Months before it opened, Klyde Warren Park was alive with the sound of construction crews and their equipment. A skeleton of the Muse Family Performance Pavilion, designed by New York architect Thomas Phifer, already lorded over what the park’s foundation calls the Great Lawn, a grassy expanse that can support a crowd of at least 3,000.
If all goes according to plan, the finished stage will rarely sit empty. To achieve his mission of daily activity, Klyde Warren Park President Mark Banta enlisted programming partners, with help from consulting firm Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, which initially began the search process more than two years ago.
Local concerts planned for opening weekend in late October offer a preview of what’s in store for the coming months. All partners are in-kind, which means that, for the most part, the organizations will foot the bill in exchange for the chance to put their artists in front of an audience.
The Muse Family Performance Pavilion is made of steel beams with a nearly flat-on-the-ground concrete stage large enough for 120 performers. It’s open from all sides, echoing somewhat the sentiment of the sad Jaques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. All the park is a stage, but who will play in it?
Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts
The school’s performing arts programs, including the dance, theater, music, and visual arts programs, will perform during opening weekend. Principal Tracie Fraley says that one idea for ongoing programming stems from the formal educational partnerships Booker T. already has with its Arts District neighbors.
The learning labs involve apprenticeships and internships with the Dallas Theater Center, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher, Texas International Theatrical Arts Society, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Fraley says the school would like to see the park become a formal part of the labs, from a programming standpoint. For example, when orchestra students do a collaborative piece with the DSO, it would be performed in the park. Other options include street corner-style performances and more formal group showcases.
Uptown Jazz Dallas
Uptown Jazz Dallas founder and CEO Keith Hill will program a free weekly series called “Live in the Park.” It will last four to six weeks and feature what he calls all-star and jazz master sets—professionals with recording history and perhaps even festival circuit experience.
“It’s not that nobody’s ever done jazz before, but the way it’s being done. What Uptown Jazz is doing is focusing on the original music and recording artists that we have in our area. That’s all I present…Because a lot of the musicians from our area that are legends out on the festival circuit, like Roy Hargrove, he’s playing Montreal Jazz Fest, North Sea—these guys are respected in the world at the
top festivals. And he doesn’t play in Dallas? He went to Booker T. Washington,” Hill says.
And although the weekly programming will provide a taste of Dallas’ jazz scene to locals, Hill says the international festival he’s been planning since 2007, slated for next April, will give residents a fuller experience.
Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association
In addition to a two-week festival that will kick off November 5 and last through November 16, musicians from AFM Entertainment, the booking arm of the Dallas-Fort Worth musician’s union, will play an hour at lunch on selected days and an hour in the evening.
Money for park performances will come from the Music Performance Trust Fund, available through the union’s national office for events and festivals, as long as the events are free and open to the public. Because it’s a co-funding program, Klyde Warren Park is picking up a percentage of the tab. AFM administrator Mike Kennedy says the musical possibilities range from Americana to bagpipes to string ensembles.
Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University
Samuel S. Holland, Director of the Division of music at SMU, says the school’s involvement will include small student chamber groups such as string quartets and trios, and maybe the 18-piece jazz orchestra. Other possibilities include the world music ensemble and musical theater and opera performances. On weekends and during lunchtime and late afternoons, park-goers might experience drum circles and percussion.
Hank Hammett, Meadows’ director of opera, envisions scenes and solos in an informal, unexpected setting. It’s good for the audience and the kids, he says.
“We’re so fortunate at Meadows, we have a production department that rivals professional theater. My kids get great costumes, fantastic sets, professional theatrical lighting,” Hammett says. “And in this kind of venue, out in the open, they don’t have anything to depend on except themselves. They’ve got to hold the audience’s interest with what they do. They’ve got to catch their attention and hold their attention through their own storytelling skills.”
Holland says student performances in the park are all part of Meadows’ larger strategy of community outreach. “For the longest time, for decades, we kind of sat here in the Park Cities and sort of reveled in being isolated from Dallas,” he says. “And now it’s just the opposite.”
The Dallas Symphony
on october 27, the dso’s new associate conductor Thomas Hong will conduct a performance to mark the park’s debut, his first since his appointment was announced in June.
The DSO will look to do more community concerts in the park, interim president and CEO David Hyslop says, but could also exercise something called the split orchestra clause in the orchestra’s union contract. That will allow for a brass group, for example, to do a concert without the need for full orchestra.
According to Banta, bands that are chosen to play will go through a vetting system that’s similar to the one used by his former employer, Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Interested performers will submit CDs and demos; a program coordinator will go through those and determine which groups to book.
There’s always the hope of something magical occurring.
“I remember seeing Patti Smith [in Central Park] 25 years ago, and it was literally a life-changing experience,” says Jeff Liles, artistic director of the Kessler Theater in North Oak Cliff and veteran of the Dallas music scene. “If this park ends up being somewhat like Central Park, which is a kind of safe haven green space in the middle of town, people will connect with it on that level.”
In addition to the Kessler, Liles and his Kessler Entertainment Group book shows at City Performance Hall and the Dallas Zoo. He thinks Klyde Warren Park is ideally situated for spontaneous, “hear-the-music-and-wander-over” experiences. People will come—or they should.
“I know a good thing when I see it,”
Liles says. “With all the energy downtown now, it’s gotta be a good thing.”