Chocolate Bayou's Leonard Wagner says his theater will do all Houston premieres.
Deborah Ledet's Black Ensemble specializes in live soap opera and dance concerts.
produced off-Broadway and deals with
the crisis of turning 30, and will be done
in the round. Our second show will be
Getting Out, an intense, psychological
depiction of a woman convict's first day
out of prison after an eight-year term.
Her personality is split in two, so we will
have two women playing the parts of
her mind. Our cast is going to do field
work with experts in prisons and we will
try to capture the whole psychological
intricacy of what she is going through."
Stages' spring show list includes a
celebration of Houston that has promise,
says Swindley. "It's about what it is like
to live in a city going through an identity
crisis, moving from a local to a world
outlook and involvement."
Stages tries to develop local talent
by holding open actor auditions (as do
few are making a living from theater
yet. "Houston has had Ken Cullinane,
probably one of the finest young character actors around, Nick Hegler, a fine
actor at Houston Baptist who has been in
Dallas (he was arrested as a suspect in the
shooting of J.R.), Morgan Redmond, who
was trained in the Dublin theater and
Jeanine Beckman, a marvelous actress,
who played in Main Street's Old Times.
Up and coming people are Max Maxwell,
Kathy Goddard, Tim Parman, Lois Flee,
Ron and Barbara Jones . . . many more."
Wagner is also proud that his group
was the second theater in the U.S. to do
Preston Jones' Remember, a play given
to Chocolate Bayou by Jones shortly
before he died. CB also is the only innovative group with a playwright in residence, Keith McGregor, whose Renova-
'The Big Money only sees the need for
professional athletics and corporation Hollywood culture."—Leonard Wagner
all the small theaters) varying directors
for performances, and performing the
work of local authors. Last year it
mounted a successful run of Patty Gideon
Sloane's Night on Bare Mountain, and
this season another premiere will be presented, along with two company-developed cabaret shows, in a season of
eight plays. Says Swindley, "Houston's
theaters are doing fine work, all of them
in different ways, all of us fit in. I am
really excited by the growth at Main
Street-the more theatrical activity in the
city, the better it is for all of us."
Leonard T. Wagner, the artistic
director of Chocolate Bayou Theater, at
1823 Lamar, east of downtown, said *%f
"talent pool" in theater in Hou«°n 's
getting better and larger, alt^u9h verY
tions is on the coming bill which opens
with O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten.
Wagner says his theater intends to do all
Houston premieres. This adds to thp
problem of audience. Besides low ',s'"
bility, the theater has to struggM9amst
taste conformity, he says. T^ relatively
few people in Houston <vno do 9° t0
theater often choose ' dinner or "community" theater, ",th the tried-and-true
or frivolous. lhC*' tne audience comes in,
and come?-11 D'9'tne theaters will be depended uP°n corporate or Cultural Arts
Q0,.icil support—and "people wait two
jx three years before they come around
to us," says Wagner. "They suddenly one
day decide to try to find us, and when
they do come, we've got them. But we
should have more people coming in."
Unfortunately, Houston is not the sort
of charming, walkable place where one
wants to explore highways and by-ways.
But theater-goers are a hardy bunch and
besides finding their way to Cecil Pickett's UH productions to see future Hollywood stars (he directed the Quade brothers and his daughter Cindy Pickett),
to Rice University's unobtrusive
Hammon Hall for Rice Players' romps,
they seek these and other on and
off-Main Street theaters such as Deborah
Ledet's Black Ensemble, 1010 Tuam
which does live soap opera and dance
concerts, the Channing Players, hidden
behind the patio at First Unitarian,
5210 Fannin (Houston's oldest continually performing community theater) and
Barbara Marshall's Urban Theater Inc.,
the town's oldest established permanent
floating performing group, operating out
of a phone set, 523-4705.
Lest anyone say it's not worth the
gas, Marshall's transients have indeed
Charles Robinson, seen on nation*'
television in Roots anH^^a/o sJtdiers,
and Loretta De***J winner of a Delco
nominate ,n- New York. Her group won
rave* from Houston reviewers withWts
black and white production prermere of
James Baldwin's Blues for l&> Charley.
Supporting Marshall, executive producer,
and Jan Crane, associ?^ artistic director,
is Delta Sigma Th~a, an unsung sorority
which brought Lena Home to Houston,
established a foundation for Barbara
Jordan raised money for a Fifth Ward
carr center for homeless children and
yelped arrange tours for Urban Theater
to Atlanta, New Orleans and Austin.
The opening show for Urban Theater
is October 12 at TSU, an original by
Lacey Chimney, acquisitions librarian
there, called Big Six to the Board which
Marshall described as "urban struggles
young men must face here."
Denny Stevens, director of Modern
Times theater in New York, who visited
Houston this year, commented on the
local problems and promises in drama:
"Theater succeeds when people want it
to. Since it's a mirror of life, people
can either need it to see life, or forget it
and try to deny life, escape into silliness,
or vegetablehood. Theater's communal,
unifying, cathartic and immediate. It
doesn't sell products, but it can stir up
dangerous, liberated emotions and
"Is is happening? The four plays I
saw in Houston seemed like initiations,
explorations, interesting beginnings.
There's a tremendous chasm between
people in and out of the theater in
Texas, sometimes bridged by productions such as Preston Jones or Best Little
Whorehouse, but I think the theater is
going to get farther, faster if the groups
don't try to con anyone, or try to present
that people who see their plays are chic
and in touch, but instead concentrate
on capturing and improving life,
making the city more open to theater
by making important productions.
"I don't think anyone would make the
100 million dollar Nina Vance mistake,"
said Stevens. "These days, if someon'
gets a few million from Exxon cneY
will probably have something ''^e tne
Greenway Three for live "10WS' a ,ot of
little boutique prod-t,ons- That's show
biz-but I wo^r' ,srVt the Houston
theater cp-'^unity taking its, ideas
seconj,und? Isn't the wildest you
ha»' 9°m9 on tne stages sort of the easy
jronco at Gilley's? And whose hand
controls the pace?
"But we all hope for something bigger, better and different from Houston."
If not, Stevens warns, "We're going to do
more Urban Cowboys on you!"
A smorgasbord of movies from the esoteric to the avant garde.
-BY JANE COLLINGS-
"I'd eat a MOt d°9, it tastes real good. I'd
even ><atch 3 movie from Hollywood."
—Frank Zappa on the album,
Roxie and Elsewhere.
On any evening, any afternoon, at any
time of year it may strike. Suddenly you
know, you want to see a film. Nothing
but a big screen filled with motion and
nothing but the dark filled with sound
will satisfy the urge. The mind clicks over,
where to go?
There are countless movie houses in
Houston churning out dollops of our fantasies. These are the vending machines of
film culture. But you'll get more nutrition with your popcorn at the River Oaks
Theatre and the Greenway 3 film programs. And a strictly gourmet affair
awaits you at the after dinner theaters at
The Rice Media Center and the Museum
of Fine Arts. Then it's back to TV dinners (without commercials) over at the
summer buffet at the Alley.
"The film culture in Houston is pretty
clearly divided into groups who do not
intermingle. If you go to the movies at
the museum you see people there that
you don't see anywhere else. The MFA
crowd is very serious. You know that
they know who did the make-up on every
Antonioni film. That's serious," observes
Doug Milburn, a social critic and author
of The Last Great American City, a book
"We bring in works that represent a
body of thought," says Ralph Dawes, the
person who orders and projects the films
at the museum. You get the impression
from the way he says it that these films
are made from sheer intellectual commitment and that the audience must be prepared to work.
A museum guard told Dawes after
one show: "Say, they all left looking
happy for a change."
Dawes seems to tread a fine line
between the esoteric and your standard
chef d'oeuvre. He generally highlights
one director's work-this fall it will be
Roberto Rossellini-or chooses a thematic
Jane Collings was the summer intern at
Breakthrough from Antioch College. She
returned to classes last month to study
her first love - film.
approach—this summer Dawes decided on
modern music: Jammin' the Blues and
Rock & Roll Revue, rocking out with the
'Duke' and King Cole Trio; Sven Klang's
Combo, jazz in small town Sweden '58;
The T.A.M.I. Show, getting down to The
Stones, James Brown, The Supremes,
Leslie Gore; Shell Shock Rock, real live
punks from Northern Ireland; and Blank
Generation, Patty Smith, Richard Hell,
Ramones, and Talking Heads-all the first
In the opinion of Eric Gerber, film
critic for the Houston Post: "The Museum Film Series is the most adventurous
programming in Houston because they
are the least commercially dependent."
Yet Dawes offers this one regret: "Lots
of times people in New York will be
"During the early 70s the de Menils
had a personal vision of bringing film as
an art form to Houston. They brought
Gerald O'Grady who brought James Blue.
By bringing Blue they brought the whole
French movement—the cinematheque,"
recalls Helen Foley, a local filmmaker and
former film teacher.
"We could go to the Media Center any
night to see classics of the history of cinema. Afterwards we'd go to dinner. The de
Menils would take all the students to the
Stables. They bought up Beaujolais and
steaks and people would sit and dialogue
with film artists in a rather unusual way.
That was invaluable—a group of people
saw each other and from that grew group
discussion. We don't have that anymore,"
"Houston is still a frontier town. I once tried to
convert Houlahan's to a coffee house. I'd sit
around looking arty and Viennese, but nothing
lined up around the block for weeks to
see a film. We bring it here and get 75
people for one showing."
"Houston is still a frontier town," laments Milburn. "Some years ago, I tried
to convert Hoolihans to a coffee house. I
would go there about five in the afternoon and sit around looking arty and
Viennese, but nothing happened."
Dawes, too, believes that the lack of
informal social settings is the missing link
in developing an active arts culture in
Houston. "A few years ago we tried to
encourage discussion in the Tea Room
after the films. But there's one big bank
of flourescent lights in the ceiling and it
was so bright. Only one or two people
would stay to talk."
The Camelot days of film and film
culture have been replaced by a more
pragmatic Rice regime. The name, the
Media Center, suggests a community
involvement, but after the de Menil funding disappeared it became a part of the
Rice art department and its politics and
protocol. It became more student-
oriented, more elite, if you will. And, of
course, money got tight.
"Despite the fact that the Media Center is in an academic situation and trying
to give the avant-garde exposure, they
still have an eye on the budget. If it came
to a toss-up between Ethiopian film and
Annie Half again, Annie Hall would win,"
Speaking of rice-or Rice-the film