This week we closed our first play in a theater since the pandemic began. The Houston Press wrote: “Catastrophic Theatre has not been softened by a year-and-a-half of COVID isolation and deprivation, it’s been sharpened and honed razor-sharp. It will cut you.” It was nice to hear. We’d been aiming for that.
The pandemic has also sharpened our focus on the people that have made us who we are and the friends we’ve yet to meet: artists, many of whom have been with us for decades; those of you that have been in our audience since the beginning and those for whom 4.48 Psychosis was their first experience with our theatre or any theatre; and communities we are only beginning to know, ones that comprise the vast majority of our city.
If making a living is one’s aim, we kindly suggest taking up a profession outside of the arts. Sadly, theatre is not a place to be fairly compensated, even for a life’s work born of the soul. Our artists know that and still they come back again and again, giving of themselves for a common good. This year we have given them small raises. It is expensive for a theatre of our size to pay artists even a little more than we have in the past, but it still isn’t enough for their commitment to us—and to you. Our ability to pay them a fairer wage is, in many ways, in your hands.
We have also rededicated ourselves to new work, largely by local artists—not with readings or workshops but with commissions and full productions. Next up on our season is They Do Not Move, created by experimental theatre whiz Brian Jucha who has helped to create the most extraordinary ensemble-based plays we have produced. Later this season we are presenting Innominate, an intrepid dance-theatre piece by local multidisciplinary artist Afsaneh Aayani, focusing on the traumatic experience of her immigration to America from war-torn Iran.
For our 2022-23 season, we have commissioned new works by Candice D’Meza and Lisa D’Amour. D’Meza has acted with us since 2014 and we produced her film series 30 Ways to Get Free earlier this year. Her work as a new writer is on a meteoric rise. D’Amour, our old friend and collaborator, is the recipient of an “Outstanding New Play” Tony Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Bringing new work to Houston audiences is an expensive proposition and our ability to continue doing so is largely up to you as well.
And, of course, we will continue to produce Tamarie Cooper’s all-original summer musicals. Even though they are wildly popular, selling out nearly every performance, they barely break even. In fact, ticket sales at any theatre almost always provide a fraction of annual revenues. This is especially true of our theatre due to our commitment to Pay-What-You-Can ticketing, which ensures that every audience member can see any performance at our theatre for a price they can afford. This is a core value for us, but it requires subsidy from those that can afford to help.
Perhaps most importantly we are expanding our reach beyond the theatre. We recently completed three civic engagement projects: an arts education initiative at an underserved high school, a community art-making fair, and two guided tours through Houston neighborhoods facilitated by elder statespersons and community ambassadors. We are energized by these projects and are presently developing a civic mission to exist in tandem with our artistic one.
During this holiday season, we ask that you give of yourselves once again to ensure that we can continue with this work. As with our ticketing system, we ask that you donate-what-you-can. And if you can’t afford to make a donation, we ask that you come to the theatre and share a little of your lives with us because that is worth a lot. Thank you for being on this journey with us.