In 1985 the members of the Dallas Bar Association (DBA) Entertainment Committee were tasked with staging some sort of performance to serve as a fundraiser for law school scholarships to be awarded by the DBA’s associated foundation (the Dallas Bar Foundation). Certain of those members determined to stage a follies-type comedy musical, poking fun at the practice of law and current events and featuring lawyers as performers and writers. Since then, the annual production that came to be known as Bar None has raised in excess of $2 million to support the Sarah T. Hughes Diversity Scholarship.
The 1985 Entertainment Committee included brand-new lawyers Martha Hardwick Hofmeister and Rhonda Hunter, both of whom have strong backgrounds in music, dance, and theater. Martha has been the director and Rhonda has been the choreographer for the show since it was first staged in 1986.
At the last minute, the first set of performances was named Bar None. That name stuck, and each year the show has a subtitle. Memorable subtitles include Bar Trek: The Tenth Generation, 101 Damn Motions, Suing Miss Daisy, Lawquaman, and Beauty and the Briefs. Bar None’s two performances in 1986 involved 30-plus lawyers and judges. It was a financial success, raising about $7,000 in profit. What could have been a one-shot special event has continued for more than three decades, typically raising between $50,000 and $90,000 annually.
Auditions for Bar None are held in the spring. All who audition are cast. The directors have full discretion regarding who gets cast in which part. While they ask each person auditioning to indicate a preference for singing, acting, or dancing, the directors use their backgrounds and experience to decide who does what. Bar None is not a talent show! The challenge for the directors is to find a role for everyone yet still put on a performance people will pay to watch.
Bar None’s script committee, composed of lawyers, begins collaborating nine months before the June show dates. The show consists of approximately 20 to 25 skits and songs that have had their lyrics rewritten. While the content is often law-focused, even nonlegal types get the jokes.
The entire cast participates in the opening and closing segments, which are big, Broadway-style song and dance numbers. Due to the magical talent of choreographer Rhonda Hunter, it seems to the audience that all 50-plus cast members are pulling off complicated dancing. It’s always an amazing experience for me as a cast member to see it all come together. One year I was a tap dancer with seven other tappers in the opening number, set to the music of “42nd Street”; Rhonda taught the rest of the cast similar choreography so it appeared the entire cast was tap dancing!
Bar None requires six weeks of rehearsal, leading up to four nights of performances. Rehearsals begin in May, and the show runs the Wednesday through Saturday immediately preceding Father’s Day each year at the Greer Garson Theatre on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU). Some 400 people are in the audience each night.
I personally love to participate because the creative outlet of singing and dancing keeps me sane as I practice family law; raising money for the scholarships is a bonus! The commitment of the performers to put on a good show produces a contagious energy, and our cast becomes a family.
Bar None ran for 34 consecutive years until the pandemic of 2020. In 2020, the directors created a music video, “We’re Still Standing!,” to the tune of Elton John’s song of that name; this music video was the basis for 2020 fundraising. In 2021, the directors recorded several remotely filmed skits and songs, which were combined with videos from similar lawyer shows in Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Austin. The result was an hour-long video that raised money for all of these shows’ charities.
Bar None planned to return to live performances in 2022, but our theatre was under renovation following pandemic restrictions. Bar None and the Sarah T. Hughes Diversity Scholarship enjoy such support from the Dallas community that, even without a live show for the last three years, the fundraising has continued, and our sponsors have continued to fully fund the scholarships.
There is always an event in the last quarter of the year to honor the Hughes Scholars and the Bar None cast; at that event, a symbolic “big check” is presented to the Dallas Bar Foundation. This reception serves both to recognize the performers and to re-energize them and their audience in anticipation of another Bar None show.
Bar None is a really fun project that gives dozens of Dallas legal folks the chance to put on and be in a show. But, more than that, it is a significant fundraiser for the Sarah T. Hughes Diversity Scholarship. Established in 1981 by the Dallas Bar Foundation, the scholarship was created to increase the diversity of the legal community in Dallas. The scholarship initially was awarded to exceptional minority student leaders who, although accepted to the SMU Dedman School of Law, might otherwise attend law school in the Ivy League or at other highly regarded, out-of-state institutions. Many recipients are the first in their families to graduate from college. These law students, upon graduation, now plan to practice law and serve the community in Dallas. In 2015, the scholarship was expanded to include minority students attending two other, more recently established law schools in the area: the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law and Texas A&M University School of Law.
Originally named the Diversity Scholarship, the name was changed to the Sarah T. Hughes Diversity Scholarship in 1982 in recognition of Judge Hughes’s outstanding contributions and support of the Dallas Bar Foundation, both monetarily and as a Dallas Bar Foundation trustee.
Judge Hughes often remarked upon a formula she used to live her life: “Pick out your goal, and then use determination and courage to reach it.” As Judge Hughes believed, she lived. Each year, the Dallas Bar Foundation honors students who share Judge Hughes’s aspirations and attributes.
Past Hughes Scholars have included many accomplished law students and lawyers. The Hughes Scholars have distinguished themselves in many ways, including being named valedictorian in law school, serving as a member of the judiciary, volunteering for the local and state bar associations, donating time to serve area nonprofit organizations, and mentoring others. One of the scholars commented, “This scholarship is a source of empowerment because it places responsibility in the hands of those who have been traditionally under-represented in the legal community.”
So, our fun theatrical endeavor is a critical way of making the Dallas legal profession look more like the community it serves. Bar None will return live on stage June 14 to 17, 2023, at the Greer Garson Theatre on the SMU campus. We hope that if you come see the show, you’ll volunteer to help or perform—and, of course, applaud enthusiastically!