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The Chocolate Bayou Theater Collection

Performing & Visual Arts
Chocolate Bayou Theater Co.

Chocolate Bayou Theater Co.

Asking a non-Houstonian what comes to mind when they think of our fair city is likely to elicit the typical answers.  OilRodeo.  Theater.

Wait, theater?

Granted, those who may not know our city so well may not realize how vibrant a theater ecosystem we have carved out.  However, thanks to the generosity of our city’s patronage, combined with a bustling Theater District second only to New York, both established and upstart companies have made their home here, producing award-winning and critically successful dramas.

Leonard Wagner and Pat Miller, co-founders of Chocolate Bayou Theater

Leonard Wagner and Pat Miller, co-founders of Chocolate Bayou Theater Co.

Here at the University of Houston Special Collections, our Performing Arts collections serve to shed light on much of that history.  One example from this collection area, the Chocolate Bayou Theater Collection, illustrates what a determined, upstart theater company can accomplish in Houston.

In 1973 Leonard Wagner established a new theater company in conjunction with the Alvin Community College.  When Alvin withdrew from the project, Wagner remained undeterred.  He partnered with Pat Miller to create the non-profit, professional Chocolate Bayou Theater Company.  Enjoying critical success, the CBTC supported burgeoning playwrights through the establishment of the Preston Jones New Play Symposium.

Chocolate Bayou Theater Co. promotional mailer, 1984-85 season

Chocolate Bayou Theater Co. promotional mailer, 1984-85 season

Oil, of course, would remain a factor.  This is Houston, after all.  Financial troubles and the debilitating oil recession of the 1980s impacted a number of the arts in Houston, dependent on the benevolence of their benefactors.  Faced with financial difficulties, the CBTC would shutter their operations in 1987.  Scarce resources, however, would fail to diminish the legacy of two Rockefeller Foundation grants and over 100 productions through nearly a decade and a half of feverish creativity (The CBTC would produce seven premieres in its final year of operation).

If this type of window into the Houston performing arts community is of interest, do check out the finding aid for the CBTC or window shop some of the other collections of related materials.  When you are ready to visit, feel free to drop us a line or just drop in.

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