Houston is going through something of a performance art space resurgence with construction and renovations of theaters happening all across town. The performing arts community is building to such heights that all our lovely new rooms to act, dance and make music within has brought us into the national spotlight (albeit on a theater news level).
So we at CultureMap thought we’d take a closer look at the building and renovation results, one theater at a time. We were there for the grand reopening of the Alley Theatre, but with so many new projects and spaces to explore, we’re heading out to the theater once again and reviewing more of those new houses of drama. Up next:
Though not the oldest theater company in town, MST has a fine 40-year history bringing innovative contemporary and classic plays to Houston. Founded in 1975 by Rebecca Greene Udden, who continues today as its executive artistic diirector, MST moved in 1982 from the Autry House on Main Street to its current Times Blvd location. As many people do, MST celebrated entering into middle age by having some work done, though with less of an extreme facelift as the Alley. Thanks in part to a $3.5 million Capital Campaign MST purchased and completely renovated their Rice Village theater.
This redesign by Studio Red Architects literally raised the roof on the theater. OK, technically they tore off the old roof and added a whole new second floor on the building. The lobby has been expanded and a wide side corridor allows theater goers space to wander during intermission. What the average patron might not see, but which likely enhances the quality of the performances, are added dressing room, green room and rehearsal spaces.
Most important of all, the bathrooms have been expanded. They’re not huge, but for MST’s size, four stalls is fine, with no intermission waiting on the opening night performance I attended. Bonus point for flattering bathroom lighting, though they don’t quite beat the grand diva of restroom lighting, the Hobby Center. Those lights would have won a regional Tony Award years ago, if there was a Tony category for theater bathroom lighting that makes faces look 10 years younger.
Inside the Theater
The stage floor footage hasn’t expanded that much, but as viewed from the utilitarian-looking (though surprisingly very comfortable and roomy) new seats, the space feels much bigger. That expansive aura comes almost entirely from the two-story high ceiling. Now there just seems so much more room for the movement of drama in front of us.
One strangely endearing quirk about the old space were two structural support poles that stood in the middle of the stage area. The actors and set designers always had to work around them in sometimes creative and funny ways. The redesign removed those beams and placed them in the lobby where they add a decorative, industrial flair. The actors can now freely move about the stage unimpeded.
For the first post-renovation production, MST presented Silent Sky, a beautiful and quiet play about real-life astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (Shannon Emerick), who made vital contributions to our understanding of the size of the universe. Unfortunately her own immense worth as a scientist was barely recognized during her lifetime. The play delivers a bit of romance between Leavitt and Harvard colleague Peter Shaw (James Monaghan), as well as dramatic scenes of brilliant, badass ladies doing science in long skirts, but at its core, Silent Sky celebrates the true love story of Leavitt for astronomy and the stars.
The play about measuring the vastness of space is a perfect pick for the new theater with space and star field projections throughout the performance that probably would not have been possible before the renovations.
Thanks to a donation by Green Mountain Energy’s Sun Club, the Main Street Theater generates its own energy from an array of 77 solar panels on the roof and face of the building. So the production of Silent Sky, a play about measuring the illumination of the stars, was powered completely from the sun. If nothing else, MST should win some kind of Poetic Irony Architecture Award for the year — another award I made up that should definitely exist.
Silent Sky runs at Main Street Theater through December 6.