Artisan Center Theater
Photo by Alyson Peyton Perkins
To see a video of Artisan renovations:
J. Parker Ragland Special to the Business Press
Now 10 years old, Artisan Center Theater is completing an expansion of its seating capacity to 200 seats, up from 150. So who was the contractor on the project? Theater volunteers, who “sing, dance, and act” in addition to their skills in manual labor, worked day-in and day-out to complete the renovations, according to theater officials. Previously, the theater had spaces in Hurst, Euless and Arlington but now will consolidate their activities to their Main Stage location, in the Belaire Plaza of Hurst. Members of the organization say that the improvements to the facility will help them to better “enrich the community” as well as “provide volunteer opportunities [and] offer ongoing education and experience in the performing arts”– all part of their ongoing mission to the community. Artisan Center Theater opened in March 2003, and since that time, more than 500,000 individuals have experienced the Artisan Center Theater. Part of their success can be attributed to the family-friendly nature of their performances. Between the theater’s Main Stage, children’s school (Artie’s Playhouse), and acting academy, there is a comprehensive curriculum for performers seeking to improve their skills and increase their exposure within the industry. Their unique “farm system” offers performers the opportunity to perfect their craft in the presence of a live, and lively, audience. The members of Artisan Center Theater attribute their success to staying true to their mission. Originally, plays were scheduled for Thursdays through Saturdays at the theater, but after realizing an increase in demand, plays also were scheduled for Mondays and Tuesdays. Dorothy Sanders, one of the three founding members of Artisan Center Theater, recalled when she realized the theater was doing the right thing. Referencing a moment during the intermission of Singin’ in the Rain, she notes, “Suddenly, I knew that this theater was going to work, and it had a lot to do with the family atmosphere. It’s still a very friendly place.” None of the actors are paid and neither was in the construction crew. Artisan Center Theater grows only because people believe in its mission. As 90 percent of some 77,000 patrons in 2012 came from outside the city of Hurst, the theater operates as an effective stimulus to the Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) economy. Its total revenue exceeded $1 million and it’s now the largest community operated theater in Texas, in the top 10 in the United States, according to officials. Richard Blair, also one of Artisan Center Theater’s three founding members, said he applied some of the ideas he learned in the business world to the theater. “I used to work in manufacturing, and I applied many principles that I learned there to this theater,” he said. “That’s partly how we have such a quick turnaround.” And they do have a quick turnaround, closing one show Saturday evening and opening a new one the following Thursday. Blair also mentioned the motivation that drives the performers at the theater. Without pay, how do you expect to maintain your actors, stagehands or other members? He attributes their motivation to the audience. Being able to watch faces light-up and an auditorium erupt with applause is, well, payment enough. In that sense, the community fuels itself. The theater pulls its performers and technicians from the community so that they can perform for the community. When the community is pleased, they are motivated to return. It’s a completely sustainable model, really. Their next production, The Civil War, was postponed due to some technical aspects of the renovation process but opened for viewing on June 6 nonetheless. The show will continue through July 13. The play was written by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, with music by Frank Wildorn, whose other works include Scarlet Pimpernel and Jeckyll and Hyde. Quoting Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman, this story recounts one of the darkest moments in American history. Taking a comprehensive paradigm – from slave to leader – The Civil War explores the hopes and fears of Americans at the time, and even now, making us weigh heavily our beliefs about what it is to be free.