Deep Ellum Arts Festival, Dallas, Texas
When the Wyly theater was constructed I remember being excited about the building and its architecture, even more than the other venues in the Arts District. Its unique design and resemblance to a Borg Cube made it fascinating in my eyes.
But one thought I had was, “This is a cool place – but once it’s finished I’ll never be able to afford to see a play in such an expensive and opulent venue.”
I was wrong. Sure, there are plenty of expensive seats at the shows at the Wyly, but if you play your cards right you can get in inexpensively. You can get in cheaper than a 3-D movie. We saw The Tempest there a while back for only a few measly bucks. Today, we saw a play that I had never heard of, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, for… well, for whatever I felt like paying.
The operators of the Wyly, The Dallas Theater Center, have these Pay What You Can Nights – so I logged in and bought a couple tickets. I thought for a minute about how much to pay… and ended up paying less than I should have but more than I could have. There is a thin line between cheap and poor.
At any rate, we took the DART train down to the Arts District. There was a lot going on – the Friday night late night music, food trucks, crowds, and a preview (A Glimpse) of the upcoming Aurora light and sound installation/exhibition (which I do not want to miss again this year).
We walked past the giant floating red/orange jellyfish writhing in the air outside the theater and went in to take our seats.
The play is about wrestling. I have never been a big fan of the “sport” (though it is in my blood, I guess, I’ll post something about that this weekend). The play was a blast, though.
The Wyly can best be described as a theater machine. The entire interior of the building is infinitely reconfigurable. For this play it was set up as seats surrounding a real wrestling ring, and one side would open up, the seats sliding sideways, to allow the wrestlers to enter through a cloud of smoke. High above were four giant video screens showing the wrestler’s publicity films or the output from handheld cameras showing the action in the ring or the announcing outside.
The narrator of the story is the wrestler Macedonio Guerra, known as Mace, who is a professional loser. He is so skilled that he makes the headline wrestler look good, even when he’s lousy. Wrestling has been Mace’s lifelong dream, and although he has a lot of complaints, he is quiet about them. He doesn’t want to upset the apple cart and lose whatever sliver of his dreams he is allowed to keep.
The first half of the play is a colorful, funny exposé of the funhouse mirror world of professional wresting – where money is king, and the performers are a brotherhood dedicated not to winning, but to entertaining, telling a story, and making sure nobody gets hurt.
After the intermission things get more confused and serious and Mace is inevitably faced with the need to make a choice and decide whether he will have to abandon the moral neutral ground he has been hiding in and take some sort of stand. There also is some real wrestling, which is rousing, fast, and exciting, even if it isn’t a real sport.
Every body in the hall had a hell of a good time, learned a little, and left smiling.
What shocked me was the number of empty seats. The performance was on a pleasant Friday evening, in the midst of an Arts District full of fun things to do, and cost, potentially, pennies. Why wasn’t every seat taken? I never understand why more folks don’t go to live theater. They pay more money than this to go to a crowded suburban googleplex to see the newest remake of some scumsucking hollywood slimebucket and eat stale popcorn while listening to teenagers’ phones going off.
Grow a pair, do something different, go see some live entertainers. You will be glad you did.
It was cold today… especially cold for Dallas. Barely above freezing with a whipping north wind. I thought about staying in, but I wondered how Transcendence was doing, how the ice sculptures were holding up. I didn’t go see them yesterday and there were a couple other things I wanted to do downtown (like eat some Kimchee Fries from the food trucks in the Arts District) so I went to catch a DART train.
As always, the southbound train was leaving as I climbed the stairs to the platform. It would be twenty minutes before another southbound came along, the platform at the station I had chosen was elevated and the wind was biting and miserable.
So I grabbed a Northbound Train. It was more comfortable sitting in a heated car than knocking about the wind-swept concrete platform. I looked at the schedule, examined the time between stops, did a little hard calculation and was able to exit only two minutes before the next southbound came along.
Back at Transcendence…
I found that the first rock had fallen. The more upright figure had given up his whole torso and his stone had dropped to the gravel alongside what was left of his legs. The other human still had his rocky heart inside his torso – but barely. He had melted through to the stone on both sides and there was a visible gap at the top. It would only be a matter of time before his fell.
The rectangular blocks were holding up better. They were full of faults and cracks now, their once crystal clear complexion now a white tracing of opalescent pearl – beautifully glowing when the sun peeked out. The rock inside the largest block was almost invisible now.
There was a professional photographer down there with a big expensive camera. He had been coming down every day. We talked about how long the big block would last.
“It depends on the temperature,” he said.
“Of course, but that big block might last another week – if it stays this cold.”
“Ah, but the ice melts in the sun, no matter how cold it is.”
Every time the sun would emerge from the clouds he would yell at me, “See! See!” and wave his arms.
He’s right… but I still think that big block will be here for a bit.
After walking around looking at the ice sculptures in the Zen garden Friday night, I decided to get something to eat. There was a lot going on – a huge crowd had gathered around the Arts District for the Tree lighting ceremony. To feed these hungry horde, a line of food trucks were ready and rarin’ to go.
Mae West said, “When given the choice between two evils, I’ll pick the one I’ve never tried before.” I have the same philosophy on Food Trucks… I’ll pick one I’ve never tried before. Jack’s Chowhound it was.
There were lines at the trucks, and I stood there, trying to decide on an order. One problem waiting late to eat at a truck, is that they will start running out of stuff – they had all been serving since before lunch and only so much inventory will fit in a truck.
I was thinking about ordering a grilled cheese with tomato soup, but was a little bit worried about how to eat the soup, when the guy in front of me ordered “Steak Frites.” I had no idea what that was, but it sounded cool, so I said the same thing when it was my turn.
This was a mistake, because the guy in front of me stole my Steak Frites when he picked his up, and I had to wait for another order.
Steak Frites are French Fries with chunks of steak on them. Pretty good if you like that sort of thing, but I think next time I see Jack’s Chowhound I’ll go for the grilled cheese. I’m just not that big of a steak fan.
One of the sometimes difficulties with a gourmet food truck is finding a decent place to eat. Here, they had provided a small sea of stand-up tables with candles on them and I managed to snag one in the crowd.
As I was finishing, a couple walked up and the blonde woman asked if she could share a bit of my table.
“Of course,” I said, “I’m done really, anyway.”
I thought maybe they were going to eat, but she gave a murderous stink-eye glare at her man and started grabbing shit out of her purse and whacking it down onto the table with obvious aggravation. I really wanted to stick around and find out what the argument was about (I would guess they had lost something and the guy had asked one too many times, “Are you sure it isn’t in your purse?”) but since I didn’t have any food left, it was a little awkward to simply stand there and stare at this woman having a temper tantrum, so I turned and walked away.
After the Christmas festivities wound down and I was disgusted by the drunken revelers trodding all over the artwork, I hoofed it back to my train. Along a fairly dark and isolated stretch of street I walked past some guy and his wife and toddler. They looked lost, the kid was crying and the wife was yelling at her husband. I was about to offer help, but I recognized the guy as the one that had stolen my Steak Frites.
So he was on his own. I thought about saying something, but he looked miserable enough already.
I had been eating all day, but I had also been walking a lot, so I was developing an appetite. Not too hungry, but I wanted something… and there are still food trucks I haven’t tried.
The Yum Yum Food Truck spends most of its time in Fort Worth, so I wanted to be sure to try it while it was handy. I took a look at the menu… Tacos… perfect!
It was a long beautiful afternoon down in the Dallas Arts District. It was the first Saturday in the Art in October thingy and I had been hanging around for a while, visiting the museums, taking some photographs (I have my Nikon back from the shop and it seems to be working better than ever) and scarfing down some food truck food. I was sitting right off the sidewalk finishing off a pair of chipotle bar-b-que tacos when a couple women with children dressed in white t-shirts that said, “Trailercakes,” on them came by passing out menus.
“We’re down another block,” they said, “come on down and try our cupcakes.” Their menu looked impressive – I’ve never been a huge cupcake fan – but my idea of a cupcake was a stale cylinder of dry cake slathered with some oversweet food-colored goop passed to you at some underfunded church luncheon. These Trailercakes looked like treats of an entirely different sort.
I had seen the silvery glint of an Airstream trailer down in front of the Meyerson Symphony Center. At first I thought of getting some dessert for myself, then decided to hoof by there on the way home and get something for Candy.
So once I was ready to head homeward I walked over to the Meyerson. The main thrust of the festivities and the rest of the food trucks were all down Flora Street towards the Nasher. I hope some folks were able to wander down to the other end – it’s a nice spot, actually.
The Trailercakes Airstream “Bubbles” sitting down in a grove of bald cypress trees in front of the Meyerson. From this picture, you would think it was camped out in a rural park somewhere.
Customers looking at the selection of cupcakes while the bubbles float by.
Working on an order.
One of the things I like about the whole food truck thing is the interaction between the chefs and the customers (me). I bought six mini-cupcakes to take home and we talked about what to get. They asked about peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. I hesitated and they said that was their specialty. They gave me one to try and I gobbled it down.
It was pretty darn good. So I had them include one.
Here’s what I walked away with. Clockwise, from the top, ending with the peanut butter one in the center:
- Hitched (white/white)
- Slap-Your-Mother Chocolate (chocolate/chocolate)
- Bananarama (I think) (banana/cream cheese)
- The King (banana/peanut butter)
- Happy Days (white/white/sprinkles)
- PB&J (white/grape jelly center/peanut butter fluff)
I had to ride home on a crowded DART train with this in my lap. It was full of kids coming back from the Texas State Fair. They all eyed that tray of cupcakes the whole way – I’m lucky I wasn’t attacked.
I remember when each and every building in the Dallas Arts District went up – starting decades ago when I worked downtown and they built the Art Museum and I’d sit in the sculpture garden and eat my paper sack sandwich lunch (it was free back then, believe it or not). Then the Symphony hall, and the Nasher. Finally, the completion of the district with the Opera House and the Wyly theater (there is still one more theater under construction).
I love the area and hope that Dallas can make it into the vibrant urban spot they want. So far, it’s a beautiful but usually desolate destination. It hasn’t reached the tipping point where the vast population out in the suburbs think of downtown as a place to go – but the city is working on it.
One fact that I was definitely wrong on is that, as much as I loved the Wyly as architecture, I was afraid I’d never be able to actually go to the thing. It felt like a gift to the wealthy, a plaything for the rich, and the poor proles like myself, the workin stiffs, would never be able to afford to visit.
I was mistaken. I read that the Dallas Theater Center was producing The Tempest at the Wyly and I surfed over to check out the price. It cost about what a 3D movie is going for. Well, I love me some Shakespeare, so I clicked on to a Tuesday night and bought a couple tickets. I was as interested in the theater itself as the play, so I bought the cheapest seats – up in the nosebleed section.
The Wyly is a magnificent and unique piece of architecture. It is a theater of a revolutionary “Stacked” design – the the boxoffice and lounge, performance space, rehearsal and ancillary spaces are piled up on top of each other to give tremendous flexibility and endless possibilities for unique performances. I looks like a Borg Cube has landed in downtown Dallas and it operates like a theater “machine.”
I was excited to actually see the thing in action. Oh, and I love “The Tempest” too.
We rode the DART train downtown to the Pearl Station and walked over to the Wyly. You descend down a ramp to the main entrance which is beneath the building itself. Then you ride an elevator up to the seats. We were in the cheap seats – but they were still great. We were looking down onto the stage from a short distance away – I can’t say these were any worse than the premium seats (only a few dollars more, actually) below us.
This was a pared-down version of The Tempest which let the skills of the actors shine through. Still, there was plenty of clever stagecraft – a terrifying plane crash in the beginning (with the rows of seats tumbling down through a hole in the floor) – a character emerging from beneath the earth through a crack in the chalky island soil, and a terrifying spirit descending from above to deliver the message of doom.
The production was gorgeous to look at.
One nice touch was that the lighting would subtly change whenever a character would deliver a soliloquy or aside. It was an effective way of signaling what was going on.
All modern Shakespeare productions, especially The Tempest, are modified to some extent. At first, I thought they had simplified the language, because I understood it so much better than I usually did. After a while, I realised that the text was the same, it was simply that the acoustics are so good in the Wyly that I could hear the actors like crystal. Greatness! Oh brave new world that has such people in’t.
In my opinion, a production of The Tempest rises or falls on Ariel. Can the Actor/Actress (I’ve seen both… about 50/50) make a believable sprite? Can they be light as a breeze when needed while as powerful and terrifying as a storm? This production had a local actor that has made it on Broadway, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka … and he did a great job. They were able to use his singing voice as a powerful tool to move the drama along – too often I’ve seen the songs in The Tempest be more of a distraction than an effective part of the play.
So, I went down there to see the theater, and I was not disappointed. And I came away impressed with the production, I really enjoyed it… and after all, the play’s the thing (oops, wrong Shakespeare play).
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev’d by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.