A DePaul Theatre School professor will reach the pinnacle of his profession this fall when he directs an all-star cast in a Broadway play.
Dexter Bullard, professor in The Theatre School and head of graduate acting, will make his Broadway debut directing actors Ed Asner, Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon and Kate Arrington in a production of “Grace.” The play tells the story of a Christian evangelical couple who plan to open a chain of gospel motels in Florida but end up in a dangerous love triangle.
“Broadway is the most visible and celebrated venue in the world of American theatre. Only the most accomplished artists, with records of consistent quality, are offered the opportunity to work in this world of high art, high stakes and large budgets. We could not be prouder that Dexter has been offered this opportunity,” says John Culbert, dean of The Theatre School.
The right connections and the right blend of talent and experience led to Bullard’s opportunity. Since 1991, Bullard and Shannon have worked on more than seven productions in Chicago and New York. This includes the Chicago production of “Grace” directed by Bullard and starring Shannon at the Northlight Theatre in 2006.
While working on the Chicago production of “Grace,” Bullard met its playwright, Craig Wright. He directed two other plays written by Wright since then. Bullard also knows the play’s lead producer, Debbie Bisno, from their days as students in Northwestern University’s Department of Theatre and from Bisno’s work with the 1990s’ off-Loop theatre company Roadworks.
Bullard has longtime connections to Chicago’s theatre community, with directing credits at the Goodman Theatre and a host of other theatres. He’s also received awards for directing several off-Broadway productions and is co-founder of the critically-acclaimed physical theatre company Plasticene. The Broadway experience will be similar to his past productions in many ways, he says.
“The higher level of expenses and celebrity cast are the only real differences,” Bullard says. “Making a successful production requires the exact same skills I have practiced for two decades—this one just is more risky, so I’ll have to be even more Zen, converting fear into creativity.”
“Grace” is already receiving positive attention from major industry and national publications, such as The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
“While I count the experience as one of many artistic triumphs, it is exciting to get a chance to play at that level, be in Tony Award consideration and have national media attention,” Bullard says.
Bullard isn’t DePaul’s only connection to “Grace.” His wife, Tif, who graduated from the School of New Learning in 2007, will serve as the show’s costume designer. Shannon, who stars in one of the play’s lead roles, is the son of the late Donald Shannon, a former professor in the School of Accountancy. Nan Zabriskie, who heads The Theatre School’s makeup program, will create a design for Shannon’s face depicting a grave injury and skin graft.
The play holds a special significance in the theatre world because it will be Asner’s first Broadway role in more than 20 years. Despite the heavy star power, Bullard says working with big-name actors isn’t entirely different from his collaborations with Chicago actors or even students.
“I love actors of all kinds, whether it’s a first-year student at The Theatre School or a seasoned vet,” Bullard says. “They each deserve the same level of respect and attention.”
Bullard and his wife will leave for New York for an eight-week stay when rehearsals begin in mid-August. After the play’s Oct. 4 opening night, Bullard’s director duties will be done. He’ll return to Chicago and his DePaul classes in mid-October.