In the Space Between: AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project continues to tell Dallas’ unique stories

“Warning: You’re going to hear me say ‘I’m really excited about this’ a lot.” This is one of the first things Hector Garcia says during our interview about the Elevator Project’s 2024 season, and it’s not an understatement. Now in its ninth season, the innovative series provides performance space, technical equipment, marketing and ticketing services, and mentorship for small and emerging Dallas arts groups, all through the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Garcia, whose official ATTPAC title is director of strategic services, heads up the Elevator Project, and has been deeply involved since its second season. The wildly successful program, which slots dance, theater, art, and multimedia performances into ATTPAC’s smaller venues when the five resident companies are not performing, prepares all year to showcase these productions, which might otherwise not get off the ground. There are even major success stories, such as the interactive Mexican wrestling play Lucha Teotl, which sold out the Wyly Theatre in 2021 and recently extended its run at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. But though Garcia cautions that a triumph like that isn’t guaranteed, “It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

“I sometimes shiver at finding myself in this position, this wonderful situation of lifting up the Dallas arts scene in this incredible way,” Garcia says. “I’m the first to read everything, the proposals and the scripts, but by no means am I the only one deciding who gets to participate.”

Companies and individuals apply through an online portal, where they provide whatever might be ready—a script, design sketches, music samples, or just an idea—to be judged by a rotating panel of local arts experts before the ATTPAC brass weighs in. “We are listening for captivating stories or voices that need to be heard,” Garcia offers, clarifying that the artists do need to reside in Dallas proper, since the city helps fund the program. The chosen participants are paid and, in many cases, this is their first crash course in how to make money in the performing arts. Garcia confirms there are several returnees, though no one can participate more than two years in a row.

“This year is unusual because we have so many repeat artists—five—when we usually only get one or two,” Garcia says. It’s a testament to how valuable the local performers find the program, and how participating in it can help draw an entirely new audience to their productions.

This season begins with a familiar name: Soul Rep Theatre has appeared in the Elevator Project three times, and used to be the resident company at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Now without a permanent home, it is presenting a world premiere by co-founder Anyika McMillan-Herod called Elm Thicket (Jan. 11-20, 2024, Wyly Studio Theatre), set in the oldest Black neighborhood in Dallas, where she grew up. “It deals with modern issues such as neighbors, gentrification, and the pandemic,” says Garcia. “It’s hyper-local, and probably not a story that would have made its way onto any other mainstage.”

Next is Plague Mask Players’ 1950s sitcom interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, using Pegasus Theatre’s trademarked Living Black & White makeup and production design (March 8-17, 2024, Wyly Theatre). Tejas Dance returns with mahAmAyA in Strauss Square (March 22-23, 2024), for which they specially recorded the music in India, before Murrow by Joseph Vitale takes over Hamon Hall April 11-21, 2024. This regional premiere presented by producer Bren Rapp is a solo show, and Garcia says the search is already on to find just the right Dallas person to play the iconic news anchor.

Following its first presentation in Strauss Square during COVID, Flamenco Fever now brings a combination of flamenco dancing, the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca, live music, and a live painting done in the moment by local artist Rolando Diaz in Pintura, Poesia, y Pasion. The one-night-only performance is May 11, 2024. EMERGE Coalition is also returning to the Wyly Studio Theatre, where last season it explored immigration and border issues. This year, May 23-25, 2024, it tackles sustainability and the environment in Evergreen [To Grow]. The Julius Quartet will play Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Carolyn Shaw’s “Evergreen,” where the feelings of the music’s four movements—moss, stem, water, and root—are embodied through visuals.

Prism Movement Theater, the company behind Lucha Teotl, is combining its physical dance storytelling with sword-fighting for La Maupin: The French Abomination. Based on the life of Julie D’Aubigny, the bisexual duelist and opera singer, the show details her journey to find happiness as a queer woman way ahead of her time. A workshop in spring 2022 preceded this full production, which runs July 11-13, 2024, at Hamon Hall.

The season concludes with Mirage from Jamal Mohamed, a percussion instructor at SMU. With his daughter Alia Mohamed on theremin, Poovalur Sriji on Indian percussion, Jonathan Jones on clarinet and EWI (electronic wind instrument), and Derrick Horne on bass, guitars, and electronics, Mirage is described as a multi-media, multicultural, experimental band that combines Arab, African, Indian, jazz, and experimental music with Middle Eastern dance and visual art projections. It’s also at Hamon Hall, July 25-27, 2024.

“I have laughed out loud and shed tears during many an Elevator Project show,” says Garcia. “There aren’t many other programs out there like this. We’ve had people come in from other states who want to figure out how to use this model in their own communities, to tell their own stories. I love helping to keep Dallas artists working in Dallas.”