Upstart Productions Upends Dallas Theater
Josh Glover didn’t want to wait 15 years to break into a local company. So he created his own.
MAKING THEATER: Glover’s still-green Upstart Productions started as a postgrad project but is now one of the region’s best companies.photography by Billy Surface
During lunchtime, the strip centers along Belt Line Road in Addison clog with traffic, and young men and women dressed in business casual parade through a mix of fast-ish food and branded eateries. Blending in among the throngs of professionals is a bearded young man, 27-year-old Josh Glover. His résumé reads like tens of thousands of other recent graduates: two years at Texas A&M before transferring and graduating from the University of Texas at Dallas. He sold insurance for a summer after college. Current position: business analyst for Maxim Integrated Products, a worldwide designer and manufacturer of microchips. Skill set: adept at reducing development costs; excellent analytic and communication skills; experience with Microsoft Access, training in SAP, etc.
Hidden near the bottom of Glover’s CV is his undergraduate major: arts and performance, a degree that requires justification during job interviews (people skills, a gift for communication, the ability to speak in front of groups). But for Glover, in Addison’s sea of Dilberts, the drama degree isn’t the mark of an aimless education. If you saw Glover in a Potbelly or some other Addison lunch spot, sitting alone, reading a play (“I am always reading a play,” he says), what you wouldn’t recognize is that two years ago this business analyst, along with some fellow UTD graduates, started one of the region’s best theater companies—Upstart Productions—from scratch, with little funding and no more reputation than the few favors they figured they could call in from their college professors.
The young history of Upstart Productions, of which Glover is the founding artistic director, reads kind of like what it is: the fantasy of a drama grad with a burning desire to start a theater company. In two seasons, every single production has been a critical smash. Their first season garnered acting and directing awards from the DFW Theater Critics Forum, and this year both of their productions, subUrbia and Talk Radio, racked up three awards each, with actor Joey Folsom, who appeared in both plays, singled out for the emerging artist award.
Upstart does theater “insanely well,” wrote theater critic Mark Lowry on the popular local theater website TheaterJones.com, “with tight ensembles and the kind of blistering, naturalistic acting that is all too rare on area stages.”
Eating a hamburger in a pub just off Belt Line, Glover downplays the attention.
“We kind of came around at just the right time,” he says. “No doubt we have worked hard, but there is so much luck that has been involved in terms of timing, it’s ridiculous.”
I ask him what he means, and he rattles off a list of things having to do with the logistics of running a theater company—connections they made with directors or actors or the owners of theater spaces—but he never gets to the reason why Upstart has yet to have anything less than a very good production.
This all started in 2008, just months after Glover finished school. He said the idea was seeded by late-night conversations among a few soon-to-be grads about the lack of opportunities for young theater makers—not just actors but directors, producers, stage craftsman, and everyone else involved in a production.
“Unless you go out and make it yourself, no one will give you the time of day as a director unless you have paid your dues for, like, 10 to 15 years,” Glover says. “It’s like, ‘No, sorry, you have to be this tall to ride this ride.’ ”
Glover and his friends wanted to challenge the convention, and they found the perfect company name: Upstart. Upstart Productions didn’t start with ambitions of becoming one of the region’s best companies. Glover just wanted to create a theater company that focused on bridging the gap between the academic theater and the professional theater. “Basically give people fresh out of college the chance to show their stuff,” he says.
A theater troupe for young actors is nothing new, but Glover sees his company as an educational project. He takes pride in mentoring new producers, giving young directors breaks, and involving members of the company in different aspects of a production. This approach no doubt adds a youthful energy to their work, but it also forces Upstart to take its season slow, producing just two plays a year and taking time to make sure each one is done right.
“We are not trying to push ourselves to produce more shows,” Glover says. “It helps to take two or three months to really prepare for a production, rather than trying to juggle a full season of four or five shows. We can take our time with it a little more, find the right people to work on the show.”
Still, Glover is trying to think of creative ways to offer as many opportunities as possible without biting off too much. For example, though the company will stick with the two-production format this season, the first performance will actually include a trio of one-acts by Harold Pinter, offering three directors the chance to stage a work.
He even sees his own role as temporary, knowing that for Upstart to remain a company of upstarts, he will eventually have to get out of the way.
“I don’t want to be the artistic director who stayed with Upstart because he knew he had a sure thing,” Glover says.
It’s a revolutionary’s Catch-22.
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