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Story Time in Dallas, Texas

Artist Blake Hackler tackles delicate subject matter in his creative work

Blake Hackler has been a storyteller since the age of 3, when he began inventing long, surreal tales that astonished his speech therapist and his mother, who was watching, unseen, through a two-way mirror. But Hackler, who grew up in the windswept Texas Panhandle city of Amarillo, didn’t think he could actually become a writer until he penned a musical on a lark at the Yale School of Drama.

“As actors, we were always complaining about the playwrights, which was ridiculous and typical, and my friend said, ‘Why don’t you write one for us?’” he recalls.

The musical wound up in FringeNYC, and Hackler graduated into a multifaceted career as an actor, director, playwright, tenured faculty member at Southern Methodist University, and codirector of the Yale Summer Conservatory. The artist swears he is slowing down (“I’m actively trying to do less,” he says), but not before Second Thought Theatre and Circle Theatre copremiere his latest play, What We Were, August 28 to September 21 at Bryant Hall.

Hackler’s plays explore modern ills, from loneliness to divisive politics, and What We Were is no different. The story centers on the reunion of three sisters who were sexually abused as children. It was loosely inspired by the true tale of Treva Throneberry, a Texan who posed as an abandoned teenager in town after town for more than a decade. Even after she was arrested for fraud, Throneberry asserted she was 16 in depositions, Hackler points out.

“What would have to happen to make someone disassociate that way and want to relive those years over and over again?” he reflects. As he was writing it, however, he shifted focus from the troubled charlatan to a tribute to sisterhood. “I don’t have siblings, but my entire life I’ve observed the relationship between my mother and her two sisters,” Hackler explains. “Even though the story in the play is not their story at all, I wanted to honor that spirit, that level of family.”

He’s also working on a commission for Dallas’ Undermain Theatre, where he is a company member. It’s a reimagining of Ibsen’s Brand as a meditation on the intersection of politics and faith. Stay tuned.

Main image by Jordan Fraker