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The Alley Theatre and the University of Houston

In the News, Performing & Visual Arts
portrait of Nina Vance, from the Nina Vance Alley Theatre Papers

portrait of Nina Vance, from the Nina Vance Alley Theatre Papers

The campus is still abuzz over this week’s announcement regarding the Alley Theatre performing its 2014-2015 season at the University of Houston.

Beginning in July 2014, the Nina Vance Alley Theatre building will begin a $46.5 million renovation scheduled to last until the opening of the fall 2015 season.  The renovation, planned to modernize and improve the infrastructure of the Alley, also sent the Alley looking for a temporary home.

Enter the Wortham Theatre and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

The result provides what UH President Renu Khator has characterized as “an outstanding opportunity for our theatre students to directly engage with the Alley’s working professionals.”

Not only is the University of Houston providing a temporary home for this world-renowned theatre, but we are also proud to be home to a little of its history as well–the Nina Vance Alley Theatre Papers.

In 1947, after working in Houston as a high school teacher, Nina Vance began a campaign to establish a resident theatre in Houston.  She set up shop in a former dance studio, tucked away in a little alley (hence the name) near Main Street.  Shortly thereafter, the Alley would also call an old abandoned fan factory home before finally settling in at its current address at 615 Texas Avenue.  Vance would continue to serve as an influential figure in theatre, serving on the advisory committee for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, serving two terms on the U.S. Commission on International Education and Cultural Affairs, and playing the role of cultural ambassador during a 1977 State Department tour of Soviet Russian theatre.  Nina Vance passed away early in 1980 and the building she willed into being was renamed in her honor.

list of plays in the back of Nina Vance's 1960 week-at-a-glance notebook

list of plays in the back of Nina Vance’s 1960 week-at-a-glance notebook

The Nina Vance Alley Theatre Papers, available for study in the Special Collections Reading Room, provide a telling road map of the evolution of theatre in the city of Houston and a bold experiment that served to challenge Broadway and helped democratize stage theatre for other regions of the nation.  Highlights from the collection include Vance’s personal papers, correspondence related to the Alley, along with calendars and diaries illustrating the day-to-day work of a pioneering figure.

As the Alley comes to call the UH campus home, we invite you to visit us here at the University of Houston Special Collections and spend some time catching up on the history of this iconic theatre and the woman who manifested that vision.

2 thoughts on “The Alley Theatre and the University of Houston

  1. How exciting for Ms. Vance’s papers to reside at U of H. When the new Alley opened on Texas Ave., the theater hired several U of H students as its first “ushers” as well as a couple of architecture students as stage managers. We female ushers wore psychedelic dresses and also served as hat check girls. What a glorious time.