In Memoriam

Katherine Owens, co-founder of Dallas' Undermain Theatre, has passed away

Katherine Owens, co-founder of Dallas' Undermain Theatre, has died

Katherine Owens
Undermain Theatre artistic director and co-founder Katherine Owens. Photo by Stephen Webster

A light has gone out for the Dallas theater scene, as Undermain Theatre co-founder and artistic director Katherine Owens has passed away.

One of Dallas' most fearless and pioneering theater artists, Owens turned what many would consider an impossible space — a subterranean theater underneath Main Street, complete with low ceiling and giant, immovable concrete pillars — into a home for avant garde storytelling.

"She helped spark the alternative theater scene in Deep Ellum," says Kateri Cale, actor and artistic director of Echo Theatre. Cale was a member of the Undermain ensemble for 10 years, and worked closely with Owens and co-founder Raphael Parry (who now runs Shakespeare Dallas).

Over the past 35 years, Owens built a reputation that extended far beyond Dallas. She and husband Bruce DuBose — who would become the theater's executive producer and star in many of its shows — took several shows to New York, and Owens also directed in Macedonia and Yugoslavia.

In 2018, she directed the world premiere of Lonesome Blues, a play about legendary blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson, that ran Off Broadway at the York Theatre. In all, she directed well over a hundred productions in her career. 

New, and especially risky, work was a specialty. Owens maintained a relationship with playwright Len Jenkin that resulted in Undermain producing many of his world premieres, and in recent years, Undermain debuted a reading series devoted to new American plays called Whither Goest Thou America?. The last show Owens worked on was the final installment of Matthew Paul Olmos' so go the ghosts of méxico trilogy in April.

Of Owens and Undermain, Jenkin has said, "I love their work, and I think they are a great American theater. Kat Owens is a marvelous director. She runs on a powerful combination of great theatrical instinct and a wonderfully wide and deep knowledge of literature and human nature, and she loves and understands actors and directors, which is best of all."

In 2014, Undermain premiered Gordon Dahlquist's trippy sci-fi play Tomorrow Come Today, which went on to win a major international drama prize. Dahlquist returns this September with another world premiere, Red Chariot.

"Katherine Owens was one of the great visionaries in Texas theater history," says Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty. "Her work had international impact and will live on in Deep Ellum at Undermain Theatre, which so perfectly housed Kat's vision and artistry. She was also one of the most warm, open-hearted theater leaders I've ever known. All of us at Dallas Theater Center are heartbroken by her passing. She will be dearly missed."

Personally, it will be difficult to visit Undermain and not see Owens making her rounds before a show, shaking the hands of subscribers and new patrons alike, and welcoming everyone to whichever magical world she had constructed this time: a Chekhovian forest, a tropical beacha New England family home, or a setting we couldn't even yet imagine.

Owens passed away on July 21, after battling lymphoma for the past five months. She was 61. She is survived by DuBose, her sister Kimberley Owens, and her brother Carl Owens. DuBose will continue their work at Undermain as producing artistic director, and lead Undermain in accordance with her artistic vision.

Throughout Undermain's 2019/2020 season, there will be a celebration of Owens' work in an exhibition of her watercolor paintings, drawings, and photographs, as well as her notebooks in the Undermain lobby.

"She was and is the heart and soul of the Undermain Theatre and will be greatly missed," the theater says in a statement announcing her death. "We dedicate this and all of our seasons to her."

Owens' funeral will be held at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave. in Dallas on Wednesday, August 7, at 11 am. Flowers can be sent to the Church of the Incarnation beginning August 6.

A statement from Undermain Theatre reinforces that "Undermain was Katherine's passion and life's work. If you would like to send a donation in her memory to the theater where her legacy will continue, please go to Bruce and the Undermain family are continually grateful for your ongoing love and support."