A Brief History of Avante Garde Theatre in Houston

Monday, 11 February 2013

A Brief History of Avant-Garde Theatre in Houston

In Celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Very First Collaboration between 

Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper

Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper met during their sophomore year at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She was 14, he 15. He wanted to be an actor, she a dancer. For a long time they even dated one another’s best friends. But it was five years after their graduation from high school in 1987 that they first worked together on a play.

After Jason graduated from NYU he returned to Houston with the idea to put on his play, In the Under Thunderloo. The production paired Nodler as writer and Cooper as choreographer and performer. The play was a cult sensation in the underground art scene and there was a pressing demand for a follow-up. Since Nodler didn’t have another script of his own he decided to try his hand at directing and he cast Tamarie in the leading female role in Brecht’s famously difficult In the Jungle of Cities. Back then though, rehearsals were more about getting drunk and having fun than making work and though the play enjoyed a sold-out run it was an aesthetic disaster. Had Nodler or Cooper realized that at the time, they might have stopped there. But they didn’t and it was good luck for fans of adventurous theatre in Houston for the next play was a serious effort that set the path for all the years to follow.

That play was Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, directed by Jason and once again featuring Tamarie in the only female role. But just as rehearsals were set to begin, she suffered a bad break-up and moved aw

ay to live with her family out of state. One day Jason called her and in Machiavellian fashion asked, “So how’s the art business? You making any art up there?” She hung up the phone and told her mother she was moving back to Houston to begin rehearsals.

Soon a company was forming around the two old friends. Together they presented avant-garde classics and introduced Houston audiences to plays by the boldest contemporary playwrights. They made original work, sometimes including outside collaborators like Suzan-Lori Parks or Brian Jucha. They made rock and roll shows, from Thunderloo to Troy Schulze’s Actual Air to The Kinks present A Soap Opera to Speeding Motorcycle. They created Bluefinger in cooperation with Black Francis of legendary alt-rock band The Pixies.

During the summer of ’96, Tamarie was up to something on the side that would change summers in Houston forever. It was called Tamalalia! It was a wholly original event, performed on the tiny stage of The Orange Show for a single weekend and crowds went wild for it. Jason was among those crowds and he asked Tamarie if she’d like to make another show, this time under the auspices of their company. Known these days as The Tamarie Cooper Show, these annual, full-scale, original musicals have become one of the hottest tickets in town.

With the new work, Jason and Tamarie and friends were gaining a national reputation. They received a rave review from The New York Times for Speeding Motorcycle. They graced the cov

er of American Theatre magazine for We Have Some Planes. They appeared in every national theatre trade and in several music and art ones as well, like No Depression and Art in America. Bluefinger was covered in hundreds of international media outlets and patrons traveled from three foreign countries and eleven US states just to see the play.

Along the way Jason and Tamarie and the artists with whom they have worked have been awarded five prestigious grants from The MAP Fund, the national leader in commissioning new work for the stage. Tamarie was named one of the country’s “top theatre makers under 30” by Stage Directions. And Jason was awarded an individual artist grant from Creative Capital and a NEA fellowship at The MacDowell Colony.

So many incredible actors, composers, writers, musicians, directors, designers, dancers, choreographers, technicians, and stage managers have collaborated with Jason and Tamarie over the years that to mention one here would be to leave out hundreds of others.

On Friday, April 27, at The Last Concert Café, we’re throwing a bash to celebrate the work that Tamarie, Jason, and each of their collaborators have made over the last two decades and we really hope you’ll come. Call it a walk down memory lane, an opportunity to party like it’s 1993, or an occasion to dance, play dress-up, and get over-full with food and drink. We’re calling it “It Was Twenty Years Ago Today.” And all proceeds will benefit the latest collaboration between the two old friends: The Catastrophic Theatre.

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