Aug. 24--Misty Robertson gets a special kick out of Houston's annual Theater District Open House.
"I was one of the kids who came to the open house when it was in the beginning stages," Robertson says. "My initial reasoning was because of my love for Theatre Under The Stars and all things musical theater. I was to musical theater what Trekkies are to "Star Trek." When I was 16 and could finally drive myself downtown, I bought a subscription to Theatre Under The Stars."
Now, as public-relations coordinator for the company, Robertson is happy to welcome people of all ages to the event designed to encourage enthusiasm for the performing arts. She calls working for the company she so admired years ago "an amazing opportunity," she says.
Not everyone who attends winds up with a career in the arts, but the open house is a great opportunity for all, regardless. This being its 20th anniversary, you can expect the upcoming event to be a bit more festive than usual.
With activities from noon-4 p.m. Sunday at the Alley Theatre, Hobby Center, Jones Hall and Wortham Theater Center, this fun, free, family-friendly celebration enables Houstonians to get better acquainted with the arts organizations that perform in those venues.
The companies are: Alley Theatre, Gexa Energy Broadway at the Hobby Center, Da Camera of Houston, Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony, Society for the Performing Arts, Theatre Under The Stars and Uniquely Houston.
Participants can hear music, see demonstrations of stage combat techniques, explore costume trunks, take backstage tours, visit an interactive instrument "petting zoo" and meet performers, including costumed characters from "The Nutcracker."
The open house also provides opportunities to get deals on subscription packages for the new seasons. Some of the groups also will offer the first opportunity to buy single tickets for individual shows within each subscription series. (The public can participate in a scavenger hunt to win free tickets, as well.)
The afternoon culminates in a free hourlong concert by the Houston Symphony, at 4 p.m. in Jones Hall.
More than 15,000 are expected to attend this year's open house.
The open house was instituted in 1993 by the Houston Theater District performing arts groups and Ange Finn, then in her last year as founding executive director of the district, formed five years earlier under the umbrella of Central Houston.
"We established the theater district to do two things," Finn says. "One was to create a vibrant sense of place that celebrated our outstanding performing arts organizations. The other was to give the groups cooperative marketing opportunities to help them thrive and grow. We conceived this event to take place not only inside the theaters but, specifically, outdoors as well -- to promote the upcoming performance season starting in the fall. This was back when the conventional downtown attitude was, 'You can't get Houstonians to do anything outside.' It's still amazing to me that the member groups embraced it from the start -- and they've made it a hit for 20 years now.
"Has it lived up to its original intent?" Finn continues. "Well, it's still held in August, still largely outdoors, and people are still flocking to it and buying tickets. I'd say it's surpassed the original intent."
"The Theater District Open House has introduced thousands of Houstonians to the wonderful performing arts scene we have here," says Andrew Huang, president of the Houston Downtown Alliance. "It has become the kickoff to the arts season here. It's also a testament to the spirit of collaboration we have in Houston, as the arts groups work hand in hand to put on a full and exciting event for those who attend."
David Greiss, director of sales and marketing for Theatre Under The Stars, cites the direct influence of the open house on the company's business the rest of the season. "The more folks we get coming to this event, the better positioned we are to get them to one of our shows, or get their kids into our education programs."
Rodi Franco, the Alley Theatre's spokeswoman, says the Alley gets a mixture of new patrons and open-house regulars who attend every year to purchase discount tickets.
"Our regulars know we offer the best prices on select subscription packages, as well as discount tickets for select seats at every production," Franco says. "Since this is the day we put single tickets on sale, some people stand in line to buy the best seats for select performances. Outside of the season-ticket renewal period, open house has been our strongest sales day each of the past six years. That's amazing given this is a four-hour sale with every transaction made in-person at the event."
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