WALTER DALLAS

WALTER DALLAS 

DIRECTOR – PHOTOGRAPHER – PROFESSOR – WRITER 

By Dale Ricardo Shields

 

When I was a boy of 6 or so, growing up in Atl with my aunt in our meager house across from the old Tiger Flower mansion, I would daily practice Bach, Beethoven, or make up my own songs on our piano in the living room. Once a week, the city garbage truck would arrive, and two garbage men, their dark black skin,  sweating and glistening under the summer sun, would walk past the window near the piano, laughing and joking, but focused on retrieving our garbage cans from the back yard. Their muscular chests framed by and straining against their taut white tank top undershirts blazed in the GA sun. They sang and joked as they’ve retrieved the cans, and returned them to our back yard. I remember how meticulous they were. I admired that. They never dropped trash along the way. I wish I was as happy and skillful as they were. At some point after one of their visits, I said to my aunt, “when I grow up, I want to be a garbage man.” I was so pleased (and slightly surprised) when she said, “That’s good. I’m proud of you.  Whatever you decide to be, just make sure you’re the best you can be.” 
A week later, i wanted to be something else when I grew up, a fireman or doctor, but for the rest of my life, her initial response became my leitmotif: “just be the best you can be.”

Walter Dallas assumed the artistic leadership of Philadelphia’s Freedom Theatre in 1992. He has won recognition and several awards for his work on and Off-Broadway and regionally at such theaters as the Negro Ensemble Company, American Place, Yale Rep, Crossroads, Alliance and Baltimore’s Center Stage where he was a Director Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts. At Chicago’s Goodman Theatre he directed the critically acclaimed world premiere of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, named one of the Top Ten Best Theatre Events of 1995 by Time Magazine and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

PURLIE  – Freedom Theatre Philadelphia, PA, (1996)

Awards include an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Arts (May 2002), a local Emmy Award (San Francisco), New York’s prestigious AUDELCO National Achievement Award for Excellence in Black Theatre, and several Bronze Jubilee Awards for Outstanding Direction. He received a Proclamation, “Walter Dallas Day” from Atlanta’s Mayor Maynard Jackson, and two Creative Genius Awards from the Atlanta Circle of Drama Critics. For his production of Having Our Say at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, he received a 1997 NAACP Theatre Award nomination for Best Director. His off-Broadway production of Moms garnered an Obie Award for its star, Clarice Taylor, and resulted in two successful national tours. His production of Desire Under the Elms at Chicago’s Court Theatre received two 2000 Black Theatre Alliance Award nominations. World premieres include works by James Baldwin, Leslie Lee, Sam Kelley, Kia Corthron, Ntozake Shange, Samm-Art Williams, Clarice Taylor, Thulani Davis and others.

His own adaptations of the films Cooley High and Sparkle premiered at Freedom. He also premiered John Henry Redwood’s The Old Settler at the McCarter Theatre. His world-premiere production of Charles Smith’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, produced by New York’s Acting Company, enjoyed a national tour, a critically acclaimed Off-Broadway run and earned him a 2002 AUDELCO nomination for Best Director.

 

Back in the 80s, as AD of Freedom Theatre and training program of 700 students in Philly, I got permission from Orion Pictures to do a stage version of Cooley High. It was an experiment to combine traditional, Black theatre, (my audience) and Tyler Perry style theatre (of the 80s) to bring those two diff audiences together and hope that both would be pleased. August Wilson and Woodie King came to bear witness to my audience Dev experiment. It was a smash! The theatre won a National award from Audelco in NYC. Next, I did Sparkle: The Musical with Warner Brothers’ blessings. Again, another smash hit combining the two worlds. My 3rd experiment was going to be Claudine, but I left for the theatre for an Univ residency before it could happen. PS: The original cast of Cooley saw the show and wanted to support a national tour. 

 

Cooley High
The Arts Bank, Philadelphia, PA, (1997) — with Faruq Tauheed Jenkins, Eric Carter, Shawn Patrick Thomas, Kevin Wong, and Joilet F. Harris. 

[ Major props to cast members Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs who attended the premiere of my stage adaption of ‘Cooley High” at Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia,1996. And thanks to screenwriter Eric Monte for helping me get movie studio’s permission to do it.  ]

August Wilson visits my Cooley High at Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
Photo by Walter Dallas

Both studios responded. They wished me well and charged me nothing! I got permission by making one phone call. I wanted to capture more of the women’s POV in Sparkle, so I asked my friend Ntozake Shange to help me with tweaks to the script. We had fun! 

Also, an award-winning playwright, his latest play, Lazarus, Unstoned, had its world premiere, to popular and critical acclaim, at Freedom Theatre in April of 2002. Of his Lazarus, Unstoned, the Philadelphia Weekly theatre critic wrote: “It’s often said that the role of the director coincided with the birth of vernacular religious drama, and in Philadelphia, nobody is more adept at this style of theatre than Walter Dallas.”

Additional work with new play development has included experiences at Sundance, the O’Neill, the Public Theatre, New Dramatists, and in Africa, England, France, and Russia.

A graduate of Morehouse College and the Yale School of Drama, he also studied music and theology at Harvard University, and dance and theater in traditional African societies at the University of Ghana at Legon. He taught theatre at Antioch College and the University of California, Berkeley. He created the School of Theatre for Philadelphia’s University of the Arts in 1983. In 1992 he left to become artistic director at Freedom Theatre.

~*~

Production credits

Director

Thurgood

Olney Theatre Center

Olney Theatre Center Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab

Olney, MD
July 19 – August 20, 2017
Director

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark

Everyman Theatre

Everyman Theatre

Baltimore, MD
April 15 – May 11, 2014
Director

Stick Fly

Arden Theatre Company

Arden Theatre Company Arcadia Stage

Philadelphia, PA
October 24 – December 22, 2013
Director

A Raisin in the Sun

Arden Theatre Company

Arden Theatre Company

Philadelphia, PA
March 7 – April 14, 2013
Director
Blues For An Alabama Sky
African Continuum Theatre Company

Atlas Performing Arts Center

Washington, DC
April 14 – May 8, 2011
Director

Blue Door

Arden Theatre Company

Arden Theatre Company Arcadia Stage

Philadelphia, PA
January 14 – March 21, 2010
Director

Blue Door

African Continuum Theatre Company

Atlas Performing Arts Center

Washington, DC
April 16 – May 3, 2009
Director

Gee’s Bend

Arden Theatre Company

Arden Theatre Company Arcadia Stage

Philadelphia, PA
October 9 – December 7, 2008

The Piano Lesson

Arden Theatre Company

Arden Theatre Company F. Otto Haas Stage

Philadelphia, PA
March 6 – April 13, 2008
Director

Desire Under The Elms

Court Theatre, Freedom Theatre

Court Theatre

Chicago, IL
January 21 – February 20, 2000
Director

Blues for an Alabama Sky

Crossroads Theatre

New Brunswick, NJ

New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Newark, NJ
October 1 – November 15, 1998
Director

The Old Settler

World premiere
McCarter Theatre Center, Long Wharf Theatre

McCarter Theatre

Princeton, NJ

The Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck III Mainstage Theatre

New Haven, CT
February 7 – April 6, 1997
Director

Seeking the Genesis

Goodman Theatre

Goodman Theatre Stage Two

Chicago, IL
1996 – 1997
Director

Seven Guitars

World premiere
Goodman Theatre

Goodman Theatre

Chicago, IL
January 13 – February 18, 1995
Director

The Amen Corner

CENTERSTAGE
Baltimore, MD
1981 – 1982

Filmography

Hide Hide Writer (1 credit)
 2002 Standing in the Shadows of Motown (Documentary) (Narration)
Hide Hide Miscellaneous Crew (1 credit)
 2002 Standing in the Shadows of Motown (Documentary) (narration consultant)
Hide Hide Self (2 credits)
 2006 Backstage on the Black Stage (TV Movie documentary)
Himself
 1987 Working in the Theatre (TV Series documentary)
Himself

Playwright & Director (1987) … Himself

Awards

2010

Nomination:
Barrymore Award: Outstanding Direction of a Play
Blue Door — director 

Award

Austin Film Festival

2002 Winner
Audience Award
Best Documentary Showcase Film
Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002)

Shared with:

Ntozake Shange(writer)
Paul Justman(director)

Other Works

(July 2002) : Directed “Master Harold… and the Boys” play by Athol Fugard (Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Connecticut, USA).

Paul Robeson, The Arts Bank, Philadelphia 2008

Lazarus, Unstoned, (gospel opera), New Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia 2004

The Bluest Eye, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, San Francisco 2007 (named one of top ten productions of 2007)

The Piano Lesson, Arden Theatre, Philadelphia 2008

(September 8 to October 27, 1996) He directed Emily Mann’s adaptation of Sara L. Delaney, A. Elizabeth Delaney, and Amy Hill Hearth’s book, “Having Our Say,” at the Mark Taper Forum Theatre in Los Angeles, California with Frances Foster and Lynne Thigpen in the cast. Edward E. Jones was the scenic designer. D. Martyn Bookwalter was the lighting designer. Dana R. Woods was the costume designer.

(1996-1997 season) He directed John Henry Redwood’s play, “The Old Settler,” in a world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre (Mainstage) in New Haven, Connecticut. Loren Sherman was the set designer. David Murin was the costume designer. Frances Aronson was the lighting designer.

Back in the 80s, as AD of Freedom Theatre and training program of 700 students in Philly, I got permission from Orion Pictures to do a stage version of Cooley High. It was an experiment to combine traditional, Black theatre, (my audience) and Tyler Perry style theatre (of the 80s) to bring those two diff audiences together and hope that both would be pleased. August Wilson and Woodie King came to bear witness to my audience Dev experiment. It was a smash! The theatre won a National award from Audelco in NYC. Next, I did Sparkle: The Musical with Warner Brothers’ blessings. Again, another smash hit combining the two worlds. My 3rd experiment was going to be Claudine, but I left for the theatre for an Univ residency before it could happen. PS: The original cast of Cooley saw the show and wanted to support a national tour.
Thanks. Both studios responded much as you did. They wished me well and charged me nothing! I got permission by making one phone call. I wanted to capture more of the women’s POV in Sparkle, so I asked my friend Ntozake Shange to help me with tweaks to the script. We had fun!

     

LINKS  

 

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