Arts Spotlight: Rover Dramawerks, Plano, TX

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rover dramawerks

Scene from Wrens, a WWII drama of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, by Anne V. McGravie.

We’re inspired by the passion and creativity of performing arts organizations of all shapes and sizes. This week we’re shining the spotlight on a small Texas theatre by talking to one of its co-founders, Jason Rice.

YPP: Tell us about Rover Dramawerks.
Rice: We’re starting our 15th year and our mission statement is both lofty and vague: “To produce lost or forgotten works of well-known authors, revive excellent scripts that have suffered from lack of exposure and discover unknown gems of the stage.” Our real mission statement is “I don’t ever want to work this hard on such clichéd productions as a female ‘Odd Couple’ drama.” I can get a real, better-paying job for less pain.

YPP: How did Rover Dramawerks begin?
Rice: We started out like most small theatres, small businesses and Hollywood “Buddy Movie” plots – around a dining room table with a group of friends trying to out-dream each other. Those initial dreamers were Carol our Artistic Director (and my eventual wife) & me, Dan & Jan Slade, and Shonda Purvis.

Early on, we produced anywhere we could find space, often with just enough time to audition and rehearse. In our first six years, we produced in six different zip codes. We bounced from suburb to downtown to another suburb, from festival to readings… it was hell!

I’ll fast-forward over some recent history, but suffice it say our mission statement didn’t necessarily meet what the City of Plano was hoping for. However, we stuck with it and after seven years of productions, many in challenging economic times, we had built a reasonable patron base.

YPP: What’s happened recently?
Rice: Last year, when we found ourselves outgrowing our latest space in Plano, we realized that the configurability of our next space was more important than its size. So we found a storefront space with a slew of restaurants nearby and a landlord who truly appreciated the evening draw of a theatre. The landlord made a sizable investment in us, to help create traffic for his restaurants; he checks up on us regularly.

Carol M. Rice, playwright Anne V. McGravie and Jason Rice at Rover’s production of Wrens, McGravie’s WWII drama.

YPP: What factors have contributed to Rover’s longevity?
Rice: We are very frugal – but try to pay our own way. After a very good year several years ago, our board president was Draconian about saving money. This small ‘war chest’ made our eventual move to a dedicated space possible.

For several years our rehearsal space was a drafty warehouse; our sets were constructed offsite and expensively transported to the venue. Most of our labor is volunteer. Getting our own space was never a primary goal. Saving money was – in the costs of storage, rehearsal space and performance venues. All of our largest “risks” were really just cost-saving efforts. It’s not cheap or easy to run a space. But once you reach a certain size, the economy of reliability and simplicity of location outweigh the nickel-and-dime savings of ad hoc storage solutions.

YPP: Has it been difficult to stay true to your mission?
Rice: There have been many times we’ve asked ourselves, “Why don’t we just do ‘Steel Magnolias’ and get it over with?” But we have stayed the course: Telling good stories you would completely miss otherwise. It’s not for money and it’s not even a particularly wise approach. It’s challenging to promote show after show the public has never heard of. But it’s important to us, which makes the sacrifices and hard work more rewarding.

To learn more, visit Rover’s website. Have an arts organization we should spotlight? Please let us know!

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