by Jamilyn Cole | photos by Giordana Losi
Dennis Whitehead Darling
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Current City: Memphis
BFA in Musical Theatre and an MA in Theatre Arts, Texas State University
Working towards an MFA in Directing at University of Memphis (May 2018)
Let’s start with something fun. What was your reaction when you found out your wedding would be published in Martha Stewart Weddings magazine?
I was absolutely stunned and honored in the same moment because the experience of our 2015 wedding was a dream in itself. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality three weeks before the big day. It was an amazing and poignant journey and a tremendous honor to be one of the few gay weddings published in Martha Stewart Weddings.
You’ve recently just returned from working on a project in NYC. Can you tell us a little about that project?
I’ll never forget the evening I was contacted by that nationally recognized director, Patricia McGregor. I was sitting in my living room with one of my best friends, Brennan Villines, and we were listening to a Nat King Cole song, I believe it was Smile. Literally moments later, I received a text from Patricia asking me if I would be interested in being an Assistant Director for a new musical titled, Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole!
Needless to say, I was ecstatic, honored and on a plane one month later for its first reading in San Diego. The incredible cast included Dulé Hill (Psyche, and The West Wing) as Nat King Cole and Daniel Watts, Hamilton, as Sammy Davis, Jr.
You are currently the popular Director of Music at First Congregational Church (First Congo) in Cooper – Young, what first drew you to First Congo?
Upon my first visit, I was truly moved by Pastor Cheryl’s sermon, the music and how friendly, welcoming, and ‘real’ everyone seemed to be. I knew that this would be a place I would want to work and worship.
There were so many programs and activities happening in the church and with its shared space partners, it was apparent First Congo not only preached about creating a better world for all, but it practiced it on a daily basis. It is a church that welcomes all, including those who are often struggling, overlooked, in pain, or in need of emotional and spiritual support.
As a member who loves the music that the congregation and choir sing, how do you chose our music?
I choose music that moves me spiritually in the hope that it will inspire others.
When I accepted the position as Minister of Music, I identified myself as a singer, artistic director, and teacher. Little did I know that my background would give me the tools I needed to promote learning, encourage spiritual connection, and create choral performances that provide the congregation with an opportunity to connect.
First Congo suffered a devastating fire in September. How is the church doing now? What can Focus readers do to help the church?
We are still in the process of rebuilding. Luckily, we have been able to maintain our community lunches and food pantry services. It is our hope that we will reopen and be fully functional by March 1st. Of course, contributions are always welcomed and will help relieve the unexpected financial burden associated with rebuilding damaged portions of the church. Anyone can donate online at our website, firstcongo.com
How will you be using your artistic voice to advocate for political and social change in 2018?
As a gay African American theater and music director, I will continue directing theatre, opera, and music that informs, engages and allows audiences to see the world from different perspectives. I will seek out artistic pieces that challenge oppression, bigotry, racism, and that encourage positive change towards equality. I feel blessed that I can produce music at a church that shares my values.
Anything else you would like to share with Focus Readers:
I’m currently directing Sunset Baby by Dominique Morisseau at Hattiloo Theatre. It runs January 11-February 12, 2018. In February, I’m directing the musical version of James and the Giant Peach, based on the book by Roald Dahl, at Circuit Playhouse. It runs March 16-April 8, 2018. In the spring I will serve as the Associate Director of the Midtown Opera Festival and Director of the opera Moving Up In The World by Zach Redler and Jerre Dye.
Martha Stewart’s summer 2016 issue of Weddings magazine featured the couple’s 2015 wedding event,
publishing photographer Corbin Gurkin’s pics. The featured prop from their ‘La Dolce Vita’-themed Italian
weddings? A 1968 Fiat Cinquecento with Oggi Sposi (Just Married) on the back.