weiss, has worked with Kitchens on several of the festival’s projects over the years.

“We at VideoFest are a small but loyal bunch, and Kelly is a prized and valued member of that team,” Weiss says. “When people make mistakes, there is a magic in her laugh that makes it hard to get mad at anybody, and I think that is important!”

“She has also helped us get more people to the festival by helping us transition to more alternative media than focusing on the major papers.”

What Weiss is referring to is Kitchens’ media round table events, which include bloggers and podcasters.

“I love to lean on the bloggers and podcasters, anyone working online, to cover the smaller films that wouldn’t see the light of day because the traditional media might only be able cover one or two of the 100+ films being screened at the festival.”

And continuing to find people who are interested in the smaller films and who like classic films, much like Kitchens and her husband Mark Wickersham, is paramount. That is one reason the couple has been attending the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood since 2010. She goes as a fan but makes the most of the business opportunities, too.

“I’ve become friends with the festival director and programmer and I get referrals to different films and events that happen at TCM that we try to bring here.”

Click on the clip below to watch Kelly and Mark being interviewed by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz!

PAYING IT FORWARD

When she started her own firm, six publicists brought her in to work with them. “They also passed clients on to me. To me, that was paying it forward and helping me create my own successful business.”

And the day before this interview, Kitchens had talked to a young woman who wants to go out on her own. “She asked if I could talk to her and I said yes, I always say yes,” Kitchens admits. “I think we live in a very abundant world, and there is room enough for all of us. If what I do is part of your dream, now please don’t steal my clients, but I want to help if I can.”

She also tells them they really have to want to do this because it’s hard work. “You have to be ok with the fact that it is very rare for a journalist to interview you; it’s not you getting the glory.” She adds that it’s important to find something in each client that can be appreciated.

And although Kitchens grew up hating her name, she admits that it has become her best marketing tool because everyone remembers it. And so, after 20 years of nurturing and growing her firm – Kelly J. Kitchens Media Relations/Entertainment Publicity – is something she is proud of.

“I love the process of what I do from beginning to end; from the meetings to creating a proposal (well, maybe not creating the proposal part!), to talking it through with a client and then actually doing the work. And what comes from it, whether it’s a grand success or a bust – all I know is that this is why I was put here on Earth, to be a cheerleader for other people’s projects.”

The Wickershams at home in 2014. (left to right) Juliet, Kelly & Mark. Photo credit: John 'Doc' Strange w/ Selig Polyscope

The Wickershams at home in 2014. (left to right) Daughter Juliet, Kelly & husband, Mark. Photo credit: John ‘Doc’ Strange w/ Selig Polyscope

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