Photography courtesy of Bishop Arts Theatre

The Bishop Arts Theatre Center was days away from launching its 2020 jazz series at the start of the pandemic.

The series, which brings the superstars of smooth jazz to the theater’s stage annually, is one of the nonprofit’s major sources of revenue.

All of that was canceled this year.

Instead, founder Teresa Coleman Wash and staff quickly dug into community work. They launched online storytelling with Emma Rodgers, the founder of Dallas’ first African American book store. That initiative continues, with community members reading books live on the internet five nights a week.

“There were a couple of programs that we felt we had a responsibility to continue,” Wash says. “Twice a week, we had seniors coming in to participate in a storytelling circle.”

Many of the participants had stage-three dementia, and the storytelling group was essential to their quality of life.

Theater staff brainstormed for replacements and came up with Patio Live, which launched in April. The program brings workshops and performances to patios and parking lots of aging-care and independent-living facilities. It’s been a great success.

“It’s one of those programs that’s going to last long after COVID,” Wash says.

The theater also held a virtual eight-week summer camp, and it provided content for Dallas ISD’s virtual learning portal.

Wash enlisted her theater contacts in New York and hosted a virtual monologue contest to keep local actors creative.

“It gives them access to nationally recognized playwrights [and] a chance to work on their craft, and it gives them
a sense of hope and purpose,” she says.

The culminating performance from that project will be broadcast via Zoom in February.

While it has nothing planned so far for indoors, the theater is planning outdoor jazz concerts at the Dallas Zoo.

Overall, things are not that bad.

They received an early pop-up grant from TACA this past summer, and North Texas Giving Day in September filled the cookie jar.

Wash says recent new interest in corporate and philanthropic giving to organizations run by people of color has benefitted the nonprofit.

“We have reserves that we’ve never seen before,” she says. “We don’t want to rest on our laurels because we don’t know how long this is going to last.”

The theater presents Jazz Under the Stars at Lone Star Park on Sat. Nov. 21.