From the Dallas Children’s Theater to the Bath House Cultural Center, East Dallas is teeming with arts and theater opportunities. But missing from the neighborhood arts scene are community theaters where everyone can use their talents.
East Dallas residents Tom Parr and Amy Kulas are looking to fill that gap. In September 2018, they co-founded the nonprofit East Dallas Arts to foster a greater appreciation for the arts through performances, education and experiences.
“We have professional and semi-professional theaters in Dallas,” says Parr, an integrated drama specialist at St. John’s Episcopal School. “You can see how Mesquite and Garland and Lewisville have community theaters, but we don’t really have that here. You can go downtown to see a show, but that mom-and-pop feel, we want to bring it to the broader community.”
Parr is launching East Dallas Arts after helping the arts program at St. John’s flourish. During his nine-year tenure, participation in the school musical has climbed to 95 percent.
“I watched (the arts program) develop into something special,” Kulas says. “I said, ‘Tom, there’s something magical about this program, and I think East Dallas needs you.’ We really want the East Dallas community to experience art, whether that’s someone who comes to a show, comes to an art exhibit or participates in a production. We believe in true community art.”
Although East Dallas Arts is for performers of all ages, the nonprofit’s first production, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” featured middle and high school students from six area schools, including Woodrow Wilson, J.L. Long and Booker T. Washington.
Through three weeks of rehearsals, Parr nurtured the young artists and helped boost their confidence — whether that was acting, sewing a costume, choreographing a dance or designing the stage.
The transformation was never more apparent than in a Woodrow Wilson senior performing in his first musical. During auditions, Parr says the student sat quietly by himself, but by the end of the show, he was the hype man backstage, encouraging all his peers.
“It was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had, watching those kids come together,” Parr says. “They weren’t doing it for a grade or a class. They were doing it because they loved it.”
The December 2018 show was such a hit that friends of cast members, college students home for winter break and parents approached Parr afterward to inquire about the next production — scheduled for summer 2019.
Even though Parr isn’t sure what’s next for East Dallas Arts, he and Kulas are committed to providing more opportunities for community involvement in the arts.
Participation in productions is free, and rehearsals will take place in the evening to accommodate adults who can’t quit their day jobs. Everyone is welcome regardless of age or experience.
“Even in adulthood, these people are still artists, still performers,” Kulas says. “Why should they stop performing just because they get older?”
All the founders ask in return is the community’s support through providing rehearsal space, making a donation or attending an event.
“We’re kind of scrappy right now,” Parr says, “but we want to become a name in East Dallas.”
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