For a typical production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a director might work with 20 or 30 actors. For Public Works Dallas’ musical adaptation, Kevin Moriarty is working with 200—and only five are professionals.
Of the rest of the cast, some hail from different community arts groups; a cool 100 of them are civilians, average folks with no acting experience at all. Four years ago, Public Works launched in New York with exactly this goal—making theater and the arts accessible to the general public. This production of The Tempest is the first time the model has been replicated outside of New York.
To make this happen, Moriarty, the Dallas Theater Center’s artistic director, worked with Clyde Valentín of SMU’s Ignite/Arts Dallas and Public Works New York director Lear deBessonet. The latter came to town after winning SMU’s Meadows Prize in 2015, specifically to take on this project. They worked with five community organizations, including Jubilee Park and Community Center and the Dallas Park and Recreation department, to hold amateur workshops throughout the city over the past year. Auditions were then held to choose the final 100 to fill out The Tempest cast.
“Some folks actually performed a bit of Shakespeare or another play,” Moriarty says. “Some folks didn’t have any kind of audition material, since they’ve never been in a play before. Instead they recited a poem, or even in a couple cases told a joke.”
There will still be some star power. A few of the five professional actors are DTC company members, and Tony nominee and theater legend André De Shields is playing Prospero. Among those making cameo appearances are the Townview Magnet drum line, local hip-hop artist Sam Lao, and even Mayor Mike Rawlings, who will take the stage on opening night. City Council members Adam McGough and Adam Medrano will appear in the other performances.
“The goal of Public Works is not to teach 100 folks to quit their jobs and become professional actors,” Moriarty says. “The goal is to make the process of making art and expressing yourself artistically accessible to everyone—the idea that all of us have the right to engage with the important cultural works that we share together in our common humanity.”