94,e 74 04e/wet &Praelostd4 If, among your friends, there are those you wish were reading the Observer regularly, this is a good time to introduce them to it inexpensively, because of the reduced rates for multiple orders. $6 for the first gift $5 for a second gift $4 for a third gift $3 for each additional gift Your own subscription may be renewed at these same rates. Each recipient will be sent a colorful and newly designed greeting card to announce your gift. The card, which features a Ward Lockwood illustration from Roy Bedichek’s ADVENTURES WITH A TEXAS NATURALIST, will be handsigned in your name; or, if you so specify, it can be sent to you, for you to sign The postage-paid envelope included with this issue provides spaces for entering your order. You may enclose payment with your order or be billed in January, as you prefer. Gift subscriptions will begin with the issue of December 13th, unless you specify otherwise. You may want to consider adding a library subscription to your gift list, while these reduced rates are in effect. If you have no particular library in mind the Observer will select one from among those not presently subscribing. and seed pearls to parade through the shabby lobby and genuflect before the altar of the Theatre. Culture had become respectable, even profitable. It was good business for Houston to have a theater of national repute. It helped attract the eggheads to Rice University, to the big companies and, later, to NASA. Regional theaters received an important financial boost when the federal government decided to give income tax deductions for contributions to non-profit organizations. During the late ‘fifties, the Ford Foundation began to subsidize the Alley, along with other regional companies including New York’s Phoenix Theater, Washington’s Arena Stage and San Francisco’s Actors Workshop. Mrs. Vance received travel grants to visit other theaters, grants to raise actors’ pay, grants for poets to observe the Alley and grants to employ and train administrative assistants. Yet, even with Ford’s money and the support of a rich and influential board of directors, the Alley had little hope of becoming financially independent in a theater with a seating capacity of a little more than 200. The Ford Foundation understood the Alley’s plight, and that of other struggling regional theaters, and in 1962 it decided to go into the theater business in a big way. Ford offered the Alley a $2.1 million grant . \(the largest gift from a $6.1 bundle earmarked for match it with $900,000. Houston Endowment, the foundation that administers the late Jesse Jones’ fortune, gave $350,000 in the form of a land gift, and 15,000 Houstonians came through with the rest. THE ALLEY HAD it made. Its productions were considered as professional as those on Broadway. Houston had demonstrated its admiration in the way it knows best, through money. And the Alley had the wherewithall to build a veritable shrine of a theater. Yet, somewhere along the way, the Alley lost its pioneering verve. Mrs. Vance admits today that she chooses her productions to fit her Texas audience, and sometimes that means producing plays she knows are banal. No one can sincerely bemoan the fact that the alley is no longer a group of struggling volunteers building productions out of little more than their hunger for the theater. The Alley pulled itself out of anonymity the only way a regional theater can, by creating an image and playing the subsidy game. But there is something deadening about a theater that operates under the civic minded eye of an august board of directors and that owes its soul to a powerful, if benevolent foundation. Ford’s Theater Communications Group, while providing a solid financial backing to regional theaters through guidance and grants, also succeeded in bureaucratizing the recipients by its largess. But there is no turning back. The Alley is an institution now, with im 12 The Texas Observer portant people to please, and promises to keep. Critic Martin Gottfried in A Theater Divided classifies the American theater in two wings, the right and the left. The right wing theater is concerned with producing blue-chip classics, the conservative money-makers, according to Gottfried, while the left wing is more interested in producing theater art and in extending the creative horizons. The critic believes the Alley, like most regional theaters, began at the left wing of American theater, but, he says, it has moved right to “become institutional, settling into warhorse productions.” The Alley’s gradual move right was just fine with Houston. The citizenry became downright nostalgic last spring during the theater’s last season in the fan factory. I learned just how much of an Event an Alley performance had become when I attended the opening of the last play done at the fan factory with the Houston Post’s drama critic, Nathan Fain. It had been a busy day for both of us and we came straight from work. He was wearing a car coat over slacks, a white shirt and tie, and I was casually, dressed in low heels and a simple dress. : The cast did a rather tiresome, declamatory version of Shaw’s Candida, and Nathan gave it an unfavorable review. The next day, Bill Hobby, editor of the Post, received a telegram from a member of the Alley’s management, pointing out that the newspaper’s reviewer had been dressed inappropriately and had “fidgeted” during the performance. Mr. Hobby ignored the complaint, but we were incensed. We vowed to arrive opening night at the new building wearing dungarees and driving a diesel ‘truck cab. SUMMER CAME and the new Alley building began to take shape, a cream colored castle rising out of the shambles of old ‘hotels and pool halls at Texas and Louisiana streets. The theater’s productions might have lost some of their pioneering spirit, but its designers had not. The turreted building, designed by New Yorker Ulrich Frantzen, is both sturdy and Whimsical. Inside, Frantzen and Paul Owen, the Alley’s resident designer, created an exciting contrast of grand staircases and cozy nooks. The interior is warm and rather feminine with gentle curves replacing conventional hard angles. The building is unique in having two stages under a single roofthe main theater with 800 seats angling sharply, almost 90 degrees, toward a lavishly equipped stage and a smaller arena theater designed after the square stage on Berry Avenue. The theater announced an ambitious playbill calling for large casts and elaborate costumes such as the Alley had never been able to provide on Berry Avenue. Mrs. Vance decided to open with Galileo, the first Brecht play \(Marxist, Godfrey says, “Producing Brecht has become the easiest way for a resident theater to
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