“We needed a professional theater for youth and families in Dallas,” she said.
Shaeffer and her husband Karl Schaeffer have been with DCT since 1984.
“I was in the very first play and started teaching the very first classes,” she said. “My husband, Karl Schaeffer, was the first actual employee. He still works for us as an actor and a teaching artist.”
Over the decades, the nonprofit organization has called a few places home. It started out meeting in Withers Elementary, a Dallas ISD school, then moved to the Crescent Theater in downtown Dallas. In 2003, the organization moved into its current location on Skillman Street, which was previously a Don Carter Lanes bowling alley.
Upon purchasing the 58,000-square-foot building, renovations such as raising the roof and adding a fly loft for the stage were done.
Sandra Session-Robertson, DCT senior director of communications and philanthropy, explained that Robyn Flatt’s father is Paul Baker, the founding director of the Dallas Theater Center and Booker T. Washington High School. She said that Baker provided valuable design input for DCT.
“Some people in the community call this theater royalty,” Robertson said. “Paul Baker worked with Frank Lloyd Wright to build the Dallas Theater Center in Turtle Creek.”
As the artistic director, Shaeffer said she has many responsibilities such as selecting shows for each season, stage director, overseeing artistic decisions, and hiring teachers and actors.
“Robyn knew she needed to hire artists, she always said she created a home for artists here,” Shaeffer said. “We were one of the first theaters who paid non-union actors and we still do.”
Robertson points out another way DCT has remained consistent.
“There has always been a commitment to diversity and inclusion,” she said. “If you look at our history, Robyn has always been fundamentally committed to ensuring that even in 1984 we were diverse casting when people weren’t thinking about it.”
A season at DCT features six productions, she said. There are 30 to 40 performances of each production.
“A huge customer for us is public, private and community schools who come to our field trips,” Shaeffer said. “A lot of times these are children whose parents cannot take them on the weekend. We don’t do a different show on the weekend than we do in the week. We want all our audiences to have a great show.”
Because their doors have been open for over 38 years, it is not uncommon to have relationships that span decades.
“I have parents who bring their child to my classes and say, ‘Ms. Nancy, you taught me and now you’re teaching my child,’” Shaeffer said. “Some came as children and now are actors in the shows.”
DCT offers academy classes for students starting as young as 3.5 years old. The schedule includes subjects such as acting, musical theater, movie making, improv and much more.
“We serve a very important role because we are a professional theater for children, it’s not an afterthought,” Shaeffer said. “We don’t do this until we decide to do ‘Hamilton.’ We serve the people I think need us the most.”
Looking to check out a show? See DCT's upcoming production below.
Jan. 28-Feb. 19 | Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical!
The musical can be enjoyed by ages three and up and is based on the book by Mo Willems that tells the tale of a pigeon going through an identity crisis. According to the event description, The Pigeon never gets to do anything and people just want him to "fly off." Everything changes when the confident, cool Bus Driver rolls into town, and the Pigeon finds himself with a brand new goal: drive the bus. Show themes: Humor, purpose, independence, confidence, exploration, jobs, puppetry.
- Tickets start at $17. 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. on varying days.
- Sensory-friendly performance: Feb. 4 at 1:30 p.m.
- American Sign Language Performance: Feb. 5 at 4:30 p.m.
- Dallas Children’s Theater, 5938 Skillman St., Dallas.
- 214-740-0051. www.dct.org.