East Dallas Arts cast members perform Firebringer in May. Photo courtesy Amy Kulas.

Being on stage with a live audience was a feeling actress Payton Lauerman had missed.

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“Hearing that laughter and their reactions, it’s just like food for the soul for all of us,” Lauerman said. “One of the reasons why we do what we do is to bring joy to other people. To be able to finally hear the audience’s reaction again, and being able to see…their faces and everything, it’s just amazing.”

Lauerman played the role of Jamilla in East Dallas Arts’ production of Firebringer, which closed in late May. The comedy-musical production about a tribe of cave-people was the first of the company’s to be in person in over a year, and was only the second live performance at their Lake Highlands venue.

East Dallas Arts was established in 2017 and searched for a permanent performance space until late 2019. After opening their doors for the first time in Lake Highlands 2020 with a production of 13: The Musical in early March, the world of theater went dark with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic.

The location stayed empty for months before East Dallas Arts began to convert its stage into a space with 12 plexiglass boxes. In each box was a light and microphone for each actor.

“One time a week…they would come in, we would take their temperature…and they would get into their box,” co-founder and executive director Amy Kulas said. “And we put on, I believe, five productions with that in mind.”

Each of these productions, including You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Spring Awakening, were streamed to viewers.

“The kind of reviews we got from the audience…was that once they started watching the production, they just forgot the boxes were event there,” Kulas said.

While East Dallas Arts has made its foray back to in-person performances, it also held on to some of those innovations. For its first in-person production of the year, the group offered a virtual showing and an on-demand recorded option for viewing.

Streaming rights for many shows appear to be going away as the world reopens, making alternative viewing options limited in the future, Kulas said. But a complete return to live theater is enticing, she said.

“Something that we also realize is that…watching a live production from your family room that’s streamed just cannot replace live theater,” she said.

The next production coming from East Dallas Arts is Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier, a musical parody that shares the villain’s point of view from the classic tale of Aladdin. A range of ages are included in East Dallas Arts shows, and the company doesn’t focus on only Broadway or mainstream shows, she said.

This speaks to the reason East Dallas Arts was created, Kulas said. She and artistic director Tom Parr co-founded the theater group when they felt there was a space missing for all ages to be part of a full production experience, she said.

“[We] really wanted to create something that was kind of like good old fashioned community theater,” she said.

East Dallas Arts is also a nonprofit, and does not charge its actors to be in its mainstage productions. The group is largely funded by its classes and camps, which range from acting and playwriter courses to musical theater and play performances for all ages.

For East Dallas Arts, the successful finish of its first in-person production in more than a year marks the start of a reemergence on to the Dallas scene.

“We call ourselves kind of scrappy because we got started, and were shut down, like, almost immediately. So this is like—we’re all in restart mode,” Kulas said. “We’re excited and hopeful for the future, and development of our company, and our brand, and our presence in the community… We’re pretty excited about what’s to come.”

More information about East Dallas Arts and this year’s summer camps can be found on their webpage at www.eastdallasarts.org. Information on upcoming performances can be found here, on their Facebook page.