The History of Theatre Three


Mission Statement:

Theatre Three produces a wide variety of literature for the stage so that our understanding of the human condition is expanded. Theatre Three strives to illuminate the ideas and emotions the author intends rather than imposing other ideas and emotions alien to the writer’s intent. Theatre Three creates a workplace where mature and young artists are supported in personal and artistic growth and to emphasize the employment of artists who make their year-round residence in Dallas and North Texas. Theatre Three is inclusive as a theatre organization recognizing all elements of the company and the community. Theatre Three promotes the particular pleasure that is gained only from live performance of actors and audiences.

She named Theatre Three for the three essential elements she defined as "co-equal": the playwright, he production, and the audience.

She named Theatre Three for the three essential elements she defined as “co-equal”: the playwright, he production, and the audience.

1961 – Dallas-born Norma Young founded Theatre Three in 1961 with a $3,000 inheritance from a great-aunt she never knew. Ms. Young had worked as a teacher, an actress and a stage manager in New York and at the Alley Theatre in Houston. Eager to establish a professional theatre in her hometown, she attracted three additional co-founders to her vision (Jac Alder, Esther Ragland and Robert Dracup) and began producing a wide range of dramatic literature.

Plays were staged in-the-round (the first seven-show season was at the just-opened Sheraton Dallas Hotel) and immediately met with both critical and popular approval. John Rosenfield, the nationally recognized critic from The Dallas Morning News, said the season contained “…the best acting Dallas has seen in years and years and still more years.”

Many in the audience had strong and positive memories of the theatre-in-the-round concept made famous by Dallas’ own director, producer and pioneer, Margo Jones. Her Theater ’47 (the name changed each subsequent year) was the first professional nonprofit resident theater and the first arena theater in the country making it one of national importance from its opening in 1947 until Jones’ untimely death in 1955. Jones had put Dallas “on the map” as a theatre town with her emphasis on developing writers and importing actors.

Young’s vision had its own strengths: She drew the plays not only from current playwrights, but also from classical works, from Europe, from the commercial theatre of New York, and even from the literature of musical theatre. She saw her task as not only developing the actors and designers she would employ (all of whom were to be from the area), but as well to develop and broaden the knowledge and experiences of her audience.

Accessibility was to be paramount. From the beginning, the season was year-round rather than limited to only certain months and was accessible to artists of color whose gifts illuminated many productions long before the Civil Rights Act and political correctness were the norm.

After seven shows in the hotel Theatre Three needed larger accommodations for its operations, so the operation moved into a remodeled 1920s garage building in what is now known as “Deep Ellum.” Continuing to enjoy critical approval, it introduced Dallas to the likes of Pinter, Albee, Kopit, Becket, Behan and many more contemporary playwrights. Theater Three also produced new plays by Williams, Vidal, Hellman and revivals of masterpieces by Shakespeare, Shaw, O’Neill, and Moliere – all acted by a growing cadre of Dallas professional actors.

1969 – By 1969, Theatre Three had again outgrown its facility. With the aid of its Board of Directors, led by founding board president John Wisenbaker as well as local business leaders, the operation leased space in The Quadrangle (an assemblage of shops and restaurants near downtown in an area now called Uptown). The move doubled seating capacity, improved administrative and production facilities, and is still called home for this professional Equity theatre.

1985 – In 1985 after an exhaustive capital campaign, Theatre Three purchased the building and underwent extensive remodeling including the addition of a rehearsal space, a costume shop and enlarged administrative and public spaces). Until 2003, Theatre Three was the only major Dallas arts organization not housed in city-owned (and city-subsidized) facilities, a benefit that The Dallas Theatre Center, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Dallas Symphony and The Dallas Opera all enjoy.

Theatre Three introduced the metroplex to classic plays, musicals, and scores of new Tony Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-winning writers. The theatre’s appreciation of playwrights has even inspired a number of actors from the company to pursue writing for the stage. Two such writers even went on to win their own Pulitzer Prize: Beth Henley and Doug Wright, both of whom acted extensively on Theatre Three’s stage during their formative creative years. Theatre Three also served as a presenter of touring artists, including Marcel Marceau, Hal Holbrook and Arthur Fiedler.

Outside the Metroplex, Theatre Three has toured the region serving audiences throughout Texas and in 14 other states. On site, Theatre Three has consistently maintained innovative programming including festivals of new works by minority writers, children’s theatre programming, special musical performance pieces, debut productions of emerging theatre troupes and special artists projects as well as special tributes to historically significant people, events and achievements.

Theatre Three produces seven mainstage productions each year in addition to special children’s performances, off-site educational outreach, special event productions and the programming in Theatre Too (the basement performing space).

2000 – Theatre Too was, from September of 2000 until July 2003, home to the longest-running show in the history of Dallas theatre – the musical revue I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! Theatre Too currently houses a six show season between August and June of original plays, adaptations of literary works, musical revues and biographical drama.

Norma Young continued as the theatre’s Founding Artistic Director until her death in 1998. Jac Alder, another of the original founders, remained with the theatre and served as the Executive Producer-Director in charge of both artistic and administrative affairs until his death on May 22, 2015. He was a beloved teller of amazing tales and the longest-serving continuous Executive Producer-Director of a professional theatre in the United States. The community deeply mourned his passing, celebrated his life, and the theatre has honored the pragmatic wish he stated in his will to “just get on with it.”

Immediately following his death, Theatre Three Artist-in-Residence, Bruce R. Coleman, served as Acting Artistic Director through the end of 2016. In “getting on with it,” the board conducted an exhaustive nationwide search for a new Artistic Director and landed on local talent Jeffrey Schmidt to carry on the legacy of Theatre Three.  Schmidt is very familiar to Theatre Three audiences, as he has designed, directed and acted on the Theatre Three stage many times. He worked very closely with Jac Alder, whom he considers a mentor, and intends to serve as a bridge from Theatre Three’s past to Theatre Three’s exciting future.