The Cold War between Dallas’ two touring musical companies has been quietly raging for about a decade now. It all began around 2009, when the AT&T Performing Arts Center introduced its own Lexus-sponsored Broadway series to open in the then-new Winspear Opera House. Dallas, of course, already had a formidable producer of touring musical productions — Tony Award-winning Dallas Summer Musicals — which is housed in the Music Hall at Fair Park.
A turf battle was set. Feelings were hurt. Grumblings and accusations were aired at cocktail parties. The two companies battled for top-notch touring shows. If either company suffered from the competition, it was all to the benefit of Dallas audiences, which have enjoyed an embarrassment of Broadway riches since the opening of the Winspear.
Now there are signs that the Broadway Cold War is thawing, which may make things even better for musical fans. Yesterday, the AT&T Performing Arts Center sent out a press release announcing a new partnership between Dallas Summer Musicals and the PAC. According to the terms of the deal, DSM will have access to the Winspear for four weeks a year, allowing them to book some of their season in the Arts District.
The kumbaya-ing goes beyond sharing space. Both DSM subscribers and Lexus Broadway subscribers will have an opportunity to purchase tickets to each other’s Broadway series productions ahead of the public. It’s a smart cross-pollinating of an audience base that has been forced to pick sides over the past decade between a company with a reputation for bringing the safer, family-friendy productions to town (DSM) and the company that went for Broadway’s more adventurous fare (ATTPAC).
So what broke the stalemate? The press release cites the recently passed cultural plan’s emphasis on collaboration. But I suspect two recent blows to the ATTPAC contributed to the new openness to collaboration. ATTPAC’s track record for booking better shows since it launched the Lexus Broadway series helped build a steady base of subscribers, but many of them were upset over a recent controversy over jacked-up prices and what some saw as hidden subscription costs. Then, DSM scored the holy of hollies: Hamilton. I’d be curious to learn how many subscribers jumped from the ATTPAC ship to get a seat to the touring production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s super hit show.
So what does this all mean to those of you who couldn’t care less about Broadway? Well, I think it touches on a couple of broader civic issues. The first is related to the specific nature of what kinds of collaborations might follow in the aftermath of the new cultural plan. This audience-sharing deal isn’t exactly a blown-open door towards broader equity and diversity in the arts that many in the arts community would like to see, but it does represent a high-profile effort to topple some of the stalwart protective silos that have been prevalent in a Dallas cultural industry typically hungry for and protective of limited audiences.
The move also offers DSM a chance to get out of the Music Hall at Fair Park, at least for a few weeks. The DSM’s new chief, Ken Novice, who took the helm after longtime DSM director Michael Jenkins was ousted in 2016 amid some controversy, says the company is committed to filling the Music Hall and is “also grateful to the City of Dallas for the wonderful recent and ongoing improvements to our beloved home in the Music Hall at Fair Park.” But as the privatization of Fair Park looms over the future of the park’s remaining tenants, it is curious that one the last arts organizations at Fair Park is looking for some footing outside of the park.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe more cross-pollination of Broadway audiences will help draw more people to the Music Hall for other shows. Maybe the cultural plan and the new managers of Fair Park are both indicators that arts organizations in Dallas are starting to think differently about how they operate and how to reach new audiences. In any case, it is something of a relief that the decade-old Cold War between the city’s two major Broadway producers is thawing. Because cultural Cold Wars are silly. Audiences don’t care if a Broadway show is being produced by the ATTPAC or the DSM. They just want to see the best shows.
This ATTPAC olive branch to DSM probably should have been extended years ago. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what kind of long-range impact it has both on arts audiences and the city’s two major arts facilities campuses, the Arts District and Fair Park.