Jeffrey Schmidt and Lydia Mackay, partners in marriage and theater, love Halloween.
From 2004 to 2009, the couple hosted elaborate Halloween parties with distinctive themes and imaginative sets built by Schmidt, a critically acclaimed director, designer and actor.
After a few years of fun, Schmidt and Mackay decided to channel their creative energies into creating new plays.
“We had stories we wanted to tell and we wanted to have a direct hand in creating theater in Dallas,” said Mackay, an actor who teaches performance at Texas Christian University.
The result is The Drama Club and their October tradition of producing new works continues with repertory productions of Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time and The Incident.
Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time follows The Drama Club’s tradition of developing pieces created by a collaboration of playwrights and the company’s artistic members.
As soon as their production of Faust in October 2015 closed, Schmidt and Mackay began developing the concept of this year’s show.
They knew they wanted something to complement Halloween festivities and they turned to John M. Flores, Maryam Obaidullah Baig and Michael Federico, to twist fairytales and myths into something appropriately spooky.
Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time is an international theatrical feast of four plays with influences from Mayan mythology, the Brothers Grimm, Irish lullabies and Urdu poetry.
“The Drama Club is a collective group of artists and the ideas those artists bring is our brand. We serve the show. We create the idea, curate the idea, invest in the idea and workshop the plays before producing the shows. It’s time-consuming but very fulfilling,” Mackay said.
Fulfillment does require funding.
When they started producing shows in 2008, Schmidt and Mackay initially funded their productions out of their own savings accounts.
For last year’s production of Faust, the two used Kickstarter to raise funds. They were glad for the enthusiastic support, but Mackay said she noticed a specific trend with their supporters.
“They were all of our friends! I wish people beyond the arts community donated to the arts and supported the creation of this new work,” Mackay said.
They said they work hard to be frugal and The Drama Club does not carry any debt.
This year, they said they were grateful to receive a grant from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs for Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time.
With the funds it raises, The Drama Club is devoted to developing and commissioning work in Dallas.
“In school, I was told to be successful I needed to go to a larger market. What about my home? What about cultivating and curating art here in Dallas?” Mackay asked, challenging preconceived ideas about a successful theater career.
Unlike Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time, The Drama Club did not commission The Incident.
Terry Vandivort, an award-winning, legendary Dallas actor, wrote the play after sextuple bypass surgery.
The play is about Vandivort’s harrowing, life-threatening ordeal in 1979 and until he wrote the show, he had only shared his story with one living person.
He said his health issues forced him to face his mortality and his past.
“This thing wanted to come out. I don’t want to die afraid of this,” Vandivort said.
He put pen to paper during his six weeks off work after his surgery. Before he finished the play, he shared it with Cameron Cobb, a friend and fellow actor who is directing the show for The Drama Club. Cobb was intrigued and urged Vandivort to finish it.
“It is an opportunity to see this seasoned actor perform his story as a survivor of this painful, crazy event. It’s a redemptive story about trying to get past this life-altering incident,” Cobb said.
The play was a part of Kitchen Dog Theater’s new play reading series and after receiving a positive reaction, Cobb suggested approaching The Drama Club about producing a full production of the show. Vandivort was thrilled with the idea.
“I have so much respect for The Drama Club. I was so taken with Faust. It made me euphoric! I went dancing for the first time in fifteen years. It was electrifying and so kinetic. I wanted to work with those people,” Vandivort said.
Mackay admits she was not sure The Incident was a good fit for The Drama Club, but Schmidt advocated for its production, because it pushes limits and challenges the audience.
“It’s really a Dallas story,” Cobb said. In The Incident, Vandivort describes in great detail the subcultures of Dallas in the late 1970s.
“It talks about a world, a milieu, a subculture that people don’t know existed and the people who inhabited that world. As it has grown and modernized, Dallas has squeezed out the various subcultures where people were fighting for their lives without any solution to their humanity or their needs,” Vandivort said.
“As my life changed, I could tie it to how Dallas changed and that could propel the story.”
Vandivort’s devotion to the context of the setting fascinated Mackay.
“As someone who lives here, it takes the place to another level,” Mackay said. As places were mentioned in the show, Mackay realized she had recently visited that exact location. That familiarity heightens the horror of the story for the audience.
The Drama Club initially intended to produce The Incident last summer, but Schmidt and Mackay came across a problem many small theaters face: they could not find a space for rehearsals and performances.
“Art is being created here in Dallas, but it is a fight to get it out into the world,” Mackay said. Vandivort is impressed by the amount of new work being created in Dallas.
“I’m always surprised by the explosion of new pieces in this city. More is being created here than when I was growing up here. But space is at a premium,” Vandivort said.
The search for space is symptomatic of the challenges smaller theaters face as the artistic community in Dallas grows.
“What artistic environment do we currently have and what do we want?” Mackay asked.
Mackay would like to see some sort of partnership between large and small organizations to help meet each other’s needs.
Vandivort said he remembers when investing in the arts was an act of civic responsibility and is concerned about the devaluation of the arts in society.
“Culture needs to be genuinely as important as investment banks and fur salons. That’s what needs to change,” Vandivort insisted.
Cobb argues for a change at the government level.
“The City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs needs to be granted real agency. There needs to be real, genuine advocacy in the avenues speaking the language of civics. That’s how you affect change,” Cobb said.
Eventually, The Drama Club realized running The Incident in repertory with Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time was the perfect solution.
A happy byproduct of the delayed run of The Incident was the ability to develop a relationship with Survivors Offering Support (SOS), a group working closely with people affected by violence in the LGBT community.
Vandivort said he admires SOS’s work and The Drama Club has partnered with SOS to present talk-back sessions on October 19 and 26.
“We’re using theater to help educate and inform and change the mindset around these issues. That’s why we’re here. That is why art is so powerful,” Mackay said.
Vandivort said he is interested in investigating opportunities to partner with SOS in the future and one day, he might want to see another actor perform the show. But at this moment, Vandivort is relishing this creative endeavor.
“While I was writing, I thought I would end this show with a question, but five pages before ending the show, I came across a source that provided conclusive evidence and a resolution. I found a way out of a morass,” Vandivort said.
By sharing The Incident, his entire spine-tingling secret story, Vandivort dispels the ghosts of his past and finds a way to help others who have experienced similar traumas. With The Incident alongside Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time, Halloween at The Drama Club has never been so haunting.
The Incident and Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time are now playing at Bryant Hall at the Kalita Humphreys Theater through October 29. For tickets and information, visit www.thedramaclub.org.