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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.

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.

Welcome Back Students and Welcome Our Newest Fellow

Department News, Houston & Texas History, Houston Hip Hop, Performing & Visual Arts

This week not only marks the arrival of the fall semester and the return of students to the University of Houston campus but, as mentioned earlier in the week, it also marks the arrival of our newest fellow, Stacey Lavender.

As the Houston Arts and History Archives Fellow, Stacey will assist with the processing of archival collections and other tasks associated with the Performing Arts, Houston & Texas History, and Houston Hip Hop collecting areas.

In regards to what drew her to this fellowship, Stacey writes:

I was definitely excited that the position was specifically directed at recent graduates and that I would have the opportunity to work with several different types of collections. I also have just always had the eventual goal of working in a university library and I hadn’t had the opportunity to do that during graduate school. So I thought this would be a really great way to take the skills and knowledge I had from my previous work and educational experiences and learn to use them in a university library setting.

A native of the greater Houston area, Stacey joins us from Michigan where she earned her MS in Information from the University of Michigan.  While in Ann Arbor she also worked at the U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center, as a Science Records Intern, and as a Student Archivist at the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor.  Earning her BA in History at Rice, she also has experience as a Records Specialist at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

We are very excited to welcome Stacey and have her lending her expertise to the UH Special Collections.

Willis Knapp Jones and Latin American Theatre

Performing & Visual Arts
cover and title page of "El Juguete Roto" by Facundo Recalde, 1925; from the Jones Latin American Drama Collection

cover and title page of “El Juguete Roto” by Facundo Recalde, 1925; from the Jones Latin American Drama Collection

For over four decades Dr. Willis Knapp Jones studied, taught, and lectured on the subject of Spanish and other Romance languages.  Earning his MA from Penn State University and his PhD from the University of Chicago, Dr. Jones would go on to teach for a short time at Penn State before settling into his career at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  Throughout, he traveled and taught in Chile, Uruguay, England, and Ecuador.  It was during his travels through Latin America that Dr. Jones went about acquiring the breadcrumbs of numerous, visually stunning, theatre programs (dating from the late 1930s through the early 1960s) and an even larger library of original plays, including rare and unpublished titles, and critical works related to the study of Latin American theatre.  After his “retirement” in 1963, he published Beyond Spanish American Footlights, a seminal English-language study of the history of Latin American theatre.

When Dr. Jones retired, the University of Houston Special Collections acquired his library related to Latin American theatre.  These materials include the previously mentioned programs making up the Willis Knapp Jones Latin American Theatre Programs collection as well as over 1,000 volumes Dr. Jones acquired over the years, constituting the Jones Latin American Drama Collection.  Researchers with an interest in our Performing Arts collections will certainly want to take a look at these programs and texts.  In addition, given Dr. Jones’s analysis of theatre as a barometer of the social mores, political leanings, and history of a nation, the resources from his library may also serve to complement scholars interested in visiting us to conduct research in our growing Hispanic Collections.

When you have a moment, do look through the detailed finding aid for the Latin American Theatre Programs or peruse the catalog of plays and come take advantage of these incredibly rich and rare resources.

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