For its first live performance in more than a year, the Dallas Theater Center wants to make sure its VIP audience gets the best seats. The doors will open a full hour before performances of Working: A Musical for essential workers to find their ideal spot on the lawn at the Annette Strauss Square in the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District. The musical based on Studs Terkel’s bestselling book runs July 7-18.
Featuring original songs by Stephen Schwartz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Taylor and others, the musical chronicles the working lives of average Americans, including teachers, waiters, and truck drivers. It is the story of the essential workers who are too often taken for granted.
The Dallas Theater Center is offering hundreds of complimentary tickets to healthcare professionals who have worked with the theater throughout the pandemic as well as providing discounted tickets for all essential workers.
The show features Dallas Theater Center’s Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company. “I have a suspicion that once we get in front of an audience that it is going to feel overwhelming because we are going to be performing for all of these people who have been doing all of these essential jobs. I think we all want to so badly acknowledge and say thank you for all of the work they have been doing,” Molly Searcy, one of the company members performing in the show, said.
“There’s something special, I think, when we can use our craft to say thank you for your craft,” Tiana Kaye Blair, the show’s director, said.
The Dallas Theater Center is performing outdoors for its first live audience since the pandemic began. To endure the Texas summer heat, the stage manager warned the cast to begin hydrating several days before outdoor rehearsals began, cooling stations have been established for actors when they are offstage, and Searcy is arming herself with Pedialyte Sport to replenish her electrolytes.
She is bracing for the inevitable. “I’m going to sweat. My make-up might not stay all in place,” Searcy said. “We are all going to be sweating. Embrace it. It’s all part of the work.”
Directors who have worked on other productions of the musical warned Blair about the non-linear nature of the storyline. She accepted the challenge, recognizing the interdependence of the characters to create this distinctively American society. “There’s this extension of community that you start to see in this show that we give to each other on a daily basis,” Blair said.
To put that sense of community at the center of the story, Blair layered in video interviews with 16 local essential workers. “I wanted to make sure we captured the best of our essential workers and the gravity of the work they do,” Blair said. “They share this gravity that they take with them every day, yet they love what they do. They continue to give to the community in that way, but they carry that weight with them.”
Working on this musical as the pandemic eases makes Blair reconsider the nature of work. “From the perspective of a theater maker, we have tried so many ways to keep our art form moving along and progressing in a time of rest,” Blair said. “I think it really broadened the minds of everyone who runs an institution or a team to say, ‘How can we actually use this as an opportunity to find a new way to do what we do.”
Among the many roles, Searcy plays in Working is a flight attendant who must remain calm when the plane is in trouble. While shopping, Searcy spotted an American Airlines flight attendant in uniform.
“I wanted to go to her and be like, ‘My God, thank you for everything!’ The happy, confident, in-charge, calm, keep-everybody-calm demeanor is so much work,” Searcy said. “It has given me pause to think about all of my characters. All of the folks we see all have stories like that, even the older gentleman at Whole Foods looking at cucumbers. What was his first dance like? What was his first date like? I wonder what job they work and what stuff they have to deal with.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, medical professionals were the most needed essential workers. As the pandemic has evolved, the value of an artist’s job has changed. “I believe our jobs are very vital, now more than ever in this process of healing. I think this is where actors and theater-makers become essential workers,” Searcy said.
Blair hopes theater-makers will lean into their role as essential workers. “That we take this opportunity to make the theater that we need to make and tell the stories that we need to tell,” Blair said. “The art reflects the times.”
Learn more: https://www.dallastheatercenter.org/