OFF, OFF, OFF, OFF-BROADWAY

Stroll by the New Arts Theater on Ross and you’ll see a dream in progress. It’s called Key Exchange.

Key Exchange is a play that opened in New York in June 1981. Last November, a producer of the New York production was in Dallas and sold two native Dallasites on the fact that Key Exchange was a smashing show. Within a few weeks, Jay Hopkins and Jim Krause had been to New York, seen the play and were set to bring their own version of the off-Broadway hit.

That was the dream: bringing a New York hit (Time magazine named it one of the 10 best plays of 1981) to the Dallas stage, independently and for a profit.

Within a short time Hopkins and Krause had contracted the New Arts Theater to stage their production, and in doing so, also found a third partner, Jim Lee, then the managing director for the theater.

After a lengthy but unfruitful search for local talent, the men went back to New York, thinking they would have to import a star. But luckily they ran into Highland Park born-and – raised Joan Prather (featured in the ABC series Eight is Enough). She was destined for the part.

Finding people to provide capital wasn’t too difficult, either. It just required a little nitty-gritty salesmanship.

“We raised money through Mr. Bell’s old invention,” Hopkins says. “We simply just started calling people – basically just friends. After calling and calling, we came up with 16 backers.” Sixteen backers, and $50,000-a sum that is terribly low for a New York production and incredibly high for a Dallas production. It seemed just right, though, for producing a New York play in Dallas.

Aside from money-making possibilities, Hopkins says they’re producing this play to be pacesetters – to introduce new, professional productions to Dallas theatergoers.

“I want to see this type of thing take off in Dallas,” Hopkins says. “Dallas fancies itself as an up-and-coming, cosmopolitan city. For this to happen, we need more support for the arts. To attract big-name stars to Dallas, commercial theaters must be started. You can’t get big with nonprofit alone.”

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