Two months into his tenure as WaterTower Theatre’s managing director, Nicholas Even is proud of the paint job in his new office at the theater; he painted it himself.
Painting his own office is a distinct change for the Cornell College and Harvard Law School graduate who has spent nearly 30 years practicing law. An associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City, Even moved to Dallas and became a partner at Haynes and Boone.
When he moved to Dallas, Even began volunteering with various arts organizations. His late mother pointed out a crucial shift in his priorities. “She would say to me when we would talk on the phone, ‘You know you talk a lot more about what you’re doing in the arts than what you’re doing in your day job,’” Even said. “I kind of made the decision to take what was on the periphery of my life and move it to the center.”
Taking on a leadership position at WaterTower Theatre is a homecoming for Even. He served on the theater’s board from 2005-2008. Although he has been interested in the performing arts throughout his career, WaterTower Theatre’s board is the first on which he served. He went on to join The Dallas Opera Board of Directors and became a Trustee at The Dallas Opera Foundation. He also served on the boards of TACA and Second Thought Theatre.
That accessibility to leadership positions within the Dallas arts community appealed to Even. “There’s a welcoming spirit and an interest in finding what you can do for an organization that I didn’t see in New York. I say to some people I could live in New York for the rest of my career and I wouldn’t have gotten within shouting distance of the board of the Metropolitan Opera. But I was able to find a way to help and make The Dallas Opera a home for my volunteerism,” Even said.
He admires the Dallas arts community’s ambition. “I also think New York doesn’t have anything to prove. I like that I see in various aspects that Dallas is out to prove something. Whether it is the building of the Arts District or whether it’s the new leadership at various Dallas arts institutions, I feel like there’s a lot of energy showing the world that some of the preconceived ideas of Dallas are outdated and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Even said.
Sitting down with the theater’s new artistic director, Joanie Schultz, and talking about her intentions for the theater solidified his assertion that WaterTower Theater is where he wanted to be. “She’s got an energy and a vision of theater as being an inclusive art that creates empathy and dialogue,” Even said. “She’s choosing stories that at least haven’t been seen on WaterTower Theater’s stage and using her national network to up the ante a little bit for WaterTower Theatre and for Dallas theater in general.”
Even is prepared for the inevitable financial challenges of an arts organization with an annual operating budget of $1.7 million. “If we can execute the artistic goals we have there, some of the finances will work themselves out because we’re trying to broaden our circle. That is in terms of the stories we tell, broadening the circle in terms of our audience, broadening our circle in terms of donors and supporters and our corporate affiliations,” Even said.
At Theatre Communications Group’s Fall Forum on Governance in New York, Even was grateful to learn about other theaters throughout the country going through similar significant management changes. His takeaway from the forum: transitions take time. “Our challenge will be to cultivate new audiences in a sustained way while keeping a dialogue with our existing audience, which we don’t want to lose,” Even said.
Having served in fundraising roles for various organizations, Even is determined to grow the contributed income of the theater. Tickets sales make up a small percentage of a theater’s operating budget. To shoulder the burden of inflation, financially support the local pool of professional artists and fulfill ambitions to expand programming, contributed income is crucial.
“We’re working to, first of all, identify other corporations with whom we can develop relationships and that’s one of my active focuses,” Even said. “We’re trying to find ways that we can partner with, collaborate with and fulfill the needs of corporations in our immediate area and the Metroplex as a whole.”
As much as Even enjoyed his law career, he discovers new fuel for his new artistic career as the theater’s staff prepares for upcoming projects. “There’s a certain kind of peace of mind that comes with pursuing art that gives me a different kind of satisfaction,” Even said.
CLICK HERE to read The Dallas Morning News review of WaterTower Theatre’s current show, The Great Distance Home, now playing through December 17.
Kimberly Richard is a North Texan with a passion for the arts. She’s worked with Theatre Three, Inc. and interned for the English National Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. She graduated from Austin College and currently lives in Garland with her very pampered cocker spaniel, Tessa.