Diversifying drama on DFW stages

Leslie OHare
Leslie OHare

The Dallas Examiner

Theater is perhaps Dallas’ most undervalued cultural expression. It is one of the oldest forms of entertainment. Yet, in a city with districts lined with a number of galleries, museums and dance companies, theaters struggle to maintain their relevance. The owners of Uppermost Entertainment feel that it’s more difficult for local female film directors, producers and screenwriters.

“I think one of the challenges of being a woman in entertainment is for people to see that even though I and my business partner Lisa Bills aren’t men, we can bring the same to the table,” said Leslie O’Hare, co-owner and vice president of creative development of the production company. “If we all just work together we bring such glorious work to the forefront.”

It could be said that O’Hare was groomed for her current position. An early life of acting and pageants led her to produce her own television talk show in both New York City and Dallas. Self-funding her way onto local access channels, booking talent, and taking a hands-on approach to editing and publicity prepared her for the tasks of running a production company. Plays however, were not on the horizon.

“Lisa and I sat down in June 2014 and created 20 shows. We knew we wanted to develop them, but any time we approach a production company to pitch our show to Hollywood, they’re going to ask what our following is,” she said. “So we took our top three shows and turned them into stage productions.”

It was an unconventional method for a far-from-traditional pair. This strategic approach to Hollywood could easily be described as O’Hare’s “I got it” moment, a sort of aha moment she would ask successful subjects like Lee Daniels and DeDe McGuire to describe on her previous talk show.

“Whatever it is, it will catapult us to the next level if we allow it to,” O’Hare said.

The company’s first stage production, I’m Always on My Mind, is showing at venues like The Magnolia Theatre and The Addison Theatre Center, home of the renowned Watertower Theatre. The audiences bare witness to the production that almost can’t be called a play.

“These are actual television shows first,” O’Hare said. “The audience is seeing a television season of 20-plus episodes played out live onstage. I say that every night to the audience before the show.”

The production is a one-man performance that follows the narcissistic, Wall Street-working Brock Besson through love, friendship and personal growth. Local actor Ken Orman brings not only Besson to life, but supporting characters including his love interest, therapist and best friend. In today’s social media age of inflating the mundane, narcissism is a relevant issue filling the waiting rooms of many psychologists. I’m Always on My Mind develops the issue in a way that a variety of audiences can appreciate.

“We’ve taken a serious topic and turned it into something so humorous,” O’Hare said. “No one is really doing that right now [in Dallas plays]. Everyone’s seen Cinderella before. We wanted to make sure with these plays that the originality was there.”

Originality doesn’t begin and end at storylines with Uppermost. It spills over into casting key roles as well.

“We’ve strategically created characters of various ethnicities,” O’Hare said. “You see so many shows where everyone is the same ethnicity and we need to break that chain. Our next play is about my life story and even though I’m Black, the lead actress doesn’t have to be an African American woman every month. It’s very important for us to be diverse and bring in all cultures. We want everyone to have an opportunity to have their dreams come true.”

While many local creators develop their skills in the Metroplex, their intention is to take their talent to places like Manhattan or Los Angeles. Co-owner Lisa Bills and O’Hare make it known that they want to uplift the production community in Dallas.

“We think that there should be so many more shows here,” O’Hare said. “We’re very passionate about employing people in the Dallas entertainment field.”

Bills agreed. “Our goal is to bring as many people with us as possible,” Bills said.

Challenges of funding and credibility can arise for any independent producer, especially for a team of ethnically diverse women attempting to shake up the industry. So far, O’Hare and Bills find the obstacles worth the outcome.

“We want people to heal with the messages behind our stories,” Bills said. “We want them to see that they’re not the only ones dealing with these issues. Everybody wants to be entertained. Why not use this platform to make a positive impact on people’s lives?”

The group hopes that impact will include a diverse audience.

“We can knock those walls down and break the ceiling,” O’Hare said. “It’s about it being a story that touches whether you’re White, Asian, Hispanic, man or woman.”

Before changing the landscape of primetime, they’re working to engage an audience of varied backgrounds with each rise of the curtain. I’m Always on My Mind will be showing at The Magnolia Theatre on Nov. 12.

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