Denton Community Theatre and Music Theatre of Denton voted late last year to merge their companies into a single nonprofit performing arts company in 2020.
In March, both companies will vote on recommendations from subcommittees that have been working on a road map to a merger that satisfies the volunteers that govern the two groups as well as their audiences.
“This conversation has been going on for years,” said Mike Barrow, the managing director of Denton Community Theatre. “It’s been probably the last couple of years that we’ve had incidents where craziness has come up with MTD and DCT vying for properties we’ve both wanted to do, but this isn’t a new discussion in the least.”
Denton Community Theatre is the older of the two companies. It staged its first show, Our Town, in 1969. Music Theatre of Denton was founded in 1985 as the Denton Light Opera Company and produced at least one operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan each season. More than a decade ago, the leadership changed the company’s name and broadened the its vision.
There was tension between the two companies for a few years, but Barrow said those difficulties were resolved years ago.
“We refer to each other as sister companies,” said Melissa Simms, a longtime performer and past president of Music Theatre of Denton. “And it wasn’t just that the two companies were vying for the same properties to stage. We were also vying for the same people. The same people who audition for our shows audition for the musicals Denton Community Theatre does.”
Donna Trammell, the president-elect for the community theater’s governing board for 2020, said the companies also attract the same volunteers off-stage.
“Both companies share crew backstage,” she said. “Sometimes, it got to where you looked around and you couldn’t be sure you were seeing DCT people or MTD. These groups have been sharing volunteers for a long, long time.”
Terry Nobles, the president of Music Theatre of Denton’s governing board, said the company has seen some lean years. Just after the economic recession in 2008, North Texas saw newly established performing arts companies fold up for want of donor money. Denton’s performing arts scene felt the pain, too.
“There were some down years that we talked about maybe closing it all down,” he said. “But our season ticket holder numbers are at an all-time high. We’ve seen several shows sell out over the last several seasons, too. We’re at a good place now. I think MTD is at a place where we’re not going to be swallowed up by a merger. And nobody wanted that. DCT didn’t want that. Everyone wants to look at the possibility of having one big company that does the musicals, but also does the plays.”
Denton Community Theatre also would be rolling its children’s theater — DCTedu — and its black box series — small, contemporary and experimental shows performed in the Black Box Theatre — into the merger.
After the membership of both companies — made up of donors and season-ticket subscribers — voted in favor of the merger, the companies formed four subcommittees to recommend policies regarding merging legal issues and bylaws, marketing, governing and production leadership and business production. The governing boards of both companies will vote on the recommendations in March, Nobles said.
“Right now, we’re doing the journeyman work for a big new theater company in Denton,” he said.
Through 2019, both companies will continue with their planned performance seasons independently.
What could change with the merger?
“If you combine both seasons, you’re looking at fewer shows. That means you can have longer runs,” Trammell said. “That’s a payoff for the performers. You won’t hear too many actors saying ‘I’m so glad this is only running two weekends. Other nonprofit theater companies in Denton County, such as Greater Lewisville Community Theatre, stage plays and musicals that run for four weekends.”
Simms said a merger might also keep patrons from feeling overstretched.
“With the two groups coming together, we’re not two nonprofits reaching out to the same patrons,” she said.
Nobles said both companies share some of the same donors.
“We were really concerned that every donor, every contributor, was heard,” Trammell said. “We made sure we listened to every concern and addressed it.”
Over this year, the leadership of both companies will proceed with the consolidations, and the leadership will discuss a name change, though that hasn’t been settled, Nobles said. The groups also will look at the need for a full-time technical director, who supervises the construction of sets and maintains the lighting and audio systems in the Campus Theatre. The community theater has been the managing company of the Campus Theatre since it reopened as a performing arts space in 1995. A consolidated company would continue to manage the Campus Theatre, which is rented by dance companies, the occasional band and two local film festivals.
“Some of the changes we’re looking at are going to happen organically,” Barrow said. “But what’s important for people to know is that the whole thing behind this isn’t about what’s going to happen in two years, but what’s going to be happening in 20 years.”