The cast of Hit the Wall at WaterTower Theatre. Courtesy photo by Karen Almond.

Theater & Dance

With Stonewall Play, WaterTower Heads in a Promising New Direction

Joanie Schultz, the theater's new artistic director, knows the importance of taking risks. But do Dallas audiences feel the same way?

Starting with its upcoming production of Hit the Wall, the regional premiere of a work about the 1969 Stonewall riots that inaugurated the modern gay rights movement, WaterTower Theatre is kicking off a new community engagement series that hints at bolder programming to come from the Addison theater company.

“Intersections,” conceived by new artistic director Joanie Schultz, is an after-show lineup of events that will explore the themes of each play the company produces. In the case of Hit the Wall, which will feature music by the Dallas rock band The Mystiks and resonates as a call for rebellion and a demand for civil rights, this will include live music after select shows, as well as discussions with LGBTQ activists and historians. Audiences on certain nights can also expect more typical after-show programming, including a July 30 conversation with playwright Ike Holter and talks with artists involved in the production.

The play itself is a bit of a gamble for WaterTower, with Nancy Churnin at the Dallas Morning News noting that the “edgy, adults-only production” is pretty atypical fare for the company’s subscribers. Before Schultz took over in January, the final show of the theater’s season was set to be a chipper and inoffensive Sondheim musical. Will WaterTower audiences be as receptive to Hit the Wall as theatergoers in Chicago, where the play premiered and became a hit in 2012?

This new engagement program and Hit the Wall itself, which Schultz is directing, will be the new artistic director’s clearest mission statement yet. The theater’s upcoming season, the first full season under Schultz’s tenure, is full of similarly-spirited work, many of the plays exploring the kind of adult themes Hit the Wall unabashedly grapples with. How Hit the Wall is received should give some indication of how WaterTower subscribers will respond. Even Undermain, one of the more risk-taking theaters in town, usually tosses subscribers one familiar work per season. And, sure enough, WaterTower will open next season with the regional premiere of a Pride and Prejudice adaptation.

Schultz should be applauded for taking a chance, particularly with something as relevant as Hit the Wall. (Also worth applauding is how WaterTower’s upcoming season will give the stage to so many women playwrights.) The after-show series she’s launched will give further depth to the play, and connect audiences with issues that remain all too timely. And we’re hard-pressed to think of another theater in Dallas that’s booking local bands to play after performances.

Schultz seems to understand that the best theater is not an escape from the real world, but a way to look at the real world through a different set of eyes. It should be alarming and risky. Its duty is not to comfort us, but to connect us.

Hit the Wall premieres July 28 and runs through Aug. 20 at WaterTower Theatre. The “Intersections” programming following select shows is scheduled as follows:

July 30th – STONEWALL ON STAGE – A Conversation with Playwright Ike Holter
August 2nd – KNOWING WHO I AM – A Conversation with LGBTQ Youth
August 4th – Local Band Night featuring Mercury Rocket
August 6th – Conversation with the Artists
August 9th – Conversation with the Artists
August 10th – NO MORE WATCHING – A Conversation about Advocacy and Activism
August 11th – Local Band Night featuring Rat Rios
August 12th matinee – CHANGING ATTITUDES – A Conversation with Parents of LGBTQ Youth
August 13th – QUEER STUDIES – A Conversation with Dr. Susan Harper, queer historian
August 16th – DEFINING MOMENTS – A Conversation about Life During the 1960’s
August 18th – Local Band Night featuring Secrecies
August 19th matinee – Community Conversation
August 20th – Conversation with the Artists

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