This is the part of summer series focusing on the real characters behind Dallas’ theater scene. To read other installments in this series click here.
Mathew Posey lives in storefront on Exposition Blvd. steps from Fair Park. Instead of a kitchen table he has forty-five plastic orange chairs. Instead of living room couches, he has a ten-by-twelve foot wooden stage. During the day, the space is called home. At night, home transforms into The Ochre House, an in-your-face performance space.
This is Posey’s second run with producing small-scale theater in Dallas. The first project was called the Deep Ellum Theater Garage, which he opened almost thirty years ago. He says the Theater Garage was founded in reaction to what was developing in the community in the early 1980s. He was producing cutting edge plays right when the alternative theater movement was making its first introduction in Dallas. But after eight successful seasons the Theater Garage’s National Endowment for the Arts grant ran out, and the members of the twelve-person company split off to pursue individual projects.
Posey packed up and decided to explore Los Angeles, for twelve years, taking on the official job title of “actor.” In La La Land, Posey found film and television opportunities, but failed to find a real community to support in L.A. Eventually, he decided to make his way back to Dallas.
When Posey returned to his hometown, he found that its theater community had changed.
“They completed the opera area, that whole Arts District downtown, and the DTC found a new home,” Posey said. “As a result there’s more of a response to the cultural scenes as far as performing arts are concerned, and I thought this would be a good chance to open up a theater again.”
Then Posey saw the shiva, a small statue that hung in front of an empty storefront in Exposition Park. He took it as a sign. Something about that small statue reminded Posey of the alternative theater he had produced so many years before, of the visceral response he received from the community. When he started batting around the idea of starting a new theater, his friends questioned his sanity. But seeing everything that had happened in Dallas during Posey’s time away, he recognized that the need for small theater had blossomed again. He once again saw Dallas as a viable community that would respond to his kind of alternative theater.
“Theater,” Posey explains, “that gives the audience the option to see something original, that slightly steps over into the realm of challenging the audience, as the ritual of theater should be.”
The Ochre House, which opened in 2008, doesn’t operate like your typical theater company. Most its plays are written and directed by Posey. Casting is more personal than your normal audition process. Posey writes parts for his actors, and he includes each person into the process of realizing the characters, instead of having auditions and hoping to make people fit into his characters.
“I write for them, and once they get the script there’s a sense of familiarity, they see themselves in these roles,” he says.
Which is probably why The Ochre House can write, rehearse, and put on a play in three weeks or less. Posey cuts the fat off his theater by personalizing each character to his actors. And it’s seeing this active existence on stage every day that causes Posey to declare that there’s a large local talent that’s being overlooked.
“They use themselves, they use their own attributes, they use their own motivations to bring the characters alive,” he says. “You won’t see it as a rerun or as something else, and this is something to tap into and recognize.”
Posey also claims The Ochre House gets a large portion of first time theatergoers, and it’s due to his emphasis on performance that his petite “aquarium of art,” as he calls it, causes them to continually be blown away:
“I attribute it to the fact that they know it’s for them, even in the back row,” he says. “Our performance of what we give up on stage and to the audience, is a full load.”
The Ochre House is designed with the audience in mind, but theater and art, Posey says, is a dictatorship. Thats why he avoids taking on titles like “actor” or “director.” Any theater artist, he says, is someone who is willing to do what it takes to get something done is willing to “feed the beast,” or do whatever it takes to get a performance on stage.
“I don’t want to take on job titles, I want to take on works. I think this is the essence of the artist,” Posey says. “The artist needs the freedom to make choices and have the confidence to make the choices and stick by them without having to be swayed or influenced.”
This second time around, Posey says he’s finally found his focus. The Ochre House won’t become complacent, pander for funding or grants, or just being another Dallas Theater.
“We’ll see if the little buggy holds together,’ Posey says, “As we shoot off into space.”
Photo: Matthew Posey as Hunter S. Thompson in The Ochre House’s production of 14 Death Defying Acts: An Autopsy of Hunter S. Thompson (Image courtesy of The Ochre House).
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