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Main Street Theater Brown Bag

Department News, Performing & Visual Arts
Houston Arts and History Archives Fellow, Stacey Lavender (far right), showcases items from the Main Street Theater Records at last week's Brown Bag event

Houston Arts and History Archives Fellow, Stacey Lavender (far right), showcases items from the Main Street Theater Records at last week’s Brown Bag event

Last week Stacey Lavender, Houston Arts and History Archives Fellow for the University of Houston Special Collections, continued our Brown Bag Series by hosting the UH Libraries’ faculty and staff in an up close and personal look at the recently processed Main Street Theater Records.  The Main Street Theater Records, filled with materials related to productions throughout its history, fundraising activities, and so much more, provide a telling view behind the curtain of Houston’s theater community and trace the evolution of Main Street from those heady, upstart days of the 1970s to the new century which sees Main Street and its multiple stages as an essential pillar in Houston theater.

Production posters on display from the Main Street Theater Records

Production posters on display from the Main Street Theater Records

In her presentation of the materials, Ms. Lavender highlighted the history of Main Street Theater, the role it has played in developing artistic talent, and the relatively unheralded but significant work done in the areas of education and outreach with the city’s youth.  Following the presentation attendees participated in a Q&A, touching upon the challenges and rewards experienced in processing the collection, the delicate balance between access and privacy, the exciting possibilities of Main Street Theater as a living collection, and its potential for future research.  Attendees were also given an opportunity to view and peruse items from the collection including production posters, newspaper clippings, photographs, and children’s fan mail addressed to Main Street, all culled by Ms. Lavender to highlight some of the treasures the collection holds.

If you are interested in getting your own up close and personal look at Main Street Theater, or perhaps any of our other Performing Arts collections, do come visit us at your earliest convenience.

Main Street Theater Records – New Finding Aid Published

Finding Aids, Performing & Visual Arts
poster from Beyond the Fringe, one of Main Street Theater's earliest productions

poster from Beyond the Fringe, one of Main Street Theater’s earliest productions

The University of Houston Special Collections is excited to announce that the finding aid for the Main Street Theater Records has been published and is now available online!

Main Street Theater has been an important part of Houston’s vibrant performing arts community for almost forty years. Led by founding director Rebecca Greene Udden, the company staged their first production in the summer of 1975. As the name suggests, their first home was located on Main Street at Autry House, a community center belonging to the Episcopalian Diocese. The theater has grown steadily since then, first moving into a larger 92-seat space on Times Boulevard in Rice Village in 1981, and later adding a second, even larger, Chelsea Market location. The Main Street Theater is currently in its 39th MainStage season and its 34th Theater for Youth Season.

poster from the world premiere production of What a Night!

poster from the world premiere production of What a Night!

The Main Street Theater Records provide insight into the company’s activities both on stage and behind the scenes. The first 12 boxes of the collection consist of materials like playbills, scripts, posters, flyers, and photographs, documenting the theater’s MainStage productions as well as productions that are part of its Theater for Youth program. The collection also contains substantial amounts of  financial records, meeting minutes from the Board of Directors and various other committees, donor correspondence, and materials related to the planning of benefits and fundraisers.

Take some time and peruse the finding aid, or better yet come visit us at Special Collections and see the history of this Houston theater for yourself!

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.

The Art Guys + “Loop”

Events, Performing & Visual Arts

loop‘Cause we got a great big convoy
Rockin’ through the night.
Yeah, we got a great big convoy,
Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
–C.W. McCall, “Convoy”

This weekend The Art Guys go in pursuit of the great, white whale of Houston commuters.

Continuing the year-long celebration of their 30th anniversary, an ambitious, 24-hour trek will go nowhere but everywhere, covering a wide expanse of our fair city.  From 5pm Saturday, November 9th, to 5pm Sunday, November 10th, The Art Guys will drive the I-610 Loop.  Echoing the patterns most recently laid out in “Intersection,” (Event #9 of the 12 Events) 12 hours will see an expectant convoy and crew headed in one direction around our beloved Loop and another 12 in the opposite direction.

If you think 610 traffic is a little congested as is, just wait until this bad boy rolls down the West Loop, attracting an army of onlookers.

The Art Guys have advised that they will use drivers to assist in this epic voyage and will make themselves available to any and all parties via Twitter and a telephone number specific for this event (832.712.6207).  More information is available through their website and Facebook page.  Interested in being there for the the grand send off or return?  The journey is slated to begin and end at the I-610 North Loop West at North Shepherd at 5pm on both days.

No doubt your weekend plans, at some hour or another, will find you on or around 610.  While you’re navigating that cycle of snares, keep an eye out for The Art Guys.

An Afternoon with The Art Guys

Events, Performing & Visual Arts
Galbreth (left) looks on as Massing (center) responds to a question from Bozeman (right) during "A Conversation with The Art Guys"

Galbreth (left) looks on as Massing (center) responds to a question from Bozeman (right) during “Archiving The Art Guys:  A Conversation with the Art Community”

Metaphors were mixed, tales of triumph told, and everyone walked away with their eyes a little wider.  It could mean only one thing.

The Art Guys paid a visit to the University of Houston on Wednesday, September 11th, as Special Collections hosted “Archiving the Art Guys:  A Conversation with the Art Community.”  Moderated by Pat Bozeman, Head of Special Collections, Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing (their lesser-known monikers) tackled a wide range of topics covering their early days at UH and genesis of their unique brand, the challenges and rewards of creative dialogue and collaboration, as well as the role of the artist in contemporary society.

Described by the New York Times as “a cross between Dada, David Letterman, John Cage and the Smothers Brothers,” Galbreth and Massing met while attending UH and, in one famous handshake, forged a partnership that continues to challenge the manner in which we view the world and gives voice to a contrarian song in the din and echo of consenting choruses.  Students at UH may know them best for the cryptic “Statue of Four Lies” near Cougar Village, but veterans of the art scene in Houston and abroad know The Art Guys for producing decades of irreverent art, redefining the term and concept with each work.  Fortunately for present and future researchers, they have also kept a meticulous account of it through the years.

The Art Guys revisit The Codex of the Statue of the Four Lies in the Special Collections Reading Room

The Art Guys revisit The Codex of the Statue of the Four Lies in the Special Collections Reading Room

The Art Guys recently donated their records to UH and naturally last week’s conversation turned to speculation regarding possible uses of the materials for future research.  A consensus seemed to emerge that, aside from the more obvious lines of artistic study and survey of art history in Houston, there are likely answers in these materials to questions not yet posited.  Fueling further excitement was the reminder that this is a living collection.  The Art Guys after all continue to survive, thrive, and, thankfully, challenge the way we view the world–a view promising to be expanded as the collection itself grows over the years.

We thank The Art Guys and all who attended last week.  My eyes, for one, were certainly wider walking out.  The Art Guys Records are currently being processed, but we will be sure to announce when they are available for study.  In the meantime, learn more about The Art Guys by visiting their website and reading up on the ongoing events commemorating their 30 year anniversary.

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