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Circle Theatre starts new era with first-ever artistic director

🕐 4 min read

A few years ago, Matthew Gray stepped away the profession he loves most. But now he’s back in historic fashion.


Gray was recently named the first artistic director in the history of Circle Theatre. He was hired for the position, along with Tim Long as the new executive director, when Bill Newberry retired.

Newberry is a co-founder of the theatre and served as its executive director following the passing of his wife and longtime executive director Rose Pearson in 2016.

Together they founded Circle Theatre in 1981 with the goal of bringing contemporary plays, not yet produced locally, to Fort Worth. Since then, Circle has grown into an accomplished regional theatre, still producing plays in an intimate setting.

Long started as an intern at Circle in the summer of 1999 and has held multiple titles over the years, including box office manager, associate producer, general manager and managing director.

He wrote, directed, and produced the inaugural production in the Circle’s New Direction series in 2003.

“Circle Theatre has been a home to me,” Long said. “I am excited to continue my journey here as executive director, and to welcome Matthew Gray as the artistic director. Rose Pearson and Bill Newberry forged a wonderful theatre we are eager to grow.”

In fact, it was one of those plays that first introduced Gray to Circle Theatre. He directed Dex and Julie Sittin’ in a Tree in 2008.

“I’ve always admired what Rose and Bill did and how they ran the theatre,” Gray said. “I really like Tim Long and think we will make great partners.

“But, most of all, I love the combination of new plays, an intimate space and an exceptionally supportive audience. All of these things add up to what sounds like a great future.”

Newberry is certainly confident the theatre will continue in a strong direction.

“Circle has new strong leadership in place to carry it forward,” Newberry said. “I couldn’t be happier, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.”

That is a future Gray didn’t think included him previously. He left the theatre industry to spend the past six years making his living outside of theatre.

“It’s the right time for me because of where I am in my life. I had a good break,” he said. “My wife and I waited until later in our lives to have children, and once we did, I knew I needed to focus all of my energy on what it meant to be a father.

“Now, seven-and-a-half years into fatherhood, I’ve realized that I need to be the best me that I can be as well as provide and give my family stability.

“I have come to the realization that being the best person I can be means being the artist that I am. I am proud to tell my kids that I make plays for a living,” Gray said.

And though he’s officially the first artistic director in the theatre’s history, Gray paid homage to Pearson for unofficially having the same job.

“It’s very humbling to have that title. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that even though Rose may not have had the title, she certainly put her artistic stamp on the programing and filled that role,” he said.

As for his goals for Circle Theatre in 2018, he said, “I want it to grow and diversify in every way.”

Among Gray’s first tasks will be to find a replacement play for one that was removed from the schedule following sexual misconduct charges against Israel Horovitz.

“We have several options. We also want to discuss what we’re thinking with the director. So, we should have a replacement really soon,” he said.

Gray was born in Louisiana but grew up for the most part in Dallas after his family moved to the suburbs when he was 8. He has lived in Chicago, London and New York.

Gray has experience locally and nationally as an actor, director and designer.

At Circle he’s also directed Something Intangible. His other work in the Fort Worth-Dallas area includes Casa Manana, Kitchen Dog Theater, Second Thought Theater, Dallas Children’s Theater, Pegasus Theater, and Classical Acting Company.

As an original member of the Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company at Dallas Theatre Center, Gray both acted and directed there for three seasons.

Prior to his time working in Dallas, he lived and worked in New York, namely for the off-Broadway Pearl Theatre Company, the Flying Machine, Soho Rep, the Samuel Becket Theatre, Interart Annex – 53rd St. Theatre, the Chelsea Playhouse, Theatre 22, and 5th Street Theatre.

In addition, he has taught acting and improvisation, including as an adjunct professor at Richland College, worked as a producer for corporate live events, produced commercial and corporate video and digital media, and directed/produced audio books.

“I am grateful and exhilarated at the opportunity in front of me. Here’s to the future,” Gray said.

“Rose often spoke of her mantra, ‘The show must go on,’ “Long said. “And indeed, for both Rose and Bill, it is.”

Circle Theatre

230 West Fourth St.

Fort Worth 76102

Current production

This Random World

Thru Feb. 24

One Night Only

Del Shores’ Six Characters in

Search of a Play

Sunday, Feb. 11 3 p.m.

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