BWW Interview: A Q&A with Dallas Summer Musicals President Kenneth T. Novice
Broadway World sits down with Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM) President Kenneth T. Novice to discuss the importance of arts education, making musical theatre accessible to all and the upcoming 2018 DSM Gala, An Evening with the Best of Broadway.
DSM has strong roots in Dallas' cultural history. After 77 years in operation, how is DSM keeping the community interested in musical theater?
I am constantly made aware of the wonderful, deep roots DSM has in Dallas. Every evening that we have a show, I walk the lobby, the auditorium, the restaurant, and the lounges, and folks come up to me to share their stories about DSM and the Music Hall at Fair Park. This history and success are the foundation of DSM, and we honor that splendid past while we continue to build DSM's bright and growing future. The wonderful thing about musical theater is that it touches on meaningful, funny, poignant and universal themes by blending design, acting, singing and musical elements like no other art form. This makes it of ongoing interest to many people across many communities. Our job is to let people know that it is happening right here in Dallas, and, most importantly, that it is accessible to everyone. By growing our community engagement through education initiatives, ticket access programs, such as Seats for Kids and Seats for Vets, and striving to bring the best show titles to Dallas audiences, our constant aim is to achieve significant accessibility and participation in a wonderful and universal art form.
In addition to keeping audiences interested, how is DSM introducing new audiences to musical theater?
This year, we reinvigorated our education work by launching an Education and Community Partnerships department. We have multiple aims with this work including creating musical theater experiences for young people and students from our neighboring communities around our home in Fair Park, expanding our work throughout Dallas with our High School Musical Theater Awards program and engaging families with our current and growing community activities. We must do more than present great musicals, and our new strategic plan speaks in detail about engaging first-time and ongoing audiences more deeply to ensure the future of musical theater.
One of DSM's core missions is to enrich Dallas' cultural landscape through actions like community outreach programs. Can you give me an example of what those efforts look like?
I often refer to our main stage work as "the gift of Broadway." We have been given a wonderful gift in this art form, and we work tirelessly to share it with as many folks in North Texas as possible. But we must also strive to do more with this "gift." It's up to us to put it to work and engage, educate and lift up students, young people, veterans and seniors. To accomplish this, we look forward to using our new Education and Community Partnerships department that I mentioned earlier to engage educators, education administrators, corporations, civic organizations and individuals in a conversation about how musical theater can create a positive impact in our communities. Our goal is to launch new pilot programs soon and truly share this "the gift of Broadway" with everyone. This is DSM's most exciting work.
Why is arts education and community outreach important not only to DSM, but to you as a leader in this space?
When speaking with my friends and colleagues who are leading other Dallas performing arts organizations, I often find myself referring to this subject. We have seen how the exposure to the arts can improve quality of life, provide creative outlets for young people and students, improve educational performance, engage youth and change lives for the better. After many years working in the performing arts, I see no higher calling than to let the arts do what it does best - enrich, enlighten, encourage and foster learning and personal growth while entertaining at the same time. I feel good about what DSM, along with the other many other arts organizations in this wonderful city, are doing for Dallas in areas like education, community, and partnerships. However, we can always strive to do more.
Looking ahead, what does the future of DSM look like now that Broadway Across America has helped re-brand the organization?
Our terrific new partnership with Broadway Across America will help ensure that DSM will be able to bring what we call in our marketing, "The Best of Broadway," to Dallas and the North Texas community for many years to come. Folks ask me quite often about coming seasons and name their favorite shows that they would like to see on our schedule. I am always moved and encouraged by the question because the love of musical theater, along with all other art forms, in this community is inspiring. I just say, "Look to Broadway and you will see the future of DSM."
Unfortunately, musical theater isn't always accessible to everyone in a community. What is DSM doing to combat that issue in Dallas?
Two years ago during my interview process at DSM, I was lucky enough to attend one of the organization's frequently held Community Performances. I sat in the Music Hall with 3,000 young people from the schools and communities adjacent to Fair Park. This was a free-of-charge performance for these young folks, and it almost brought me to tears to see their reactions and excitement while watching the amazing performance of Stomp. That day, I thought to myself, if I come to Dallas to lead DSM, we are going to build on this beloved Community Performance program to create even more opportunities for those who could not otherwise attend our shows. We are currently addressing this goal in our Education and Community Partnership work.
This year's annual Gala, An Evening with the Best of Broadway, is coming up on Nov. 3 and will be hosted by Jane Lynch and feature performances from Matthew Morrison, Shoshana Bean, and other surprise guests. Why is the Gala historically such a big night for DSM?
An annual fundraiser is a regular occurrence for most arts and nonprofit organizations. But this year, it's even more important for DSM because we are raising money to expand our Education and Community Partnerships department and to ensure the highest quality on our stages at every performance. DSM's Gala has grown in recent years, and we were excited to feature Katherine McPhee and Brian Stoke Mitchell at our most recent event. This year, we are stepping out even further to bring Dallas a new kind of event featuring a host with a personality larger than Texas, Jane Lynch, and Great Performances from Matthew Morrison and Shoshana Bean. We've also held back a Broadway surprise or two to give the evening a wonderful, organic element. I can't wait to see our theater filled with Dallasites ready to support our local arts community.