I was selling real estate by day, writing plays at night, when Michael Bigelow Dixon called from Actors Theatre of Louisville to tell me that GOD’S MAN IN TEXAS would premiere at the Humana Festival for New American Plays in six months.
I hung up, found Ted at his desk, and told him the news. We both got a little teary. After all the frustration, the disappointment, the yearning for a break, this was a vindication and a major career opportunity. Ted said, “Look, we’re okay for money for a while. Take a year off from real estate and see if you can turn this into something.” So I did.
The Humana premiere was overwhelming. It was my first time in a professional rehearsal room with a play I had written. Director John Dillon had worked on many new plays and knew how to direct the playwright as well as the play. The cast was pure gold: Bill McNulty, Craig Heidenreich and Bob Burrus. They brought my long and often wordy text to life and were understandably patient as I rewrote almost daily.
George Bush is an offstage character in the play. Humana audiences in the spring of 1999 knew I meant George H. W. Bush, the 41st president. A week after the opening night, I wanted to add a line about “W,” then governor of Texas. Neither director nor actors would cooperate. John Dillon said, “He’s never going to be president, so why burden your play with the reference?” I put the line in every subsequent production and it’s always the biggest laugh in the play.
Director Leonard Foglia directed a production at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, helping me revise the script now that I had a few productions under my belt. It was an enormously satisfying experience all around, and one of the simplest stagings of the play.
Within a year of the premiere, GOD’S MAN IN TEXAS was one of the most-produced in the country. Ted’s suggestion to “turn this into something” was paying off. I ended up with commissions for new work, teaching gigs, a contract to publish the play and best of all, royalties. I withdrew from the real estate business. It wasn’t until years later that I learned Ted and I hadn’t been “okay for money” at all. He borrowed to keep us afloat, but he did it because he believed in me and wanted to give me the shot. That’s love. And it worked out very well.
David is the writer and executive producer of “Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas” coming to NBC this holiday season.
David is on the committee raising funds for The Hollywood Arts Collective, 151 units of affordable housing for artists in the heart of Hollywood. Learn more and donate at https://entertainmentcommunity.org/HAC