When Dwayne Hartford came to Phoenix back in 1989, he had no plans to stay.
But an ad in the newspaper for a paying acting job caught his eye. "I auditioned and got the job," he says. "The theatre company was Childsplay."
Needless to say, his plans changed dramatically.
Now 53, he's been with the Tempe-based theater group ever since, directing, writing, and presenting plays for Valley kids and families to much critical acclaim from grown-up audiences. And this year, Hartford takes on the role of artistic director at the company, succeeding its retiring founder David Saar.
Hartford grew up in the small town of Smithfield, Maine, with a population of 500. After a youth spent playing piano, singing, and acting in high school plays, he studied at the Boston Conservatory and came to Phoenix. "I was happily surprised to find how much I felt like I was home in the Valley," he says. "It just felt right being here."
His successes with Childsplay have been many. There was Eric and Elliot, The Imaginators, adaptations of A Tale of Two Cities and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, as well as his The Color of Stars. His most recent work is Pete, Or the Return of Peter Pan. It premièred in April and New Times theater critic Robrt Pela cheered as the "proper sequel to the J.M. Barrie classic" thanks to its "skillful writing and clever performances."
It's precisely this work that has Hartford busy at present. He's making a few tweaks, he says, adding, "I’m about to submit the play to other theater companies around the country in hopes of future productions."
Which we'd suppose is a likely eventuality, given the playwright and director's dedication.
"When I graduated from college many years ago, I determined that my idea of success would be to live a life in the arts," Hartford says. "While there were a number of years where waiting on tables kept a roof over my head, I have managed to live that life in the arts. Some of my plays have done well, and I’m very excited about my new job, but I’m most proud that I am still here."
I came to Phoenix with the plan to be here for a few months and then move back to New York City. This was in October 1989.
I make art because creating theater helps me to make some sense out of life.
I'm most productive when I’m sitting in a crowded coffee shop — on a deadline.
I don’t have an inspiration wall, but I am drawn to art and images that capture the humor and contradictions of living.
I've learned most from my high school senior English teacher, Mrs. Merrill, who taught me the power of a well-constructed sentence, and David Saar, who taught me that theater for young audiences can change the world!
Good work should always be honest and genuine.
The Phoenix creative scene could use more visibility. There are so many amazing creative people and organizations here doing great work.
The 2016 Creatives so far:
100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell