by Nancy Churnin
When Dana Schultes first tried to get the rights to do Ann, Holland Taylor's one-woman play about Texas Gov. Ann Richards, Stage West founder Jerry Russell was still alive; Russell's daughter, Wendy Davis, was making national waves as a Texas state senator; and Schultes had no clue that Taylor would take her show to Broadway and be nominated for a Tony Award.
Now, the indefatigable Schultes has moved into a leadership role at Stage West as executive producer, and is about to direct the first production of Taylor's play with a different actress — Dallas' Linda Kay Leonard — for an area premiere in Fort Worth.
Schultes is doing it with the blessing of Taylor, who has given her lots of input on her vision for the show, and with a fortuitous alignment of the political stars. After all, when the show about a trailblazing female politician in Texas had its first workshop in 2010 in Galveston under the name Money, Marbles, and Chalk, no one knew the country would be heading for an election featuring a trailblazing female candidate for president this fall.
The show was renamed Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards, when it opened in Chicago in 2011 and played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., from 2011 to 2012. It opened as Ann on Broadway in 2013.
"I'm really into politics, and as I kept watching this election take shape, I couldn't help but think about my own personal heroes in politics, and Ann Richards was one of them," Schultes says.
It took chutzpah for a small professional theater company to pursue rights for the first license for such a high-profile show identified with an Emmy Award-winning actress who had been a personal friend of Richards, Schultes acknowledges. It helped that Kevin Bailey, who produced Ann, and the rest of the production team had strong Texas ties.
And though Russell died in 2013, he managed to provide Schultes with an assist, she notes.
"When I mentioned that Wendy Davis was Jerry's daughter, that sealed the deal for Holland," Schultes says. "She felt this was the right place to be the first place to do the show without her."
Schultes went to see Taylor perform Ann at the Zach Theatre in Austin in April. It was a two-show day, and Taylor talked with Schultes between performances.
"She said hello and gave me a full list of the things she felt was necessary to make the show a success. She was charming and fun and talked almost nonstop. When she finished relaying all the information, she said, 'Now I have to go take a nap,' because she had to take a nap between shows. It's such a grueling performance."
Taylor is back on Broadway, in previews for The Front Page, which is scheduled to open Oct. 20 with Nathan Lane, Robert Morse and Jefferson Mays. Still, she found time to continue conversations about Ann with Leonard, who reached out to her on Facebook before she auditioned.
"She got back to me right away and said to let her know how it goes," Leonard says.
"A week before I auditioned, she messaged me, 'Are you ready?' "
Later, after Leonard landed the part, "We talked for 2 1/2 hours about Ann and her colleagues and her friendships with Bill and Hillary Clinton and what people were saying on those phone calls where the audience is just hearing Ann's side of the conversation. She wanted me to have all the information I needed to do the play well."
Richards drew national attention for her powerful and funny speech on behalf of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton at the 1988 Democratic convention, whose opponent was George H.W. Bush. Richards surprised many when she ran for governor of Texas in 1990 and won.
There are intriguing parallels to the current national race, in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's income taxes have become an issue in his match against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Richards' Republican opponent in 1990, Clayton Williams, was a millionaire who lost his lead after he admitted he didn't pay 1986 income taxes.
Richards, who died in Austin in 2006, served from 1991 to 1995. She was defeated in 1994 by George W. Bush, the son of the man she'd helped Bill Clinton defeat. The younger Bush would succeed Clinton as president. There haven't been any Democratic governors in Texas since.
On Broadway, Ann drew the political elite, much as Hamilton would do when it opened two years later. The Clintons attended, as did former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, all of them snapping photos with Taylor after the show.
Stage West had a big success with another one-woman show about a person with strong political opinions. Red Hot Patriot: the Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, about Texas political columnist Molly Ivins, was presented by the company in 2012 and moved to WaterTower Theatre in Addison in 2013.
Advance sales for Ann have been strong, Schultes says.
Leonard says she hopes the play will bring people of different political beliefs together.
"I would love for people to come who knew her and for people to come that haven't known her so that they can see there's hope," Leonard says. "Government is the most pervasive institution in our lives. If we don't participate, we're letting other people make a whole lot of important decisions for us. We've gotten to such a negative place about our political state, we need to be reminded of good people in the past so we know there can be good people in the future."
Schultes says she feels it's not only been worth the journey to get the play, but that the timing couldn't have been better.
"I don't think anyone would have predicted we would have the election as it has turned out with the candidates," Schultes says.
"It feels like it was fate."