#FineArtsFriday: Station Theater

The Bouquet

Station Theater is an off-beat refuge for positivity and hilarity — don’t let the bars on the door scare you.  

The Palette

#FineArtsFriday comes early this month, because of TRILL COMEDY FESTIVAL!

Three years ago this December, I found myself in front of a small theater in the First Ward.  The building was covered in bright murals, there were thick bars on the doors, and a short and squat Santa Clause was smoking a cigarette out front.  I had no idea that I had just found my tribe.

Station Theater is an improv theater just north of downtown Houston.  They have shows Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and (most) Sundays. Typically the shows are long-form improv (think unscripted SNL sketches), but occasionally there are also sketches or short-form improv (think Who’s Line is it Anyway).  Tickets are cheap. Talent is rich. BYOB.

But there are also classes.

You can show up on Friday night for a free intro to improv class where they teach you the basics and, if you’re brave, you can join in the opener of the early show that night.  That’s how I started. My co-worker and B-Law (that’s Bestie in Law . . . because we’re lawyers) dragged me to a Level Zero class. And it was everything I missed about the stage.  I’d been fairly certain that once I started working for a law firm, I’d never be able to perform again. I’m so grateful to have been wrong. B-Law and I took the Level Zero class most Fridays for a couple of months.  

And then I met Wanda.

As I say, there are classes.  One February evening at 8:00 p.m., I piled into a room of approximately 18 strangers.  B-Law had started classes a few weeks before, so I was on my own. We were spread out throughout the room.  No one really mingling. Some people drinking. It was . . . awkward. Jessica Brown, one of the owners of Station (and resident improv kindergarten teacher), taught our level one class.  And a funny thing happened: we learned to play together.

Improv is a different type of art form.  It’s vulnerable. You’re operating off of your first instincts and hoping that the people around you join with you (instead of staring blankly with those judgy eyes, you know the type).  But somehow from week to week, we learned to break down those walls and trust each other. To play like an eight year old on the playground again. I remember vividly on week three or four, the exercise was to act as though you were cooking something.  I think we were working on object work (essentially mime without the face paint and general ookiness). That was the exercise. Standing there, pretending like you’re cooking. But slowly, one-by-one, we started cooking together. Different people brought their dishes over to one another, explaining what they’d made.  And then we’d created a whole scene at a house party with different characters. It was this magical bonding experience where we all just agreed (without words) to be all in. The class name was Wanda the Pumpkin Baroness (Wanda if you’re nasty).

Wanda is still one of the most important relationships in my life, especially now that B-Law has joined our ranks.  Wanda kept me on my feet when life started throwing punches. A contingent of Wanda went to England to watch one of our members get married.  We play on stage, at the bar, waiting for a bus, hiking through the woods. And there’s a mystical quality to it. A spirit of yes. No matter the adventure, no matter the struggle, no matter the matter, Wanda remains.

But I digress.

So why have I told you this sentimental tale of my quirky improv family?  Because this weekend is the Trill Comedy Festival. It’s a great opportunity to head out to Station Theater and experience a community of people that have learned to say yes, and lean into joy and laughter.  The comedy is great. There are troupes from around the United States, and some of my favorite hometown troupes. There will be food trucks and beer and lots of laughter. And, if you’re brave, workshops (so you too can do the improv).  Shows started last night, but they run through Sunday. Check out the Facebook page for Trill Comedy Festival or Station’s website (https://www.stationtheater.com/) for more information, or purchase tickets on eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/6th-annual-trill-comedy-festival-tickets-50339259079?aff=eac2).

Say yes!

Pairings

  • Other shows:  If you can’t make Trill, check out Station Theater’s other improv shows.  Friday night at 8pm Station’s most famed house troupe — Supernova — interviews a wide array of guests from political figures to authors to actors and creates scenes around them.  Tickets are $10 at the door or $8 online. The late shows, 9:30, are pay what you want. You bring the booze, they’ll bring the laughs.
  • Podcasts:  One of Station’s best improv troupes (in my humble opinion), called Can’t Tell Us Nothing, has a great podcast where they hilariously shoot at the breeze.  Improv4Humans is another podcast with some great content.
  • Books:  The Upright Citizens Brigade has an Improv Manual that is amazingly useful.

#FineArtsFriday: Miller Outdoor Theater

Bouquet

Relaxed outdoor locale perfect for picnics and the arts.

The Palette

Nestled in the midst of the sprawling gardens and swanky golf course of Hermann Park is the imposing monolith of Miller Outdoor Theater.  During the year, Miller is home to a multitude of FREE entertainment, including my favorite Houston arts event: Shakespeare in the Park.

Miller is comprised of a towering amphitheater with stadium seating.  The seats beneath the amphitheater roof are paid seating and great for all those summer showers.  The majority of people, however, sit on the spacious hill overlooking the stage. It’s a great place to spread out a blanket and make a picnic, or play with the kids, or expose your dog to some culture.  Personally, I have great memories of rolling down the back side of the hill with my normally very stuffy grandmother. If you want to lay out your spread on a blanket, sit to the right of the stage. If you’re too good for the ground, chairs go to the left.  And don’t forget the wine.

My favorite Miller event, however, will always be Shakespeare in the Park.  For two weeks every year the University of Houston Theater Department brings to life two of Shakespeare’s plays.  They alternate night to night between the tragedy and the comedy (much like real life, let’s be honest). This past year was a wonderful rendition of Hamlet where the titular character was played by a woman to emphasize Hamlet’s youth and indecision, and Comedy of Errors.  If you missed it, fear not, it will be back around next August.

Pairings

  • Other events:  Check out Miller’s website to see all the upcoming events:  http://www.milleroutdoortheatre.com/events/month/.
  • Restaurant:  If you need a pre-show meal, I highly recommend Lucille’s (5512 La Branch St, Houston, TX 77004).  Lucille herself is also an amazing character (http://www.lucilleshouston.com/herstory.html) who invented the puff pastry used in Pillsbury rolls.  If you’re curious, I highly recommend the Famous Chili Biscuits.  
  • Podcasts:  If you’re newer to Shakespeare, University of Oxford’s Approaching Shakespeare is a great podcast that explores one question for each play to delve deeper into the play and learn the basics of criticism.  Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Unlimited is a great podcast that talks about all things Shakespeare, from the views of seasoned actors to an interview with a gentleman turning pop music into sonnets.  And Slate Magazine’s Lend Me Your Ears uses Shakespeare to discuss current political ideologies.