A Commentary by Vicki Meek
I remember when Robyn Flatt came into the City Arts Program offices (now called Office of Arts & Culture) nearly 40 years ago to discuss getting funding for her fledgling children’s theater project and how passionate she was about the need for it in Dallas. The fact that she represented Dallas Theater Royalty, the daughter of inaugural leader of Dallas Theater Center the late Paul Baker, made her just a wee bit cocky in the staff’s eyes, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that she knew her stuff and she was determined to realize this project fully.
Well indeed, Robyn’s determination paid off as she built one of the nation’s premier children’s theaters, an institution that brings high quality, professional theater to countless school children across our city. Dallas Children’s Theater still stands at the forefront of children’s theater not just in Dallas but across the United States, using the discipline of theater to help children and youth investigate their realities in ways no other artistic medium can. Robyn created opportunities for diverse voices to be heard onstage long before the current diversity and inclusion initiatives spurred the arts to respond and it’s that history, particularly as relates to the Black community, I’d like to point out as Robyn steps down as Executive Director.
Starting in the 1990s, DCT began including plays about the African American experience like “A Woman Called Truth” and “A Glory Over Everything”, using local Black directors like award winning Ptosha Storey. In 2002, DCT ‘s touring production “African Tales of Earth & Sky”, helped children across the country see a different creation story from an African perspective. In 2006, the theater used a uniquely American story, “A Midnight Cry- the Underground Railroad to Freedom” to explore American slavery, a difficulty topic, but one DCT knew needed to be addressed. Then in 2009, DCT took another uniquely American story on tour, “The Most Valuable Player” based on the life of Jackie Robinson after having a successful run onstage in Dallas. Its production “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” mounted in 2011 gave local choreographer Michelle N. Gibson one of her first opportunities to choreograph in Dallas, showcased the brilliant late actor Phyllis Cicero and had music direction by Dallas musician/composer S-Ankh Rasa.
But probably the boldest move Robyn Flatt made in her quest to have DCT show its commitment to inclusion and diversity came after the horrific George Floyd murder that rocked the world. The theater quickly moved to include an Equity Statement on their website but didn’t stop there. The Board of Directors developed a Strategic Anti-Racism, Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, Access and Accountability Action Plan here that had measurable goals. In addition, the theater launched DCT Digital, partly in response to the pandemic but also to allow for more ways to reach more children outside the theater’s physical plant. They engaged local artist/activist Denise Lee to host its Social Justice Series, a series of online short plays and conversations on race, inclusion and social justice and produced award winning playwright Idris Goodwin’s Social Justice Series. I’m commending Robyn for this move because I know she took some serious heat from some donors about engaging in what they called “politics”, but in true Robyn Flatt style, she insisted DCT take the lead in helping its students and their families have a safe place to discuss racism, homophobia, sexism, and any other social ill that we are grappling with today.
So, as I contemplate Robyn Flatt stepping down as leader of this groundbreaking theater, I feel as confident as she does that Dallas Children’s Theater is on solid ground, a foundation laid down by its visionary Founder/leader. Ya done good Robyn! Now enjoy your retirement!