Walter Dallas, “Divine Diva”
Director, playwright, musician, photographer, teacher — UMD faculty member Walter Dallas does it all and he believes the power of the performing arts can turn lives around.
I’m a director, I’m a playwright, I’m a musician and recently I’ve become a photographer. I play a couple of instruments. I teach. Life is full, and exciting. I’ve lived a charmed life.
Growing up, I directed shows with Coca-Cola bottles as characters in my plays and an eclectic mix of music in the background.
I was very, very lucky as a child. I lived with my extended family in Atlanta, with a lot of cousins and uncles and aunts of various ages who were around all the time. So, I grew up with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Sarah Vaughan, Dakota Staton, Miles Davis, and other artists like that. And rock ‘n roll, classical music, all kinds of music. Then I took piano, viola and organ lessons. Even in kindergarten I’d always put on pageants and plays. I remember being a mouse in The Nutcracker ballet when I was in the first grade and every year after that I wanted to be a soldier. And by the fourth grade I was a soldier, and by the fifth grade I was the prince.
When I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I realized that I already was what I was going to be when I grew up — that is, I was already a fusion of directing and putting on shows with Coca-Cola bottles as characters in my plays, with an eclectic mix of music in the background.
I have a cousin, an actress, who started calling me “Diva,” She said that what I do is fierce and that I don’t go around trying to be fierce; I just am.
I have a cousin, an actress, who started calling me “Diva” when I was in college. She started calling me “Diva” and then friends in college and grad school did, too. When I asked her, “Why ’Diva?’” she said, “What you do is fierce, and yet you don’t go around trying to be fierce, you just are.”
I find that theatre is a powerful force that can change the course of my life and the lives of others. When I first came to the university and directed my first show, The Amen Corner, I didn’t know who was a theatre major, who was ready to have a major role. I just cast those I thought were the best students for the roles. As it turned out, I cast a criminal justice major for one of the leads. She had never been in a play before, not even in high school, but she was fabulous. She was so good, and she loved performing so much. She graduated two weeks after the show closed, and that fall she re-enrolled as a theatre major. In two years, she received a BA in Performance and has not stopped performing professionally since.
The power of theatre, the power of the arts, is amazing. Often you never know how deeply it affects people.
The power of theatre, the power of the arts, is amazing and the thing about it is you might know instantly — but often you never know — how deeply it affects people. I often hear from people who say, “You know, what you said that time really turned my life around.” Sometimes I don’t even remember what I said and sometimes barely remember the person. But theatre powerfully affects people.
I stand onstage after a performance and 900 or a thousand people now know my work. I don’t see them but their lives are affected and then, when they contact me, or when former students reconnect years later, they affect my life. So there’s a meaningful exchange that makes it real for me.