As The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch prepares for the fifth anniversary of moving into its unique, namesake space–a refurbished mid-century fire station–the company has one more reason to celebrate. The theater just joined the Actor’s Equity Association, making the jump from community theater to one of few professional theaters in the Dallas area. The designation is a huge badge of achievement in the theater world, and one that couldn’t have been reached without artistic director Derek Whitener. He’s been running Firehouse by union standards since he came on board a couple years ago.
Becoming a small professional theater means that Firehouse must pay its artists union wages, follow union labor rules, and include at least one union actor in every production. The Firehouse Theatre is the 10th AEA theater in North Texas, joining the ranks of Dallas Theater Center, Dallas Children’s Theater, WaterTower Theatre, and others.
“When there’s one union actor in every show, there’s a higher standard of excellence that we have to live up to–we followed that even not being a union theater–but it’s that stamp of approval for people who are theater-goers,” says Whitener. “They know they’re investing in a place that’s going to be paying masters of the arts.”
For its anniversary, Firehouse is presenting The Drowsy Chaperone, the first play it had in the fire station. Whitener says patrons have been asking for an encore for years. The dawn of the 2020s seemed like the perfect time to revive the flapper-era musical comedy.
Several of the actors from the 2015 production will reprise their roles, including Janelle Lutz, whose career has blossomed in the years since. She’s now based in New York and performs in professional theaters across the country.
“So many of the cast were young little babies, and now they’re out doing theater professionally–it was all the perfect package to bring the show back,” Whitener adds.
Now, as an equity theater, The Firehouse Theatre will be able to support up-and-coming actors in another way–by granting them “professional” status. For Whitener, being able to kickstart local artists’ careers is the biggest win.
“I think the most important thing here is that we’re creating professionals in the Dallas community.”