Duke City Repertory Theatre was incorporated in 2008, we received our tax-exempt status from the IRS in August of 2009 and in August of 2010 – Ta Da! – Duke City Repertory Theatre opened our Inaugural Season with Trust by Steven Dietz. Hooray!
So those are the basic facts of how DCRT came to be. But the story goes much deeper than that and spans several years and a few cities. This is the story of the love of my life. It’ll be easier if I explain it to you…
After deciding to transfer to Southwest Texas State University in 2000 (go Bobcats!), I was accepted into the BFA Acting program. It was there that I met the dazzling Ms. Kristi Wiley. A friendship was forged almost instantly based on her being one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and my ability to literally fall down laughing at her jokes. We were a match made in heaven! You’ll hear more about Ms. Wiley in a bit.
During my last few years of college, I was attending various unified auditions and not getting any offers. I would love to say that those theatre companies just didn’t see all of my obvious “talent”. Truth is, there were a lot of people who were better than me. Let’s face facts, right?
Regardless of my “talent” or lack thereof, an idea was born. Maybe, just maybe, I could have my own theatre company. I started speaking that idea out loud, just to experience what it was like to say those words: “I’m going to have my own theatre company someday.” Only problem was that I had no idea whatsoever how to actually make that happen. Mostly I just thought about what city I’d like to have this company in…
So I was going to these auditions and having these amazing experiences like studying abroad with the Royal Shakespeare Company and doing the month-long intensive program with Shakespeare & Co. in Massachusetts while continuing to audition for professional theatres. In February of 2004, I attended UPTAs in Memphis, TN. It was there that I met Katy Brown, Associate Artistic Director of Barter Theatre and Artistic Director of the Barter Players. Katy Brown would go on to be one of the most influential people in my career as a theatre artist. Katy offered me a job as a Barter Player, which I almost didn’t take! But that’s a story for another time. I started my contract in late May of 2004. In my two and a half years at Barter I learned more, was more challenged, and worked so much harder than I ever have in my entire life. It was also there that I met Associate Artistic Director Frank Green and the man who would literally shape me into the artist I am today: John Hardy. And it was at Barter as well, where late one night, on a porch with a fellow Player I said “I’m going to have my own theatre someday.” For some reason that conversation sticks out in my mind particularly. Perhaps it was because that was the first time I had said it to someone who actually believed me…
My contract with Barter ended in December of 2006. I spent the next 8 or 9 months auditioning everywhere within a 6 hour drive of Abingdon, VA. or wherever I could get a cheap plane ticket to. There was a one week period where I made the drive from Abingdon to the DC area 4 times. I put quite a few miles on my car. I stayed in a lot of cheap hotels and ate a lot of bad food. And I didn’t get one single job. I spent two-thirds of a year auditioning in front of countless directors and artistic directors and didn’t get one stinking offer. It occurred to me that I wasn’t completely comfortable putting my career in the hands of people, mostly men, who I didn’t feel were qualified to handle it.
Somewhere around August of 2007, I was catching up with Ms. Wiley and we were talking about, of all things, Zac Efron and High School Musical. I kind of wish we’d been talking about Stanislavski or Uta Hagen or anybody else really, but no, we were talking about Zac Efron. Kristi and I started discussing the art that we responded to and would make if we had a platform to do so. It was there, during that conversation, that the idea for DCRT was actually born. I actually remember that I was leaning against a wall between the kitchen and the living room and as Kristi and I started to really plot this out, I had to slide down the wall to sit on the floor, so massive was the possibility of this idea.
In my mind, things moved so quickly from there. We discussed what would be the ideal city for this theatre. Albuquerque? Taos, NM? Austin, TX? Tulsa, OK? Tulsa came into the mix because I read an article on a flight to one of my last auditions that said that Tulsa was the next big American city. Kristi and I kept coming back to New Mexico. After much debate and deliberation, we ended up where we started: Albuquerque. It was decided that I would move back home and get the ball rolling while Kristi finished up her MFA in Theatre Management at Alabama Shakespeare Festival. This would allow me to be the Artistic Director of the theatre that would eventually become known as Duke City Rep and Kristi would be our Managing Director.
Very near to the end of my time in Abingdon, I was spending some time with Frank. One of my favorite things about living in Virginia was all of the trees and greenery. Directly behind the large, ancient dormitory that served as Actor Housing at Barter there was a big green lawn with a little garden to one side. The Shakespeare Garden. Frank and I, along with several of my former co-workers, were sitting in the Shakespeare Garden and maybe we’d been enjoying a few cocktails and I began to tell Frank about this idea of a theatre company where the work would always be at the heart of what we did. This company would be different! We would exist as a theatrical democracy. We would build in a system of checks and balances to make sure that no one person would ever be able to veer the company off the tracks that we had set it upon. Frank and I spent quite a long time talking about this idea and it was there, in that garden in the middle of the night, that Frank joined the DCRT family.
Our duo had become a trio.
A few days later, Frank and I went to meet John Hardy to play some baseball. I nervously told Hardy of my plans, scared that he would tell me that it was impossible, that I didn’t know enough, that no one would support us. Hardy said none of those things. Instead, he told me that it was a fantastic idea. That he was so excited for me and that the fact that Frank Green was already on board should speak to the level of confidence that folks would have in my ability to be a leader. He also told me that he would always be a resource for us and that he would always support us in any way he could.
I’m pretty sure I cried in the dugout.
I moved back to Albuquerque in October of 2007 and hit the ground running. Kristi and Frank joined me here in July of 2009. Along the way, we picked up several people who would be instrumental in our first season and beyond: Guy Fauchon, Daniel Garcia, J Tanner, Charles Murdock Lucas, Rose Nuchims, Lauren Myers, Scott Milder and many, many more. We had the incredible good luck to meet up with so many people who shared our vision for what we wanted and continue to want for Albuquerque audiences. Everything seemed to be lining up just as we had planned.
Sometimes, though, life zigs when you zag. In February of 2010, a few months before we would begin rehearsals for our first production, Kristi learned that she was pregnant. Plans began to shift a bit as we all sought to figure out what this would mean for Kristi and her involvement with the theatre. It was no surprise to me when Kristi tearfully told me that she would have to move back home to Fort Worth. We didn’t know yet what this would mean for Kristi and her future with DCRT but I knew that what was going to be best for Kristi and her little bundle of joy would be to move back home to the incredible support system she had there. On September 23rd, Kristi gave birth to a BEAUTIFUL baby girl and in December of 2010, Kristi officially stepped down from her role as Managing Director, though she remains a co-Founder and avid supporter of the work we’re doing here in ABQ. We even get phone calls from her telling us about patrons who continue to call her number to reserve tickets to our shows! So much of her influence is in the work that we do and the way that things are run at DCRT. We miss her a great deal.
So much has happened in the last four years and yet it feels like it was only yesterday that I was saying a tearful goodbye to my life in Abingdon. When I think of that night back in 2007 when Kristi and I began to excitedly plan this dream, I kind of can’t believe we’re here today, that I’m signing paychecks and creating budgets and asking my actors and artists to risk more and more in service to our amazing audiences. I am so grateful for all of the help we’ve gotten from our friends, mentors and supporters. Though it may sound overly emotional and sentimental, that help and support we’ve gotten from so many people is the very reason we strive to bring them the very best product we possibly can and it’s the thing that keeps us going when we’re exhausted or frustrated or scared.
Truth is, we do so much and work so hard because we love the work. Even on our hardest day there still isn’t anything else we’d rather be doing than serving our audiences. I know, without a doubt, that five, ten, fifty years down the road we’ll still feel the same way.
See? Told you this was a love story.