DAY ONE: 2/4/2016 Whoever said “Everything is bigger and bolder in Texas” was right – after a 4 hour plane ride and short Uber ride in the grandest SUV I’ve ever seen, I arrive at the Lancaster Hotel, right across the street from the majestic Alley Theatre. It’s a beautiful playing space; it has big, welcoming open windows, and casts tons of light toward downtown, it’s curvaceous front a welcome departure from the stoic office buildings and chain restaurants that surround it. Most energizing: the gigantic ALL NEW FESTIVAL banner that cloaks the building, announcing some great new plays. Thanks for the southern hospitality, Alley Theatre! I am happy to be here.
After hungrily walking around downtown a bit and unsuccessfully finding food, I decide that the only thing that will satisfy me is a play, and end up back at the theatre. I manage a seat at Boo Killibrew’s workshop production of her powerful Miller, Mississppi, which was so, so, SO good, I could have had 3 more hours of it – easy. Thank you, Boo.
Tomorrow, I’ll officially register for the Festival, say hi to colleagues, and see some more incredible new work. A great first day.
DAY TWO: 2/5/2016 Registration’s not till 2pm, so I use the first three hours of my day to find local Houston coffee and catch up on emails from our theatres. I head to the Montrose Neighborhood, and get a great cup of coffee from a place called Blacksmith. It’s great – people are Texas friendly and chat me up about my job and the great work the Alley is doing. I encourage them to check out the free readings and workshop productions at the Festival.
After a little lunch, I trek back over to the theatre, and meet Shelly Finley, the Alley’s wonderful warm Ticketing Systems Manager, who’s checking in Festival attendees. I register and jump in a reading of Songs From Ms. Mannerly, a new musical version of Jeffrey Hatcher’s autobiographical comedy about his childhood memories of a charm-school teacher. There was great music and some wonderful performances. The audience loved it.
After the performance, I was treated to – along with 15 other industry professionals – an amazing tour of the Alley Theatre, which was just recently renovated. The new Alley contains two amazing theatres, an incredible costume shop, and what is arguably the largest in-house scene shop in the United States, of which I took a ton of photos. It was incredible.
After the tour, I grabbed dinner with Kimberly Coburn, Literary Director of South Coast Repertory Theatre in Orange County, who’s busy prepping for their notorious Pacific Playwrights Festival, which consists of two fully staged productions and five in-process readings. If you get a chance, attend – they have just announced the line-up!
We headed back to the theatre for a brief cocktail party with other attendees, and ending the night with an EXCELLENT workshop production of NSangou Njikam’s Synching Ink. Then, with a lot on our minds to discuss, all Festival staff, attendees and artists headed to Public Service’s Wine and Whiskey, a sophisticated Houston haunt for a delicious bourbon night cap. After a few hot toddies, I was ready to retire.
DAY THREE: 2/6/2016 A full day of theatre! This day started with the great tradition of breakfast tacos at the Alley, and then a reading of a very fun and funny new play by Laurence Wright, Cleo, a imagined retelling of Elizabeth Taylor’s and Richard Burton’s meeting on the set of Cleopatra. Lunch came after, and then I met my cousin, Robin McCabe, to catch the three O’clock Workshop performance of Karen Hartman’s drama, Roz and Ray, a provocative two-hander about love, parenting, and medicine.
My cousin Robin McCabe is a Houston Middle School Drama Teacher with over 25 years of theatre education experience, and while we love to talk about our family, we also share a profound love of theatre. Living so far apart, we only see each other about ever four years, and I wanted to make sure we had a chance to talk more about plays for middle school students: current trends, educational standards, and what kind of plays really effect her students. We had a great two hour dinner and came up with some awesome ideas. As much as I love professional theatre, spending time with teachers is really valuable.
Since I got in town early and caught Miller, Mississippi, I didn’t need to be at the theatre that night. I decided to spend the evening with a long time licensing friend – a client I’d often emailed about new plays, but never met in person. Stewart Savage is an innovative high school drama teacher at Carnegie Vanguard High School. Stewart is known around our office for requesting challenging material for his students, and doing a great job with the work. Over wine and some gigantic, Texas-sized ice box pie, I talked to him about School Editions and Texas Competition. Our conversation was so exciting, and full of so many ideas, we stayed out till eleven. Energized, I went back to the Alley to their Festival Party, and then headed back to the hotel.
DAY FOUR: 2/7/2016 The last of day of the Festival! Texas has treated me so well, I’m kind of sad to leave Houston.
It’s another early day, and it’s a total treat: after breakfast, Festival-goers are treated to a in-process meaning reading of a new adaptation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, being penned by Kenneth Lin and Stew. After a brief intro, we got to see a few exciting scenes and a Q-and-A session with the audience, where Alley Theatre goers expressed enthusiasm to see more of the play.
Our last showing was a reading of Zak Berman’s The Harassment of Iris Malloy, and incredible topical drama dealing with class, politics, and the media. It was a great way to end the Festival!
Photos by Amy Rose Marsh.