The act of making theater stems from deep artistic passion, so it makes sense that sometimes — perhaps too often — business sense isn’t always taken into account for artists who just have to make theater happen. Which is why the story of Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre is a bit of an anomaly.
Instead of mounting a production any way he could and then dealing with the business end later, artistic director Allen Walker incorporated his Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre (the acronym everyone loves saying: TART) and spent the first year planning for a first season. That’s exactly what happened.
TART was incorporated in 2012 and in the fall of 2013 launched with a strong production of the ghostly thriller The Woman in Black at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center’s Sanders Theatre. The two-show first season closed in spring 2014 with a not-as-strong staging of John Patrick’s The Curious Savage.
“We deliberately took a year and did nothing but organizational work,” Walker says. “We took the time so we didn’t set ourselves up for insanity or failure or both.”
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This weekend, TART’s second season opens with Arthur Miller’s daunting, large-cast The Crucible. The 2014-15 season features one more show than the first year, with Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and Paul Zindel’s quirky comedy The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild in the spring.
The benefit of incorporating early means that TART will be eligible for grant money just after its second season starts, in October. (There’s a two-year period before a nonprofit acquires grant eligibility.)
Walker says so far his seasons reflect a mix of shows with popular appeal (Agatha Christie), offbeat comedy ( Curious Savage and Mildred Wild, even if they’re community theater staples) and works that aren’t performed as often in professional theaters, such as The Crucible.
To be sure, although the word “regional” denotes professional, for the foreseeable future, TART will be amateur theater — albeit one that pays its actors and designers a stipend.
“We really want to be the most professional amateur theater in town,” Walker says.
Walker grew up in Fort Worth and attended Western Hills High School, where he fell in love with theater. “I was so terrified as a kid of getting up in front of people. I couldn’t sing, so I had to take drama or band. In drama, we did a horrible production of The Hobbit. I was Gandalf the Grey. Even if it was bad, it was magic, and I was bitten by it and the sound of the audience cheering.”
After graduation in 1981, he pursued the passion at Abilene Christian College, and then received his master’s degree in directing at Humboldt State University in Northern California.
Along the way, he followed another passion: flying. He became a private pilot in 1985 and eventually ventured into commercial aviation. He now flies for United Airlines and is able to work around his schedule to accommodate directing shows for TART.
Walker hadn’t been involved in theater for many years but wanted to do something again. So in 2010 he auditioned for a Stolen Shakespeare Guild production of Much Ado About Nothing and was cast as Leonato.
Then he wanted to direct The Woman in Black — a popular show in London — which is how Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre came to be. They produced it on the heels of a film version starring Daniel Radcliffe. As for jumping into the busy pond of Fort Worth theater, he feels his group fits in well.
“I’m continually amazed by not just the quality but the variety of theater here,” he says. “So many theaters producing quality theater, from the big Equity houses down to the hole-in-the-walls that seat 30 people. To me, there’s always room for more art.”
The second word in the group’s name also hints at what he wants to focus on: “We’re a company by actors, for actors. We want to do shows that actors can sink their teeth into. We don’t want to be afraid to do something because it might not be popular enough.”
Currently, the group is using donated rehearsal space at Meadowbrook United Methodist Church, and sets are built on Walker’s back porch and stored in his neighbor’s garage. In future seasons, he’d love to throw in works by Ibsen, Shaw and Strindberg, “stuff that’s completely relevant to our contemporary audiences, like The Crucible.”
So far, he’s gone about it with the right attitude — not to mention business plan.
“I think theater unjustly has a reputation for being an elitist, cliquey endeavor,” he says. “I never thought that. I want people to come and enjoy, and hope people will have fun doing what they do. As far as the shows go, the sky is the limit.”