€A journey that leads to another journey€: An interview with director Walter Dallas

Larry Saxton | 4/15/2009, 6:37 p.m.

Walter Dallas will make his Washington, DC directing debut with the African Continuum Theatre€s presentation of Tanya Barfield€s play €Blue Door€ at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, April 16th. Originally from Atlanta Ga., he is a graduate of Morehouse College and the Yale School of Drama. Dallas studied music and theology at Harvard University, and traditional theatre and dance at the University of Ghana.

In 2002 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. Dallas is currently in the midst of a five-year tenure as Senior Artist-in-Residence in the Theatre Department of the University of Maryland, College Park, where he was recently named Co-Director of the University€s MFA in Performance Program, slated to debut in the fall of 2010.

He has worked on plays on and off Broadway, in England, Africa, France, and Russia. The list of theatre groups he€s been involved with includes the Negro Ensemble Company, American Place, Public Theatre, Yale Rep, Proposition Theatre, Philadelphia Drama Guild, The Alliance and Baltimore€s Center Stage, where he was a Director Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts. Highly respected by the late playwright August Wilson, Dallas was asked by Wilson and Lloyd Richards to direct the world premiere of Wilson€s €Seven Guitars€ at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Dallas talked to the Washington Informer about his work and the play €Blue Door.€

WI: Tell us something about the play €Blue Door€ you are directing at ACTCO.

€Blue Door€ is the gateway of an amazing journey that leads to the beginning of another journey, and the play has a lot to do with memory, forgiveness and redemption. Lewis, one of the main characters, is a successful math professor at a prestigious university. The play opens on the night that his wife of 25 years is leaving him for various reasons, but the one that perplexes Lewis the hardest is that he won€t go to Washington to attend the Million Man March.
He doesn€t understand why he has to go to Washington to march to show that he is Black. What he doesn€t understand, and his wife tries to explain to him, is that while he has become this successful tenured professor at this university, he has lost touch with parts of himself, his history; that keeps him from being in touch with the €why€ of his existence and her from the whole, authentic man that she married. After she leaves, he suffers through an insomniatic night and is visited by a series of ancestors who help him connect with his past. The play is a real sankofa moment. Sankofa is Ghanaian word that means its okay to look back in order to go forward. The play is a two character piece; there are two actors who play more than ten characters in the play. It€s a very powerful, funny and very moving piece of theatre.

WI: Are there any directors that have influenced your style of directing?

I was most influenced by [the late] Lloyd Richards, who was my mentor, who directed of €A Raisin in the Sun€ on Broadway, and the late Baldwin Burroughs, who started the Spelman College Theater Players. He was my first teacher of theatre. Film had a great influence on me in terms of my directorial style, which many have called €cinematic.€ I was influenced by an eclectic array of film directors like Italian director Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock and especially Gordon Parks. Park€s €The Learning Tree€ really profoundly influenced me. It really gave me a sense of how music, color, style, form, language, and moving pictures on stage could really be powerfully affective.

WI: You and the late August Wilson had a lot of mutual respect for one another. How will history view the body of work by August Wilson?
I think his plays will be viewed as a cornerstone in the evolution of the African American canon, and beyond that I think his work will be looked at as a cornerstone in the evolution of American theater. His powerful voice, his plays, will really be seen in their entirety as part of a continuum of the progression of ways, methods and techniques of telling the authentic American story.
His work will always be viewed as stories about the African American experience, about the post-Diaspora African experience in this country, in the twentieth century. But I think in the long view, we will see that those stories really are the chronicling of the American story.