BY ADAM WAGNER – awagsarticle.com
HOUSTON, TX: After initial needs of recovery have been addressed, theatres may struggle to ask for assistance, know where to find help, or have difficulty in securing a place on the priority list of a rebuilding/recovery effort. Those of us in the theatre industry often function on minimal staff (if any) and funding. While major arts complexes may be prepared for a catastrophic weather event, there are other theatre organizations that serve underrepresented groups, youth, elderly, or people who can’t afford tickets to a play or musical. These smaller organizations won’t have the financial resources and human energy to apply for federal grants (for those who do, see info at the end of this blog post). These niche theatres and fringe groups have become a significant part of a community’s cultural identity, and the quicker operations can be restored, the faster people affected by Hurricane Harvey will feel at home again.
Theatres can connect diverse groups, build confidence, create a shared sense of hope, reduce feelings of anxiety and isolation, and help us reflect and process what has happened. The theatre community becomes a place to share memories, commemorate our unified experience (whether joyful or trying), and strengthen our sense of place.
In my own experience, cities, towns and neighborhoods are a reflection of their community, and a disaster could devastate an area even more should its cultural institutions or scrappy artsy collectives get displaced or destroyed. In Helena, Montana, the loss of Grandstreet Theatre would mean the loss of generations of friendships, stories, collaborations and arts advocates. The rebuilding effort in Greensburg, Kansas, after a 2007 EF5 tornado destroyed 95% of its town, never felt quite complete until the re-opening of the Twilight Theatre in 2015, eight years later. These symbolic places and what they provide may not seem essential or necessary to some. That’s why it’s so important for arts advocates to rally together and support our friends in times of great need. Today, it’s Houston. But we are all vulnerable, and I promise Houston theatre artists would come together for Seattle or Tampa Bay or Chicago theatres in the wake of a tragedy.
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Adam Wagner is a nonprofit consultant with expertise in film & performing arts organizations based in Houston, TX.