Houston by William Duell
There’s been an increase in the number of out-of-state dramatists asking me about living in Houston, and I love bragging about Space City. But in a rare moment of circumspection, I decided to provide you a less biased view by asking two newcomers what they think.
Danielle Ozymandias is a Houston transplant by way of more than a decade in the Los Angeles intimate theater scene where she wrote a little, but mostly directed and produced with Elephant Theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre, Little Fish Theatre, The Coop, Cruthaigh Productions and Crooked Heart. She was an AD for Sacred Fools and co-founder and AD of the all-female Broads’ Word Ensemble. Since arriving in Houston, Danielle has worked as a director and producer with Cone Man Running, Mildred’s Umbrella, and has been script reading for Fade to Black and Alley Theatre.
Arthur M. Jolly, her husband, is a screenwriter and playwright. He was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences with a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, and in 2017 won the Hammond House International Literary Prize for a Screenplay. As a playwright, he is a three time Joining Sword and Pen winner, a finalist for the Woodward/Newman Drama Award, and has penned over 60 produced plays, the majority of them published, with productions across the US and in Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America. He is repped by Brant Rose Agency.
Will Duell: Why Houston?
Arthur Jolly: Money, mostly. In LA, we spent about a year and a half trying to find an affordable house in a neighborhood where we felt safe sending our son to school – it didn’t even have to be a good school, just a safe one – and with an extra room I could use as an office to write in. Couldn’t do it. We could get two of the three, but never all three. It turns out, what we had for a down payment in LA was enough for a five-bedroom house with a pool in the suburbs of Houston, with some top-rated schools in the area. We don’t even have a mortgage.
Danielle Ozymandias: Houston has four things that drew us: a flourishing theatre scene, affordability, diversity, and a no-snow winter.
AJ: Some snow. For, like twenty minutes.
DO: And Houston supports its arts. There are 89 large, small, black box, community, mid-range and intimate theaters that run the gamut of every kind of theatre.
AJ: There’s also great support in general for theatre here. In Los Angeles, it’s mostly shoestring budgets – here, even smaller theatres actually have money. Yeah, it’s always a struggle, but there just seems to be more support, whether from individuals or corporations, banks, or local businesses.
DO: We see a show or two a week and we’re only scratching the surface – not to mention the museums, cultural and visual arts, dance companies, the ballet, the opera, the zoo… It’s a big city – the fourth largest in the country – but with a small-town vibe that I’m finding utterly charming. It’s also incredibly diverse.
AJ: I read it’s the most diverse city in America. I don’t know how you measure that.
DO: It recently surpassed New York City with nearly 500 different groups represented and almost 100 different languages spoken.
AJ: You looked that up.
DO: A couple of organizations we’re excited about are T.R.U.T.H. Project, which is a performance arts and social engagement group for the LGBTQ community and allies, focusing on creating self-awareness and healing; Fade to Black, which showcases African-American playwrights and advances the call of awareness; Sin Muros, a theatre festival that celebrates Latinx voices and stories reflecting the diversity of local communities; Cone Man Running, which is committed to producing new works and focuses on local playwrights; and Mildred’s Umbrella, which amplifies the role of women in all aspects of theatre: writers, actors, directors, and designers.
WD: Okay, what do you not like about Houston?
DO: The weather- it’s not 276 days of unending sunshine. It’s hot and humid and wet but there are thunderstorms that rattle the sky. I miss mountains, but rain is wonderful!
AJ: The mosquitoes, which we solve by never going outside unless forced to. For me, as a writer, that’s not actually a problem. We have noticed a slight uptick in the number of hurricanes, but a definite downward trend in earthquake readiness; so we feel those two cancel out.
DO: We arrived just in time for Harvey – which was scary and devastating for so many – but we were very lucky. Our street flooded, but it never got to our front door.
AJ: Nothing to do but write, so I got a play out of it. Not that that makes it worth it or anything. Not really a trade-off. There were a lot of houses in our neighborhood that were hit very hard. The city’s still reeling.
DO: Houston’s also really spread out. There are theaters on the far side from us that I’m pretty sure we’ll never get to. The humidity is a challenge – it’s weird to be damp for no reason. This may well get me kicked out of Texas- but…chili without beans. I don’t know what that is but it’s not chili!
AJ: You know we live here now, you can’t say that.
DO: Yeah, but it’s not.