Ampersand .10 – Accepting change during the creation process April 6, 2023

Photo by Gary Donhioo


By Carmina Tiscareño

Emotion, suspense, movement and history took center stage during TACA’s Pop-Up Grants celebration. In the black box theater at the Latino Cultural Center, four of the 2022 grant recipients provided an intimate glimpse of the works of art they created with the funding they received. The recipients were also given the opportunity to share a little about the process it took to make their projects come to life. The four recipients celebrated during the event were Theatre Three for Stede Bonnet: a F*Cking Pirate Musical, Artstillery for In Spite of History, Pt. 1, Bombshell Dance Project for In the Conservatory with the Knife and Bandan Koro African Dance for Griots.

Through Pop-Up Grants, TACA has helped vital arts organizations survive since 2020 and has awarded $363,000 to innovative and creative initiatives. Other awards in the last three years included $166,00 in unrestricted funds and $197,000 in artist bonus funds. Recipients of the Pop-Up Grants are nominated by an anonymous group of more than 60 people and receive up to $2,500 and up to $5,000 in Artist Bonus funds. Individual artists are granted funding through the artist bonus funds. These grants allow artists to stay in Dallas and make art here, adding value to the creative ecosystem of the city. 

Mara Richards Bim in conversation with the Dr. Danielle Georgiou, director of STEDE BONNET: A F*CKING PIRATE MUSICAL and Jeffery Schmidt, Artistic Director of Theatre Three. Photo by Gary Donhioo

The perforum started with a pirate musical projected onto a screen, followed by West African rhythms honoring Dallas’ cultural storytellers of the African Diaspora, followed by a live snippet of immersive storytelling that highlighted the voices of those who live in Dallas and have experienced Fair Park and South Dallas for many decades, culminating with an interactive dance that captured the crowd’s attention. While these works of art are different, some similarities in their production process tie them together. Most of them recount having to be flexible and adapt to unexpected changes leading up to their performances, and even on the day of. Theatre Three was the first one to share details about Stede Bonnet: a F*Cking Pirate Musical during the celebration. The musical was created and written by Nicole Neely, accompanied by music and lyrics by Clint Gilbert. It was first seen in 2019 during Theatre Three’s ‘Monday Night Playwright’, a night where playwrights can read, rehearse, develop and host readings of their work in a professional space. But the pandemic postponed the production for three years, and Stede Bonnet: a F*Cking Pirate Musical was finally able to take the stage last spring. This musical directed by Danielle Georgiou even brought crowds from across the country to see the live performance, proving once more the value of art in Dallas. “If we are an arts city, we have to create from the ground up, we have the talent, we have the artists, we need people to believe that something good is going to come out of it,” Jeffrey Schmidt, Artistic Director of Theatre Three, said during the interview panel with TACA before the Pop-Up Grants celebration.  And just when the musical was ready for opening night, the team involved adapted to some last-minute changes in the script days before it was performed to live audiences.  And just when the musical was ready for opening night, the team involved adapted to some last-minute changes in the script days before it was performed to live audiences.

Bandan Koro Drum and Dance Ensemble performing YAMAMA from the show GRIOTS. Photo by Gary Donhioo

Bandan Koro African Drum & Dance Ensemble had a similar experience as Theatre Three, except they weren’t planning for any short notice changes. Bandan Koro received a Pop-Up grant for their production Griots, an immersive celebration honoring Dallas’ key artistic and cultural storytellers with song and dance. In West African culture, Griots are oral historians who maintain knowledge and history.  “Local Griots in Dallas have rich cultural history, and we want to recognize them while they’re still here,” Tony Browne, director of Bandan Koro African Drum and Dance Ensemble, said during TACA’s Pop-Up Grants celebration.   Vicki Meek, Michelle Gibson, Baba Hassan, the late Afiah Bey, Curtis King and Erykah Badu were a few of the local Griots who were being honored during their presentation. A few local Griots, such as Vicki Meek and Michelle Gibson, were also in attendance for the sold-out outdoor performance, but unfortunately the unexpected Texas weather interrupted their performance. Rain postponed the immersive celebration, and the Bandan Koro ensemble hoped the weather would clear. They knew they didn’t want to cancel, since they had such a good turnout. After some trouble shooting, they were able to move the performance inside and stage three selections of the scheduled program. Despite the unexpected alterations, everyone in attendance still felt the significance of the event. Luckily, they were able to schedule a second performance indoors to include all the planned selections. Before transitioning to the next Pop-Up Grant recipient of the night, Bandan Koro performed “Yamama”, a selection from Griots honoring female energy and force. Their drum vibrations and dance filled the theater.

Mara Richards Bim in conversation with the creative team of Artstillery’s INSPITE OF HISTORY PART 1. Photo by Gary Donhioo

Artstillery, another grant recipient, looked to oral history to create In Spite of History, Pt. 1, using extensive interviews with Denise Montgomery, author of the book I Want to Go!. The immersive play reenacted the events of Fair Park’s segregated past, including when Black Dallas residents were only able to attend the State Fair of Texas one day of the season. Broadway Dallas tapped Artstillery to create a piece confronting the racial of Fair Park, Artstillery Executive Director Ilknur Ozgur told the Dallas Mornings News in a previous interview. Through their immersive work, which included projection mapping on Fair Park buildings, they honored the community by interviewing 30 South Dallas residents to tell their lived experiences. This resulted in a play that intertwined seven real live actors with projections. During the performance the audience moved with the actors to different sites among Fair Park. Ozgur said they didn’t think Montgomery, an author, would reply to them if they reached out, but to their surprise she did. “You feel validated, it’s like your life is coming to life on stage,” Montgomery said, teary eyed in response to her involvement in the play produced by the Artstillery team. Artstillery’s In Spite of History, Pt. 1, serves as an example to rethink ways to engage and attract audiences to their works or arts.

Bombshell Dance Project performing IN THE CONSERVATORY WITH THE KNIFE. Photo by Gary Donhioo

That is also something Bombshell Dance Project did with their “murder mystery” style project, In the Conservatory with the Knife. Emily Bernet, Founder and Artistic Director of the contemporary dance company shared their approach to performing alongside the audience and not dancing on a stage. For their production, In the Conservatory with the Knife, they focused on making their performance interactive, letting the audience choose their own adventure. During the performance, the guests followed a dancer while finding clues throughout their path. Bernet mentioned that this experience allowed her to learn more about different ways to engage an audience. The Pop-Up Grant celebration concluded with Bombshell Dance Project leading the audience out of the black box and into the lobby where they performed a selection from their production. The dancers moved throughout the lobby as the audience formed a circle around them. They first watched in a bit of confusion, only to soon focus on what their next move would be. Pop-Up Grants celebrations and the recipients’ works serve as reminders of the many artistic endeavors thriving throughout Dallas, and the importance of showing out in support, whether by attending a performance or making a donation to TACA. If you’re looking for the arts in Dallas, they’re here. 

The TACA Pop-Up Grants are made possible by the March Family Foundation and PNC, with grant support from the Frank A. O’Neil Family Foundation.

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