New Artistic Civic Theatre executive director has spent much of his career preparing for the position

Ryan Anderson/Daily Citizen-News

"We think about the community all the time, and we want them to think about us," said Chad Daniel, the new executive director of the Artistic Civic Theatre. "We're excited about our community, and we hope they're excited about us." 

Chad Daniel, the new executive director of the Artistic Civic Theatre (ACT), feels "like I've spent my whole career preparing for this job."

"I've spent my life in theater, 30 years in every aspect, (from) acting and directing to set building," he said. "I also worked in sales and marketing for four years, (so) everything about this opportunity attracted me to it, because it's perfect for me."

A search committee recommended Daniel for the post this summer, and his appointment was approved by the Artistic Civic Theatre's executive board in mid-August.

Daniel was selected from approximately 20 applicants, with his dedication, preparation and attention to detail all impressing members of the search committee and executive board, said Judith Beasley, secretary for the board of directors. "Chad expressed a very strong desire to make Dalton his permanent home, and doing the job (well is) a top priority" for him.

'A structure I needed in my mind'

Daniel grew up in Nashville, as his father, Mike, was a producer and recording engineer in the music business, working with the likes of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, while his brother, Eric Hamilton, is a successful musician — most notably with the Eric Hamilton Band — and "my group of friends were all musicians, (but I) never wanted to be part of the music business," he said. "It's a rough business, and, back then, it was shady."

He was interested in the arts, however, as his mother — an arts teacher — began putting him on stage in shows when he was 4, he said.

"I was very ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), in a clinical sense, but theater gave me a structure I needed in my mind — I could really focus on that — and I liked the structure of a script, (so) theater helped me overcome challenges as a kid."

Due to his "learning differences," however, he "felt trapped in school and was very rebellious," so he dropped out of high school, he said. Like a loose kite, he was floating aimlessly in the wind when a friend who was headed to college suggested he do the same and recommended he pursue theater.

The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg "has a great theater program, and they were very encouraging to me," he said. "They helped me get prepared for college — they helped prepare me for the ACT — and there was a sense of community that made me decide this is what I want to do with the rest of my life, and I haven't looked back since."

Later, he was accepted into Southern Methodist University's theater program — "they only take like eight people every two years, and I got a full scholarship" — and he received his master of fine arts in acting from the private Dallas, Texas, school, he said.

"I was a high school dropout, but I graduated (Southern Miss) with nearly a 4.0," then did likewise at SMU.

"Theater pushed me to work hard — I had to work hard, because I had to catch up — and I don't know what I would have done without theater," he said. "I love theater, and I try to give back," including teaching theater at a school for students with special needs for two years.

"I've taught theater for different schools," including the University of Memphis, Reinhardt University and Dalton State College, where he's still an adjunct lecturer, he said. "I'm excited to stay in Dalton," and he's familiar with the Artistic Civic Theatre from directing and performing there.

The Artistic Civic Theatre "has been nothing but good since it opened, and the board has been nothing but helpful" since he joined the organization, he said. "It was a three-month process, and I had three interviews," but since accepting the position, "they've given me the reins."

Though the Artistic Civic Theatre has been mostly dormant during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, "we are doing fine, (as) fortunately grants and members sustained us," he said. The Artistic Civic Theatre has produced several shows recently and plans to have a normal, full season, "so we're in good shape."

'Beauty on a different level'

And "right now theater is more important than ever before, (because) it changes lives and changes the world," he said. "It's medicinal."

"People are here together in a communal environment, and it's hugely important for people to experience art, no matter what level it's on," he said. "We're in such a horrible place right now as human beings," from the pandemic to natural disasters battering the country to partisanship that's poisoning politics and public discourse, but "you see beauty on a different level with theater, and you experience that in a communal" manner.

While studying in college, Daniel made "a huge discovery," that "theater is not just entertainment," he said. "It's always been more important than that — look at how (legendary playwrights) have shaped our society and world."

Theater is "a teacher, not just fun, and it's fluid," he said. "You find what works for you."

"I'm an actor — acting will always be where my heart is — with directing a close second, but one of the perks of ADHD is you learn to do a lot of other things," not only in theater, but in other avenues of life, he said. For example, he watched his father "run studios amiably," which taught him "people have to like you (in order to) respect you."

"They might fear you, but they won't respect you if they don't like you, and people loved my father," he said. "They weren't afraid of him, (because) he loved his employees, and he was the sweetest man you'd ever meet."

Though his father died in 2005, "I feel him with me here, and I'm excited to tap into that side" by leading the Artistic Civic Theatre, he said. "He was a people person, (as am) I, and we're a team here," not only within the Artistic Civic Theatre but with audiences and the community.

His father also told him repeatedly "If you can sell, you can do anything," and leading a theater, "you have to be able to sell," he said. "We need people to support us."

His son, Charlie Banks, 7, is already showing sings of perhaps following him into theater, he said.

"He has an artist brain, he loves the stage, and he has no fear, but he's also very grounded, so I think he might be drawn to that."

Daniel's favorite role as an actor was the "crippled Billy" Claven in Martin McDonagh's "The Cripple of Inishmaan," a part for which he "had to learn about the culture" of a remote Irish island from which Claven hailed, he said. "It was a wonderful experience."

As a director, his highlight was "The Miracle Worker" at Shorter University.

"We built a set as Helen Keller sees the world, and we had a perfect cast," he said. "It changed the way I felt about that play."

Valuing diversity

At the Artistic Civic Theatre, Daniel hopes to incorporate personal favorites like William Shakespeare while also prizing diversity in shows and in the audience.

"I want to incorporate people of color," which has long been a struggle for theaters all over the country, he said. "I'll be excited if we can get more minorities working with us" on stage, backstage and as patrons.

"We are here for the community, and we take the community into consideration with everything we do, (because) a theater that doesn't will not do well," he said. "We think about the community all the time, and we want them to think about us; we're excited about our community, and we hope they're excited about us."

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