The Texas Repertory Theatre Co. finished its season as the resident theater company at the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center in Humble with a performance of “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” in July. (Courtesy Texas Repertory Theatre Co.)

Lake Houston area fine arts scene poised to grow after COVID-19 setbacks

During his freshman year at Kingwood Park High School in 2020, Giovanni Scottile’s budding career as a musician came to a halt.

Scottile — a jazz trumpet player who performs with several ensembles at Lone Star College-Kingwood in addition to the Kingwood Big Band — had gigs booked in the Lake Houston area. However, he was forced to put everything on hold when lockdown measures were imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020.

“[My friend and I] used to play two to three times a week, but it definitely took a hit,” Scottile said. “We couldn’t go anywhere. It was really hard.

Like most industries in Texas, the fine arts community has been hit hard during the pandemic. Performances at the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center in Humble have been canceled. Members of the Kingwood Chorale and Orchestra, Texas Master Chorale, Kingwood Big Band and Texas Repertory Theater Co. were unable to perform for months.

“Our theatre, art and music departments have virtually halted all public performances and gallery exhibitions during the [COVID-19] lockdowns of 2020-21,” said Todd Miller, LSC-Kingwood Visual and Performing Arts Department Chairman. “This fall was the first time everything seemed normal since the fall of 2019.”

Despite the setbacks, Sam Treynor, chairman of the board of the Lake Houston Musical Arts Society, said the fine arts community in the Lake Houston area has grown in recent years, and he believes it will continue to develop.

In addition to funding the Kingwood Big Band and the Kingwood Chorale and Chamber Orchestra, the Lake Houston Musical Arts Society promotes the arts in the region.

“What’s being done here is almost like a hidden gem in the Lake Houston area,” Treynor said. “He has a talent base that makes great presentations…that you would otherwise have had to travel to downtown Houston to attend.”

Financial losses

From April to July 2020, Texas ranked third in the nation for the most jobs and lost sales in the creative arts industry with an estimated 190,000 jobs lost and an estimated $7.3 billion. dollars in lost sales.

While Miller said financial losses to LSC-Kingwood’s visual and performing arts department were difficult to determine, he noted that theatre, music and arts programs were forced to cancel all performances public and gallery exhibitions from March 2020 to September 2021.

Similarly, Miller said the Kingwood Chorale and Chamber Orchestra and Kingwood Big Band were forced to cancel their entire 2020-21 seasons, resulting in an estimated $40,000 in lost revenue for each group.

“[Before there were COVID-19] vaccines, there was a very famous case of a community college group that encountered and spread COVID, and several of their choir members died,” Miller said. “It shook the whole musical world. Everything literally stopped.

According to Jennifer Wooden, director of the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center, all city-produced shows in Humble were canceled during the pandemic, but she said the center was still rented out for private shows after restrictions were lifted.

“Once we started renting again, our arena and theater schedule was jam-packed,” Wooden said.

Additionally, Wooden said staff members used the downtime to make improvements throughout the performing arts center, which includes the theater, a recreation building, an arena, a civic center and a activity center for the elderly.

“With all those [facilities] in my department, we were able to stay busy,” Wooden said. “The operations team has done tons of…work around the facilities.”

While many organizations have faced uncertainty during the pandemic, unique circumstances have allowed Texas Repertory Theater Co. to avoid much of the hardship faced by its peers. Texas Repertory was forced to cancel its entire 2020-21 season, but the touring troupe wrapped up its first season as the resident theater company of the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center in August.

“Because we were on tour, we had very little overhead, so we thrived artistically during the pandemic,” said Steven Fenley, founder and artistic director of Texas Repertory.

fallout from COVID-19

While the financial losses from COVID-19 have been severe for the arts industry, Treynor said even the months following the worst of the lockdowns were marred by hardship.

“Trying to sing with an ordinary mask is very difficult,” he said. “Your glasses fog up and you can’t breathe. It was a very interesting time. »

Scottile said even when his high school group was allowed to practice in person again, sessions were hampered due to security measures.

“Once we started coming back in person it was difficult because in a group people are close,” he said. “We had to go our separate ways, and we actually had plexiglass between us, so it was definitely a different kind of atmosphere.”

Still, Scottile said he felt like the worst of the pandemic was behind him.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily back to normal because people are still a little sketchy, but…it’s going back a bit,” Scottile said.

Beyond the pandemic

After completing its first full season as resident theater company at the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center, Fenley said Texas Repertory members are excited about future productions in the area.

“Going downtown is more expensive and dangerous than ever, and I think people love that there’s professional theater here,” Fenley said.

Although Wooden noted that Texas Repertory will not be returning as the resident theater company of the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center, she said she looks forward to bringing additional entertainment options to the Lake Houston area.

“We have a lot of people coming from The Heights, Cypress, Midtown and The Woodlands, so it’s really nice to have a combination of fans and followers of the artists,” Wooden said.

Treynor noted that he believes the fine arts scene in the Lake Houston area is growing despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic. He said the Kingwood Big Band’s audience size had quadrupled from around 100 to 400 since its inception in 2007.

Additionally, Treynor said the Lake Houston Musical Arts Society was looking to build a larger hall for the ensemble as well as the Kingwood Chorale and Orchestra Chamber to perform.

“We’re not far off,” Treynor said, noting that the nonprofit is currently short of funding for the project.

Miller said he believes the importance of fine art offerings in the region goes beyond simply providing entertainment.

“I think it’s important for a robust, highly developed society to have the arts to really expand on humanity and what it means to be human,” Miller said. “Having local arts made and consumed by local people adds value to the community.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.