WALTER DALLAS

 

WALTER DALLAS

DIRECTOR – MUSICIAN – PHOTOGRAPHER – PLAYWRIGHT – PROFESSOR 

By Dale Ricardo Shields

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Winner, Best Director Award, of the New York “Viv” Award for                                                                                                      Richard Wesley’s “Autumn,” at Billie Holiday Theatre, Brooklyn. 2017.    

 Honored as one of “Philadelphia’s 100 History Makers of the 20th Century.”   

Recipient, New York AUDELCO Special Pioneer Award for Excellence in Black Theatre, 2016. 

BA, Morehouse College; Music and Theology Studies

Studied Theology at Harvard University Divinity School Harvard University

MFA, Acting/Directing at  Yale School of Drama

Theatre in Traditional African Society at the University of Ghana at Legon

Member of the Negro Ensemble Company, New York

Member of The Acting Company, New York    

 

 

“We should believe in each other’s dreams.” – Walter Dallas

 

Director, playwright, musician, photographer, teacher — retired University of Maryland, College Park theatre faculty member Walter Dallas does it all and he believes the power of the performing arts can turn lives around. 

 

The lights dimmed to black. A piece of driving music with a pulsating rhythm that could be felt from the back of the audience began and seven actors took to the stage, weaving in and out of one another, establishing seven different characters with movement motifs…it was nothing short of a theatrical ballet. This is how Walter Dallas began the New York Premiere of Richard Wesley’s Autumn for The Billie Holiday Theatre. Walter and I often stood at the back of the theater and watched the show, which allowed us to be a witness to the witnesses, a mainly African American audience, as they went on this journey. It was in these moments when I think I understood Walter best: a quietness that belied his genius; a reverence that demanded one only whisper in this sacred chapel that is the theater; and a sincerity of spirit where I always knew that Walter only said what he meant. I watched Walter work, relentlessly peel back layer after layer with the actors—from very seasoned Broadway craftspeople to novices—and I was struck by how they all trusted him implicitly – they tried things, they experimented, and they dared; he was a minister of a gospel of truth and they were, in some ways, disciples. His soft-spoken manner endeared me to him most. Like Vera in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars”, which Walter Dallas directed at The Goodman for the World Premiere, starring Viola Davis, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jerome Preston Bates, Michele Shay and more, I am a “quiet woman.” It was a breath of fresh air in this theater capital of the world to work with a man who felt like a pure craftsman—through and through. Never a mention of the business, although he successfully ran Freedom Theater in Philadelphia for years. Never the need to be the loudest or smartest person in the room. Never did he ever drop a name, although his contemporaries were a who’s who in great Black intellectual thought: James Baldwin, Lloyd Richards, August Wilson and so many more. Walter Dallas is one of our true knight errant in the Black Theater, the American theater, righting wrongs and fighting for an ideal of great humanity on and off the stage. Walter Dallas is our Sir Walter. 
Dr. Indira Etwaroo
Artistic Director, The Billie Holiday Theater

 

I’m a director, I’m a playwright, I’m a musician and recently I’ve become a photographer. I play a couple of instruments. I teach. Life is full and exciting. I’ve lived a charmed life. 

Growing up, I directed shows with Coca-Cola bottles as characters in my plays and an eclectic mix of music in the background.

 

I was very, very lucky as a child. I lived with my extended family in Atlanta, with a lot of cousins and uncles and aunts of various ages who were around all the time. So, I grew up with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Sarah Vaughan, Dakota Staton, Miles Davis, and other artists like that. And rock ‘n roll, classical music, all kinds of music. Then I took piano, viola and organ lessons. Even in kindergarten, I’d always put on pageants and plays. I remember being a mouse in The Nutcracker ballet when I was in the first grade and every year after that I wanted to be a soldier. And by the fourth grade, I was a soldier, and by the fifth grade, I was the prince.

When I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I realized that I already was what I was going to be when I grew up — that is, I was already a fusion of directing and putting on shows with Coca-Cola bottles as characters in my plays, with an eclectic mix of music in the background.

 

I have a cousin, an actress, who started calling me “Diva,” She said that what I do is fierce and that I don’t go around trying to be fierce; I just am.

 

I have a cousin, an actress, who started calling me “Diva” when I was in college. She started calling me “Diva” and then friends in college and grad school did, too. When I asked her, “Why ’Diva?’” she said, “What you do is fierce, and yet you don’t go around trying to be fierce, you just are.”

I find that theatre is a powerful force that can change the course of my life and the lives of others. When I first came to the university and directed my first show, The Amen Corner, I didn’t know who was a theatre major, who was ready to have a major role. I just cast those I thought were the best students for the roles. As it turned out, I cast a criminal justice major for one of the leads. She had never been in a play before, not even in high school, but she was fabulous. She was so good, and she loved performing so much. She graduated two weeks after the show closed, and that fall she re-enrolled as a theatre major. In two years, she received a BA in Performance and has not stopped performing professionally since.

 

The power of theatre, the power of the arts, is amazing. Often you never know how deeply it affects people.

 

The power of theatre, the power of the arts, is amazing and the thing about it is you might know instantly — but often you never know — how deeply it affects people. I often hear from people who say, “You know, what you said that time really turned my life around.” Sometimes I don’t even remember what I said and sometimes barely remember the person. But theatre powerfully affects people. 

Photo: Michael Maloney Director Walter Dallas (center) works with the cast during rehearsal. The season opener at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco is Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” – adapted for the stage. The company under the direction of Walter Dallas was in the early stages of rehearsal. The photo was taken on 9/18/07 near San Francisco, CA. Photo by Michael Maloney / San Francisco Chronicle – Shanique Scott, Walter Dallas and Natasha E Noel in Los Angeles, California.

https://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Lorraine-Hansberry-Theatre-to-stage-The-Bluest-2500123.php

 

I stand on stage after a performance and 900 or a thousand people now know my work. I don’t see them but their lives are affected and then, when they contact me, or when former students reconnect years later, they affect my life. So there’s a meaningful exchange that makes it real for me. 

 

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