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Dallas theater icon vickie washington on beauty, transformation and the lure of garage sales

Rachel B. Pressley

We catch up with washington before she directs her latest play for Dallas Children's Theater. "I think that the words 'good' and 'great' are wonderful, but I like to be a part of theater that offers the opportunity for transformation."

Dallas Children's Theater is finally bringing its production of "Last Stop on Market Street" to its stage this weekend after a three-year delay.

The play, based on the children's book of the same name, follows a boy and his grandmother on their bus ride across town and the interesting people and places they see along the way.

The main theme of the show is finding beauty in the unexpected which is something director vickie washington wholeheartedly embraces.

As an actor and director, washington has worked on just about every stage in North Texas over the past four decades. And as a teacher, she's mentored budding theater students since the 1980s, including playwright Jonathan Norton.

We caught up with a very busy washington ahead of the opening of "Last Stop on Market Street" to get her views on memorable theater, inspiration and unexpected beauty.

I've noticed you spell your name with lowercase letters. Is there a story behind that?

It just seemed easier to make it lowercase. So I did. Many people say, “Oh, is it a [author] bell hook thing?” But it's just not a long or interesting story [Laughs].

My first name in my baby book says, "Baby's name is Vickie," and my daddy wrote, "Named for Vic's restaurant where Daddy works." My daddy was working at Vic's restaurant in downtown Dallas, and my aunt was working at Lynn's coffee shop, which used to be right across from Baylor Hospital on the corner of Hall and Gaston. So there you go with a good old Texas Vickie Lynn. That's my legacy. A restaurant and a coffee shop.

One of the themes in the play "Last Stop on Market Street" is finding beauty in unexpected places. Where is the most surprising place you've ever found beautiful?

Oh, that's a great question.

I think to be at the bedside of people who are very ill and getting ready to transition. There's beauty there.

I've had the privilege of being in that moment with someone who was very close to me. And I've had the privilege of being in that moment with persons I did not know well at all. This was back when AIDS was pretty rampant and they had asked for persons at our church to visit people who had been diagnosed. And so I did. And the young man that I sat with, I had never met him and I did not know him well at all. But to answer your question, I think there is beauty there because it is in my experience--because it's not a universal experience-- but in my experience, there is a freedom and a peace there that is unencumbered.

You've influenced many artists during your career as an actor, stage director and teacher. Who influenced you?

Oh, thank you for asking! Irma Player Hall. The great Irma Hall, who of course still lives here in Dallas.

I received my equity card in a production of "for colored girls who considered suicide/ when the rainbow was enuf" at Theater Three, and Irma was the Lady in Red in that production. But I knew her before she started acting. I knew Irma as a poet. She was in a group of Black writers, poets, visual artists and drummers. And that's when I became aware of her. But Irma Hall for sure, because of the longevity of her work and the joy that she brings and the sense of understanding of passing on information, opportunity and the love of community and the love of Black people. I really do consider her to be a teacher to me.

Describe your most memorable theatrical performance

The one I'm thinking of that just always kind of knocks my socks off is a piece entitled "Asinamali!" [We Have No Money!]. I saw it at The Jones Theater years ago in the '70s.

We went to see this when apartheid was still a legal thing in South Africa. This troupe of actors were traveling and I'm sure they probably were in exile doing this production.

It's about these guys who have all been incarcerated. So it's a couple of chairs, a bare light bulb on stage--there may have been a table--and these men in prison uniforms. And we were sitting on the last row of the orchestra. And that type of South African drama really presents itself in a minimalist way. What they were able to do and the way they were able to impact us just blew my mind.

It's a piece that taught me a lot. It showed me, from the standpoint of a theater practitioner and a theater maker, what you can do, and what you don't necessarily have to do to have great theater--impactful theater and transformational theater. Because I think that the words "good" and "great" are wonderful, but I like to be a part of theater that offers the opportunity for transformation.

What's a play you've always wanted to direct?

I want to direct a play by Marcus Gardley. He's a young brother that I met through the Theater Center when he came down to do one of his plays, "...And Jesus Moonwalks in Mississippi." But I want to direct his play "black odyssey" or maybe I want to be in it. I'm not sure. I just love his writing and this piece has never been done in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A lot of people don't know his name, but they know his work. He's one of the writers on "The Chi" and he's also the writer for the new film version of "The Color Purple."

What keeps you awake at night?

Well, my dear, these days, there's a whole long list.

When we started working on "Market Street" three years ago, I distinctly remember talking to Robyn [Flatt, founder of Dallas Children's Theater] and Gloria Bond Clunie, who's the playwright, about the fact that one of the themes of the play is kindness and how our world really needed it now. And can you believe it? Here we are three years later, and it's exponentially worse. Exponentially.

I think in terms of what's going on with Roe v Wade and now the Dobbs Decision and what's going on in Florida, what's going on in Texas and I'm thinking, what are we doing?

I am addicted literally to the news-- just like a moth to the fire. I know I should turn it off, but I can't. So today I was watching the news and the crawl across the bottom said that the Taliban is going to stop women from going to work and it also said that they're considering raising the issue as crimes against humanity. And I thought, "Well if this is crimes against humanity, what about what's going on here in Texas? Isn't that crimes against humanity?" You want to tell the whole nation whether or not I can have bodily autonomy or my daughter or granddaughter?

I can't say it keeps me up at night, but it keeps me pissed.

I'll tell you what doesn't keep me up at night. Drag shows.

What's your guilty pleasure?

I guess my guilty pleasures --although it's not really a guilty pleasure because everybody knows this about me -- I love garage sales and thrift stores.

What's your passion?

Sleep. I love to sleep. I got it from my mother. I inherited it. I think that sleep is a gift from God. I love to sleep... And travel…And playing with the grandkids. Yeah, that's it. Sleep, travel and grandkids.

You've directed all kinds of shows and actors, including students at Booker T. Washington, what is the one thing you try to convey to the actors no matter what their age or experience?

I'm laughing because some of my former students would say, "Read the play. And then read it again."

I would say, do the work. We taught--and it's still being taught at Booker T.--the importance of valuing the craft of theater. And one of the ways that shows up is in your embracing the fact that you have to do the work. You have to do the work, you got to read the play, you've got to research it, and then open yourself up for the creativity to be made manifest.

It is a gift, really, and a privilege, to be able to do this work. Even though you live in a society that doesn't pay you.

Dallas Children’s Theatre kicks off its production of “Last Stop On Market Street” this Saturday.

In Good Question, we're getting to know movers and shakers in the arts a little bit better with a few quirky and thought-provoking questions. Who should we talk to next? E-mail me at

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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