Some moments things feel normal. Some moments you are keenly aware that your city and many other cities in your state are decidedly NOT okay.
At Main Street Theater, we were very fortunate in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Our physical spaces were not damaged, and all of our staff members were safe. Two staff members faced (and are still facing) serious situations with their homes, but thankfully they and their loved ones are safe.
The artists who work with us – on stage, in classrooms, behind the scenes – have all been physically safe as well. However, some lost everything, and some have lost work. Many are full-time freelancers, and the gigs that have been cancelled due to the storm is putting them in extremely difficult financial positions.
Many schools have been closed for so long – and parents need to go back to work or meet with insurance adjusters or just have something FUN for their children to do in the midst of this chaos and hurt. So through our Education & Outreach Department we have been (and are still) offering Hurricane Camp for ages 4 -15 at three different locations around the city. The first day of Camp (Sept. 1) was offered free of charge, and almost all of our teaching artists were able to volunteer their time. This week we’ve been offering deeply discounted camps. We host classes and camps across the city year round so were able to mobilize our camp model quickly. Parents have been really grateful, and we are grateful to have been able to utilize the resources we have as an organization to help in some way.
The shelters here are teeming with families in need. Our Theater for Youth actors have been volunteering their time to go in character to the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Park to bring a little joy to the children there. Fancy Nancy, Duck, Junie B. Jones, Ramona, and Glinda the Good have all been making appearances and will continue to do so at shelters and bookstores across the city. Children and adults alike have been so glad to see our actors who have been reading stories, playing games, drawing, and just BEING with children who deserve a happy distraction from the world around them. It’s been a really powerful experience for our actors and their “handlers.”
"We need theater right now – we need places to come together and share an experience and step outside ourselves. We believe art heals."
Where we are feeling the negative impact form the storm is a financial hit in our school bookings arena. We reach over 80,000 people each season through the school groups who come to us. When schools are closed, obviously they cannot process field trip payments. More concerning is, of course, the safety of the schools, and we are fully prepared that schools who had previously booked field trips may have to request refunds. So we are mindful and watchful of how this may drastically impact our programming – and our budget.
What has been most affirming, however, is the way the theater community in Houston has rallied for each other, for audiences, for those in need. Many theaters are dedicating a portion of ticket sales to Harvey relief funds. Many are collecting supplies for those in need – and who will continue to be in need for many months to come. On our Main Stage, we’re collecting non-perishables and diapers. At our Theater for Youth, we’ll be collecting blankets and other items. And then there’s the simple but, we all believe, very important mission that we need theater right now – we need places to come together and share an experience and step outside ourselves. We believe art heals. I believe connection and compassion are why theater is such a very strong force of good in our world. And we need it now more than ever.