SMU Theatre Students and Alumni Help Create New Public Works Dallas Film, A Little Less Lonely

Film debuts August 10, streaming for free on

A Little Less Lonely features colorful umbrellas by Scenic Designer Natalie Mabry and Assistant Scenic Design Fellow Cory Garrett; photo by Imani Thomas.

By Holly Haber

SMU students played integral roles in creating A Little Less Lonely, a new film by Public Works Dallas.

The movie, which begins streaming for free on August 10 at, highlights the talents of 60 community members as well as professional theater artists and students.

Developed through remote meetings and rehearsals and filmed outdoors, A Little Less Lonely was made through a collaboration of the Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, SMU initiative Ignite/Arts Dallas, Bachman Lake Together, Jubilee Park & Community Center, and the City of Dallas Park & Recreation Department.

“Because of the pandemic we are unable to produce our annual Public Works Dallas pageant production this summer, which typically features 200 community members on stage at the Wyly Theatre,” explains DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty. “However, we are thrilled to bring members of our community together this summer to create and perform an original theatrical piece, which we will film outdoors at our community partner sites. Like all of our Public Works Dallas programming, the film of A Little Less Lonely will celebrate our fundamental belief that theater belongs to everyone.”

Public Works Dallas affords SMU graduate and undergraduate students paid work in their chosen fields and a chance to develop professional networks, notes Clyde Valentín, director of Ignite/Arts Dallas.

“This is an opportunity to really experience best practices with respect to community-engaged work,” Valentín says. “They are experiencing a professional hiring process, which is part of what they need to learn.”

Participants include five M.F.A. candidates: scenic designer Natalie Mabry and assistant Cory Garrett, costume designer Shahrzad Mazaheri and assistant Britney Remy, and hair and makeup co-designer Ariel Kregal.

Kregal’s hair and makeup co-designer is alumna Lauren Floyd (BFA Theatre ’21).

Undergrads also hold notable positions: Larsen Nichols, assistant director; Asher Ross, community liaison; Caleb Mosley and Ethan Taylor, ensemble captains; Sinan Beskok and Addison Vaughn, assistant stage managers; and Vinita Dixit and Rhett Goldman, production assistants.

“They are constantly wearing different hats,” says Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso, associate director of Public Works Dallas. “They may be creating a design or taking notes, but on site they may be holding a camera or fixing a tear in a costume. They have been so hands-on, and the work has been really, really beautiful.”

Mabry, who has 10 years of professional experience in scenic design, says it’s been a worthy challenge to work remotely and design for the outdoors, where you can’t control lighting or weather.

“It’s a hybrid beast – a little of live theater and TV/film – so you are dancing between two worlds, which most people have never really done, and it’s really a training exercise,” she observes.

“This has definitely opened up possibilities and my knowledge of how to design and go about the creative process. Working with other artists you may not see until day of filming has been very interesting, and not in a bad way. You can’t be dead set and beholden to one idea.”

For costume designer Shahrzad Mazaheri, it’s her first experience with a big theatrical establishment.

“What it taught me the most was the art of delegation and leading a team and having team members who are supporting you,” Mazaheri says. “The opportunity to work with theatrical director Tatyana-Marie Carlo and the costume shop at the DTC was great as well.”

The film’s theme arose from virtual community workshops, Jasso explains.

“We asked, ‘What sort of stories do you want to tell?’ A lot of them talked about a lack of human connection and gratitude for being in a shared space — even Zoom,” she says.

The community responded in writing to prompts from DTC playwright-in-residence Jonathan Norton (MLS ’11), and the creative team wrote the script, she adds.

“We’re so grateful for this collaboration and all of those who support this effort, including Clyde Valentín and Meadows associate professor Claudia Stephens,” Jasso says. “It’s great to watch the students grow.”

About Public Works Dallas:

Public Works Dallas is affiliated with Public Works, an ongoing initiative of The Public Theater in New York that seeks to engage the people of New York by making them creators and not just spectators. Public Works presented The Tempest in 2013 in New York, directed by Public Works Director Lear deBessonet, who was awarded the SMU Meadows Prize in 2015 to bring the program to Dallas. DTC, SMU Meadows and deBessonet began to develop Public Works Dallas during her Meadows Prize residency. A key initiative of Ignite/Arts Dallas, led by Clyde Valentín, the Meadows Prize is an award and residency given to pioneering artists and creative professionals that allows students to interact with artists at the top of their fields and integrates the Meadows School more deeply into the community. Public Works Dallas launched in 2017 with the production of The Tempest at the Wyly Theatre and presented The Winter’s Tale in 2018 and a musical adaptation of As You Like It in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of a planned adaptation of Twelfth Night in 2020.

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Read more about SMU Meadows School of the Arts Theatre Division and Ignite/Arts Dallas.