Just down the street from the beautifully restored Victorian dwellings of the Wilson and Beilharz Blocks, the Swiss Avenue Theater Center has set up shop in a historic building at Swiss and Cantegral.
Built in 1902 as a U.S. cavalry post, the old red brick building has for the past few years been home to live theater productions by a number of companies.
Although the theater has a resident company, The Collected Works Theatre Co., the space also is available for lease to local “homeless” companies who need a stage and an audience. That arrangement has been a blessing for many companies.
“Thank God for the Swiss!” says Kimberlyn Crowe, a partner in The Actors Group, which booked the theater for a February production. The group offers workshops for local actors, and the February production of short pieces featured their work.
“We were able to offer workshop members the opportunity to show their talent,” she says.
Owner Jim Pavey and his wife, actress Kathleen McLaine, see the Swiss Avenue Theater Center as a kind of cooperative effort.
“We manage the house – the business side – and that frees the company to concentrate on the artistic effort,” McLaine says. “You govern your act – we’ll govern the space.”
In addition to an adaptable performance space – the seats are reconfigurable to meet the requirements of different productions – the center includes a warehouse full of sets, flats, props and costumes from past productions, all available for use.
Another unusual aspect of the Swiss Avenue Theater Center is the lack of restraints imposed on companies using the space.
“We look for productions with quality of content and commercial possibilities,” McLaine says. “That’s it. The plays here are being put on for you, the audience, not to please supporters or a board of directors.”
From the audience’s point of view, adds Pavey, the theater center offers a unique opportunity.
“This is one of the few places in Dallas where an audience can experience live, intimate theater,” he says. “For example, in 1997 our resident company did a production of ‘Macbeth.’ It was quite an elaborate production for such a small space.
“I can’t describe how exciting it was as an audience member to see the swordplay up close and personal. They’re battling a few feet away from you, and it totally draws you into the play.”
Swiss Avenue Theater Center associates would like to see the artistic community united in a mutual goal of turning Dallas into a world-class venue for all the arts. The theater is an affiliate of the non-profit Parallax Project.
“We want to improve the quality of local theater, expand audience participation and encourage cooperation rather than competition among local companies,” Pavey says.
Upcoming productions include “The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me,” a one-man show (March), “Caligula” (April), “Medea” (May), David Mamet’s “Vanya on 42nd St.” (September) and “Educating Rita” (October). For information, call the box office at 214-320-8990.