Family entertainment takes the center stage
It's safe to say the last year or so has been a bit intense for the Houston Family Arts Center, artistic director Teri Clark said.
The center opened its own venue and expanded its Actors Academy and Summer Performing Arts Camps in 2010.
Now the Houston Family Arts Center Actors Academy is producing the teen comedy, Kissless the Musical, for the New York Musical Theatre Festival 2011, Sept. 26-Oct. 16, in New York City, while HFAC is putting the finishing touches on Oklahoma!, its final production of the season.
"The last year has been like a rocket shooting off," said Clark, who founded Houston Family Arts Center in 2005 with her husband Bob Clark, executive director.
"When we started the theater, we knew there was a niche for family friendly theater — theater committed 100 percent to shows for the entire family," Teri Clark said.
"We just didn't realize how big a niche or how great that need was. I think it contributed to a meteoric rise."
The opportunity to be part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival stems from HFAC's working relationship with Houstonian Chance McClain, who operates Blue Light Magic, a video production and branded entertainment company, and Chance Productions, a theatrical production company.
McClain was among 400 to 500 playwrights to submit a script to the festival earlier this year. Kissless the Musical was ranked among the top 25, but because some songs were incomplete, festival organizers said it wasn't far along enough for them to use.
At McClain's request, HFAC hosted a staged reading of the work this summer, which provided McClain audience feedback.
Another reading was held at Texas Repertory Theatre.
Around that time, one of the theater festival's scheduled productions was pulled, and organizers agreed to accept the play by McClain, which was now complete.
McClain asked HFAC's Actors Academy to handle casting and production with the theatre festival's blessings.
The show will represent the festival's first time to feature teen performers instead of adult professionals.
"We think it's just amazing," Bob Clark said. "The festival is a new way to find works that could be produced on Broadway."
The festival will give the academy's teen students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, added Linda Jacobs, academy managing director.
"We're going to take them and give them the experience of being performers in New York," she said.
HFAC's production of Oklahoma!, meanwhile, will appear weekends from Friday, July 22, through Sunday, Aug. 6, at Berry Center, 8877 Barker-Cypress, the site of HFAC's large-scale musical productions.
The musical, featuring music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, is set in the early 1900s-era Oklahoma territory and focuses on the bumpy romance between headstrong Curly, a cowboy, and farm girl Laurey.
More than 40 actors will appear in the show, Teri Clark said.
"The dances are amazing," she said. "We have an incredible amount of talent."
Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote a musical of enduring appeal, Clark said.
"They had a unique way of writing the scenes and fitting the music and the lyrics," she said. "The musical features reprises; you hear pieces of music several times. That's why you leave the musical humming certain tunes."
Directing the musical is Ilich Guardiola.
"He always looks at breathing new life into a production, at unexpected comedy and choreographic moments," Clark said. "It's not just the same old, same old."
Most of HFAC's productions are now presented at Garza Main Stage, which opened in May 2010 at 10760 Grant Road.
The 3,526-square-foot facility features 150 seats arranged stadium-style along with a mid-size 30-foot-by-20-foot proscenium stage, two dressing rooms and a small scene shop.
"Anybody who's been to it says it's one of the nicest venues, not only in Houston, but in Texas," Bob Clark said.
The main stage's opening also allowed HFAC to add four more multipurpose classrooms.
In 2010, the center hosted three summer camp programs for 63 students. This summer, it is hosting 25 camps for 416 students.
"It shows you can have great theater and great fun, and you don't have to have content that's not appropriate for the entire family," Clark said, adding that HFAC has received various Nickelodeon ParentConnect Parents' Picks Awards for three consecutive years.
The Parents' Picks Awards let parents vote on the best family friendly products, tips and resources in their community in 30 cities across the United States.
HFAC received the award for Houston's Best Theatre Group for Kids in 2009 and 2010. The center also was the award winner for Best Artsy Class for Teens in Houston in 2008.
The Actors Academy offers a combination of skill-based classes and performance opportunities, Jacobs said.
"There are very few opportunities like that in Houston," she said.
The academy serves students from prekindergarten through college, but is expanding to offer more opportunities for adults.
On Aug. 5 and 6, it will host an auditions workshop by Kaitlin Hopkins, who heads the musical theater program at Texas State University.
For more information about the center, visit www.houstonfac.com or call 281-685-6374
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