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    Posted November 13, 2008

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When the Lights Went Out in Houston

By David Grant, AEA Liaison Vice Chair - Houston/Galveston

When Hurricane Ike blew in to the Houston/Galveston region on Friday, September 12, 2008, theatres throughout the area were plunged into the dark along with about 2.15 million other businesses and residences. The effects lasted days, weeks, and in two or three cases, it will be months before some theatre schedules will be back to normal.

Galveston Island theatres took the worst beating when the storm surge inundated the historic downtown area. The city's proud old Grand 1894 Opera House, home to many small touring productions, suffered major damage to its lower dressing rooms, box office, stage floor, pit and the first ten rows of the 1,000-seat auditorium. Strand Theater, a small 30-year old theatre in the 1897 Opperman Building, and the nearby East End Theater were devastated by storm surge water levels of up to eleven feet that were pushed even higher by swelling waves and hurricane force winds. Reports are that it will take up to eight to ten months to repair the damage to these venues.

Fifty miles inland, Houston experienced less physical damage, but was nevertheless greatly impacted.

The National Tour of THE COLOR PURPLE had been scheduled to open on the Tuesday after the storm at Hobby Center for a two-week run, presented by Theater Under The Stars (WCLO). Though the Center incurred no damage, because of city-imposed curfews due to major power outages, the opening was postponed for one week, essentially cutting in half its scheduled run here.

A few blocks away, the Alley Theatre (LORT) fared much better than it did in 2001 when Tropical Storm Allison did significant damage to one of their two venues. This time they were between shows and incurred only a few minor leaks. However, because of the work time lost as a result of the storm, they did announce a five-day delay for their season-opening production of CYRANO DE BERGERAC.

For the smaller venues not in the downtown area, the city curfew, power outages and storm related damages caused major headaches for some theatres.

Of Houston's two SPT 3 theatres, Stages Repertory Theatre and Main Street Theater, hardest hit was Stages, which has two performing spaces, and was already in performance with its world premiere musical, UNBEATABLE, AND ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE. Stages experienced several roof leaks that damaged carpets, flooring, costumes, musical instruments and musical scores. They were without power for 12 days, and both shows were cancelled for two weeks while the staff scrambled to find a new temporary home. Ultimately, both productions moved to the much larger Zilkah Hall at the Hobby Center where they played in repertory before moving back home on October 7.

Meanwhile, Main Street Theater was in performance with Wendy Wasserstein's THIRD at their Chelsea Market theatre. After two weeks without power, however, they remounted the show in their smaller Times Boulevard arena space. The show played there for one weekend, after which the Chelsea space regained power and the production moved once again.

Elsewhere in town, A.D. Players had only a few minor leaks, but the power outage and curfew problems delayed their opening of ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN. By the following weekend they were back in business. At Ensemble Theatre water leaks in some areas caused them to delay by one week their season opening production of August Wilson's RADIO GOLF. And across town at Theater LaB, structural damage from falling trees has caused them to postpone their October show until later in the season.

Luisa Amaral-Smith, AEA Liaison Chair, reports that: "Our Liaison Committee members have been busy networking with their local theatre producer contacts to monitor and assess the disruptions caused by Hurricane Ike. Obviously, here in the Gulf Coast, our theatre community is very vulnerable to the trauma and costly disruptions hurricanes can deliver."

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