BWW Interviews: Rebecca Udden and Vivienne St. John Talk About Everything Main Street Theater
Main Street Theater has been a staple in the Houston theatre scene since Rebecca Udden found the company in the 1970s. Over time, the company has continued to evolve and grow. It seems that Houston audiences may not be fully aware of just how dynamic this stellar theatre company is. To help set the record straight, Rebecca Udden, Founding and Executive Artistic Director, and Vivienne St. John, Theater For Youth Producing Director, spoke with me about this fantastic and multifaceted theatrical company.
Rebecca Udden (RU): A lot of people know Main Street [Theater], but we talk about ourselves as a three-headed dog. People come to us through one of three channels, either the adult Main Stage, the Theater for Youth, which is huge, or our education department, which nobody knows about unless [they] have young children that need something to do, but that's also very big. So, people sort of know one aspect of it, of Main Street Theater, but the whole thing is really what we are. I mean, it's not that we have three separate companies that share an office. Everything is pretty thoroughly integrated, so it's great for people to get the whole picture of things.
What is the mission of Main Street Theater's Main Stage?
RU: (Laughs) You want the official boilerplate thing? We produce challenging plays that encourage our audiences to think and our artists to grow. Our sort of longer version is we were founded to provide challenging work for actors or Houston theatre artists and challenging plays for our audiences of all ages.
I can see what you mean by challenging theatre. You guys produce very interesting pieces.
RU: We're also all about giving people work. (Laughs) You know, which we really triumphed in this past year with THE COAST OF UTOPIA. (Laughs) We don't have many seasons with quite that much work for people, you know, but the Houston theatre community has certainly flourished in the thirty some odd years we have been here. We have a fantastic talent pool that decided to put down roots in Houston. It's a great time to be doing theatre in Houston, I'll tell ya.
What is the mission of Main Street Theater's Theater for Youth?
Vivienne St. John (VSJ): Our mission is to provide children of all ages with a theatrical experience that excites, entertains, educates, and enlightens.
How do you program your respective seasons?
RU: It's a totally organic process, but I have a file where plays that catch my eye live. And then, starting sometime in March or May we start putting little post-its up on the wall of plays that, you know, we'd really like to do. And then we might start out with thirty titles, some of which we've been thinking about doing for years-"oh, wouldn't it be great if we could do thins"-and they make it up on the wall, but they don't make it into the season, so we bring them back the next year. Somehow, after lots of talking and lots of "if you do this play then this other play is very similar so that sort of knocks that one out of the season," finally everything gets sifted out, and the things that are most compelling at that time are what makes up the season. [Laughs] There is a sense of what kind of plays work at what time of year. We joke about the warm and fuzzy slot, which is the time during the holidays-from Thanksgiving to Christmas. You know, you'd be nuts to do something dark and depressing there. Then, the dead of winter slot is right after the holidays, and you can do your sort of darker, more thoughtful, or less happy plays. As the season goes on, you can do Shakespeare in the spring, but at the end of the season you want it to be a little more upbeat. Then, there is just kind of an organic way, at least, our season and what we know about the moods of our audience [Laughs]-at certain times of the year they want certain things so, you know, so we try to match our programming with their moods.
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