To understand Richard Hamburger's role as artistic director of Dallas Theater Center, one needs to follow the path of how he got there. He is only the fourth permanent artistic director in DTCs 42+ year history (its first production was in December 1959).  Hamburger stepped into some formidable shoes and a powerful legacy when he assumed the post in 1992.

Dallas Theater Center was founded by Paul Baker, head of Baylor University's drama department. Baker then formed a graduate school at DTC affiliated with Baylor. In 1963, after a DTC production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night drew the ire of Baylor's decision-makers, Baker, at the invitation of Dr. James Laurie, moved his staff to Trinity University in San Antonio, at which time DTCs graduate school became a part of Trinity until Baker's retirement in 1982. (Students who had already been accepted into the program or were working on graduate degrees were allowed to complete their work at DTC and receive their degrees from Trinity.)

During Baker's tenure, DTC produced innovative work with acclaimed playwrights, actors, and directors from many parts of the globe, including Eugene McKinney's A Different Drummer starring a young Edward Hermann. Following Baker's retirement, company member Mary Sue Jones (wife of Preston Jones (A Texas Trilogy)) filled in as interim artistic director, 1982-83, after which the DTC Board brought in Adrian Hall as artistic director. Hall was an innovator doing double duty in the same capacity at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island. One of Hall's missions was to drive off 40 percent of DTCs old-line subscribers and attract a younger crowd. He nearly succeeded with his production of Tom Jones at DTCs Arts District Theater. I was personally privy to the negative comments of the regular subscribers on opening night as they waded through several tons of sand brought in and dumped on the floor and had to sit on crudely padded benches.

DTC then utilized a number of guest directors in what amounted to auditions for artistic director.  Richard Hamburger made a big impression on the cast and the Board and was offered the top post; he assumed the reins in 1992. He has since built on the legacy begun by Baker 33 years earlier and presented both classic and contemporary works as well as new works, often in innovative styles. One of his favorite genres is musical theater. Among recent musicals directed by Hamburger were South Pacific and Guys and Dolls. The former was one of the most inventive productions ever done on any Dallas stage. This season's planned production of Carnival was scrapped in favor of Our Town (April-May 2002) due to financial considerations in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Hamburger felt that Thornton Wilder's 1938 classic spoke a universal message that is still relevant.

Hamburger has been taken to task by numerous critics for not hiring enough local actors in leading and supporting roles. The latter situation has been rectified to a large degree for the past two seasons, as DTC has been casting many more local actors in key supporting roles. 
Hamburger is constantly seeking new works and employing innovative styles and creative production values when mounting more established works. He is a consensus builder and well received by patrons, actors, and DTC staff. The DTC Board's confidence in him was exhibited last year by renewing his contract for an additional five-year term. His wife, Melissa Cooper, originally joined DTC as dramaturg and was instrumental in producing DTCs first "Big D Festival of the Unexpected," which introduced work by up-and-coming playwrights, many of whom, such as Chay Yew, have entered the mainstream as well-known names.

[END]

Key Subjects: 
Richard Hamburger, Dallas Theater Center, Paul Baker, Adrian Hall
Writer: 
Rita Faye Smith
Date: 
April 2002
Subtitle: 
A Look at Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director, Richard Hamburger