The City of Houston has experienced an unprecedented pandemic starting in March of 2020. The effects were staggering. But there were a few theatre companies in Houston that pressed forward despite court ordered social distancing and less than 25 percent capacity audiences.
Rec Room Arts has created a new project called Sound Scripts where nine audio scripts are written by the inaugural class which included local writers Brendan Bourque Sheill, Comfort Ifeoma Katchy, ELIZABETH A.M. KEEL, Fi Connors, Eric Moore, JELISA JAY ROBINSON, CHRISTIAN GILL, Nicole Zimmerer, and SHAWANNA RENEE RIVON. The plays will be presented via the website from October 22 through February 2021. Kim Tobin-Lehl and Philip Lehl, the artistic directors of 4th Wall Theatre, have created a bi-weekly podcast called Beyond the 4th Wall. Kim and Phil interview various artists throughout the city’s theatre community. They also have a monthly script club which is like a book club where they invite a donor base to attend their script analysis session. Aaron Alon, the artistic director of Thunderclap Productions is planning future productions in late 2021 with Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat and the world premiere play Simprov by LAURENCE KLAVAN. Two musicals are also in the works with The Great White Way: The Bert Williams Musical and MAD, written by fellow composer Russell Sarre.
Most local theatre companies are officially closed due to the pandemic. However, established community theatres are performing virtually. From Main Street Theater with their October production of RFK by Jack Holmes, to Mildred’s Umbrella where in November, they are premiering a virtual performance of Fine Wine: a series of monologues meant for young women but are performed by older women for a different perspective. David Rainey’s Landing Theatre Company had their virtual performances of the New American Voices Series 2020. Four excellent plays written by four nationally recognized playwrights; AMY BERRYMAN, JOHN MINIGAN, ANGELA J. DAVIS and Kirby Fields.
A pandemic may shrink the attendance of audience members, but it doesn’t shrink the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of many theatre companies and playwrights. From Cone Man Running Productions doing Virtual Shakespeare, to Catastrophic Theatre performing theatre in neighborhoods to Theatre Southwest doing online performances of their annual Festival of Originals this November 2020, theatre in Houston is still alive. There are also casualties from this pandemic. Since March, there has been massive layoffs in our arts centers, including the Alley Theatre, Theatre Under the Stars, and the Houston Grand Opera. Other organizations like the Houston Symphony are mostly doing virtual performances with limited 25 percent audience capacity.
The future is uncertain for the remainder of this year and beyond 2021, but we are hopeful that more great theatre works will be produced in Houston. But until that time, there is a great influx of new playwrights who are sprouting throughout the city. And who knows, maybe one of these great writers can be the next Horton Foote or August Wilson. Until that time, we keep writing forward.