The days are getting cooler, a sure sign that summer is winding down and coming to an end. Sadly, with the end of summer, the Texas panhandle says goodbye to one of its favorite pastimes, the TEXAS Musical Drama. The 57th season of TEXAS came to its grand finale at the beginning of August, right before the beginning of school. Every summer TEXAS proudly runs from May to August, allowing students, particularly theater and dance majors, a chance to work a paid internship and gain valuable experience.
For the last two years, the talented cast and crew have had the privilege of working under Artistic Director Stephen Crandall, Master of Fine Arts. Crandall’s primary responsibility as the Artistic Director is to guide the organization’s vision. Crandall also takes the dual role of directing the production as sort of a producer. This position gives him nearly total control over how the show comes together and plays out.
This year a new choreographer was brought in, so much of the dance elements of the show were new. Changes were also made to unify the ensemble in an attempt to utilize their talents and skills in more than one performance area.
“Our ensemble is both singers and dancers, in a sense,” said Crandall. “Performing both the music and the choreography and then some also perform minor roles in the story.”
Crandall says that every season of TEXAS is kind of a new approach to the show based on the talent they have to work with. Every year new performers audition, many of the staff from previous seasons may return, but some inevitably leave as well.
“It ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s based on expertise, it’s based on who’s a part of the team this year versus last year and that continues to change,” said Crandall. “Each year there’s a certain kind of evolution of both experience of doing the show versus new talent coming in and deciding how to utilize their skills or the uniqueness of their contribution this season, and you kind of lean into that.”
Previously, Crandall felt that there was a classic form of the three roles within the show; singing chorus, dancing ensemble and characters who helped tell the story. This year, efforts were made to try and bring those three things together more. New musical numbers were added to tell a bit more of the story through song. The new choreographer motivated some of these changes.
One new song incorporated this season was titled “I Gotta Go Back” which sings about the desire to go back to Texas because it’s the land of opportunity and it’s the land of wide open space.
Crandall had made some script changes last year, his first season with the production, that carried over to this year. Some subtle and not-so-subtle changes didn’t go unnoticed by long-time fans of the show who can return every year and expect to see something new and different. Crandall felt the biggest change he made since taking over was to sort of re-center on the original story written by Paul Green. With each season and each director looking to bring something new to the show, it’s not uncommon for things to evolve or change significantly over each passing season. Crandall felt some of these changes had made the story itself difficult to follow and decided to take a look back at the original script and honor more of the core while still keeping some of the changes from past years.
One of the biggest challenges Crandall, and live performances as a whole, have been struggling to overcome has been trying to re-engage an audience in a post-pandemic era. Crandall is hoping innovations in the production are more in line with today’s audience versus audiences of the past.
“I try to be mindful of how to capture the attention in the imagination of the audience,” said Crandall. “And also be true to the intention of TEXAS as a production. It’s intended to tell a history, to give the audience a glimpse into how this area was potentially established.”
Crandall felt as though it had been a challenge to understand what today’s audience wants or expects from a show like TEXAS that has been running as long as it has. without losing the momentum of the show’s history while still trying to build upon it.
Being a production that runs entirely outdoors brings its own problems as well, especially with this past year’s unpredictable rain and high heat.
Crandall also made notice of things that had added a level of complexity to the show, which had begun to challenge the ability of the crew to rehearse the basic elements. Edits were made to these pieces to bring the production size to a more manageable level for the size of the company employed. Sometimes things unfortunately have to be cut, but it allows for a greater focus on quality over quantity.
“The show is so complex and there’s so many moving parts,” said Crandall. “There’s an element of efficiency with a show that has to remount year after year that is needed.”
As a result, some artistic changes need to be made to keep the show flexible and efficient enough and not run the risk of injury or in the interest of time.
Should Crandall return next year for another season of TEXAS he plans to continue trying to utilize song and dance in the storytelling.
“I think there’s still room for musicalizing some of the script,” Crandall said. “And I think that’s also where modern musical has led. We’ve kind of moved fromGolden Age musicals with overtures and choruses into more of the realm which utilizes a performer’s talent in lots of different ways.”
This modern age of musical theater is also in line with the training of today’s performers, as Crandall has noticed in talent they have hired recently.
Technology is also advancing bringing in the hope to enhance some of the visual effects of the show to help capture the audience’s imagination, without losing the period aspects of the show as well, such as the guns or the signature trained horses TEXAS has become well known for employing.
The next season also carries a hope to re-engage more of the local community. Every performance night, TEXAS gives away a commemorative dinner triangle to whomever in the audience traveled the farthest to see the show, and in 57 seasons it has never once been given to a person from within the continental US, but TEXAS is a show about the history of the panhandle, and its roots are not forgotten. Crandall, the cast and crew all hope that people from far and near will join them next season to see what might be in store for the 58th season of TEXAS the Musical Drama.