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  1. The Elevation of Tex-Mex
    Mico Rodriguez
  2. The Bounty of the Barnett Shale
    Kelcy Warren
  3. The Entrepreneurial Woman
    Tomima Edmark
  4. The Growth of the Vietnamese Community
    Jennifer Nguyen
  5. The Founding of Uptown
    Phil Cobb
  6. The Changing Face of Politics
    Craig Watkins
  7. The Brain Gain
    Dr. Hao Zhu
  8. The Four Sport Town
    Mike Modano
  9. The Underground Culture
    Katherine Owens
  10. The Catholic Migration
    Father Ivan Asencio
  11. The Organized South Asian Community
    John Hammond
  12. The Next Way to Develop
    Jeff Blackard
  13. The Allure of the Silicon Prairie
    Anousheh Ansari
  14. The lighting of Reunion Tower
    George Schrader
  15. The New Old Tradition
    Jennifer Moreno
  16. The Test Kitchen
    Mariel Street
  17. The Art Magnet
    Kevin Moriarty
  18. The Glamorous Return of Dallas Shopping
    Brian Bolke
  19. The Strengthening of the Gay Community
    Jack Evans and George Harris
  20. The Resurgence of Downtown Dallas
    Art Ortiz
  21. The Megachurch Boom
    Ed Young
  22. The Fundraisers
    Lynn McBee
  23. The Refuge
    Pedro Amaya
  24. The Reason Dallas Took Off
    Ron Barzyk
  25. The Girl Who Stayed Home
    Erykah Badu
  26. The Preservation of Our Historic Buildings
    Virginia McAlester
  27. The Thriving Ethiopian Community
    Birhan Mekonnen
  28. The New Dallas ISD
    Jessica Leija
  29. The Rebirth of the Trinity River
    Peter Payton
  30. The Trains Start Running
    Ladrika Davis Gross
  31. The Architect of an Art Scene
    Stephen Lapthisophon
  32. The Calculator That Changed the World
    Vonnie Howard
  33. The Rise and Fall and Rise of Deep Ellum
    Frank Campagna
  34. The Big Move
    Kendra Norwood
  35. The Expanding Empire in Fort worth
    Scott Hernandez
  36. The Family Recipe
    Chuy Cruz
  37. The Transformation of Oak Cliff
    David Spence
  38. The Now-Legal Immigrant
    Jesus Castillo Carrizales
  39. The City of Philanthropists
    Lyda Hill
  40. The Transplants
    Tara Vornkahl
00 The Underground Culture Monday, July 21, at 10:53am in downtown Dallas

Katherine Owens

In its second season, the Undermain Theatre invested in a heater that rattled so loudly that they had to turn it off for performances. So when it was freezing in the world of Fen, a dark, daring play by the British writer Caryl Churchill, it was actually freezing in the basement theater. Artistic director Katherine Owens, one of Undermain’s three young founders, passed out blankets and absorbed the response. She thinks about doing that play again all the time. 

“I just thought we had to take some risks,” Owens says. “The literature was so compelling. The shock value was not an object. But these were things being discussed in the world.” 

The Dallas Theater Center, Theatre Three, and Dallas Summer Musicals were stalwarts in a conservative city. New Arts Theatre, founded in the mid-1970s, and Stage #1, a theater devoted to contemporary American work that began in 1979, paved the way for Undermain. In 1984, Owens says, there was a premium on commercial productions. Her theater instead focused on experimental European and American authors and dug out a bunker-like home below Main Street, in a Deep Ellum populated by artists, musicians, and squatters. 

“We were picketed,” Owens says. “We had several instances where a lot of funding doors were shut for us.”

But Undermain established a board and received a grant that allowed them to fly in authors, forging the relationships that resulted in world premieres and national praise. Owens’ radical idea—that the city was smarter than what was on offer—appears to have been borne out. Other independent theaters cropped up. Today, there are more than 35 small to mid-size theater companies in North Texas. Recently, the AT&T Performing Arts Center announced the Elevator Project, an initiative that will see six such smaller companies perform in the Wyly Theatre studio space in the Arts District. The experiment—wrestling with issues of audience, growth, resources, criticism, and diversity—is ongoing.

“The greatest thing you can do is love things deeply, admire fiercely, and stay in touch with what that is,” Owens says. “I suppose that’s a life’s work.”