We know how it is. You get to the end of a long work week, your bank account depleted from one too many business lunches and one too many happy hours, and you start casting about for weekend events to attend that won't break the bank. Fortunately, you're in luck. Although it may be more expensive than ever to live in Houston, it's still possible to see plenty of great cultural attractions at little to no cost. Below, our seven favorite ways to be entertained on the cheap:
Founded in 2007 by Tamarie Cooper and Jason Nodler, formerly of the late, lamented Infernal Bridegroom Productions, the Catastrophic Theatre is Houston's standard bearer for avant-garde drama and comedy. In keeping with their egalitarian ethos, the company has a long-standing pay-what-you-can policy. But just because you can get away with paying one dollar doesn't mean you should: in fact, Catastrophic suggets a $25 ticket price, which still make it among the cheapest in town. Even $25 isn't enough to cover the full cost of the production, of course, but it certainly helps. And if you want to pay a little more than $25 for some of the most vital theater in Houston, nobody's going to stop you.
Next up: Detroit. Sept. 26–Oct 18
Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series
Since 1983, the Inprint reading series has brought the world's greatest authors to Houston—over 250, in fact, including 54 National Book Award–winners and 7 Nobel Laureates. Which makes it even more remarkable that ticket prices have remained $5 over the years. That's quite a bargain to see such A-list writers as Michael Cunningham, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Geoff Dyer (and that's just this year!).
Next up: David Mitchell, Sept 21
MILLER OUTDOOR THEATRE
To see some of Houston's best theater, music, and dance, bypass downtown and head over to Hermann Park, home to the 89-year-old Miller Outdoor Theater, the city's classic al fresco arts destination. While it started out as a bandstand, today Miller is a full-scale proscenium theater that hosts many of the city's landmark events, like the Star Spangled Salute on the Fourth of July and the recent free concert by the Houston Symphony introducing new music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada. To get free tickets for seats in the covered area closest to the stage, you can stop by the box office on the day of the performance between 10:30 and 1, or an hour before show time if there are remaining seats. Otherwise, there's always free open seating on the grassy hill overlooking the stage.
Next up: Salsa y Salud, Sept 19 at 7:30
Free Thursdays at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Yes, the MFAH has raised ticket prices three times in two years, more than doubling the price of an adult ticket from $7 in 2012 to $15 today. Many observers, including myself, have wondered why one of the wealthiest cultural institutions in the world—with a $1 billion-plus endowment—seems to need the money so badly. But we have to give the museum credit for keeping Thursdays free to all. Whereas other museums in Houston and around the country offer only a scant few hours of free admission each week, the MFAH keeps the doors open all day and into the night—the museum stays open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays, so there's plenty of time to swing by after work.
Now on view: Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House, thru Sept 21
Houston's new favorite gathering place hosts free entertainment almost every night of the week, from dance performances to music festivals, movie screenings to poetry slams. Pack a picnic, bring a few folding chairs and a blanket, and settle in for an relaxing, low-cost evening in the heart of downtown.
Next up: Paul Thorn and Craig Kinsey at Sounds like Houston! Thursday Concerts, Sept 25 at 6:30
The Menil Collection
One of the most admired museums in the country, housed in one of the finest buildings of the late-20th century, has been free to the public since the day it opened in 1987. This accessibility was part of the progressive legacy of Dominique de Menil, whose social activism and spirit of egalitarianism belied her family's great wealth. While you're at the Menil, don't forget to visit the nearby (and also free) Rothko Chapel, Cy Twombly Gallery, and Richmond Hall—home to a permanent installation of fluorescent light sculptures by Dan Flavin.
Currently on view: Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed, Thru Jan 11
Opera in the Heights
With single tickets starting at $13, there's no better way for the impecunious to get their opera fix than at this scrappy opera company that mounts four productions a year at Lambert Hall on Heights Blvd. Despite a less-than-ideal venue, artistic director Enrique Carreón-Robledo gets the best from his impressive musicians and singers, and the audience gets a much more intimate experience than watching a Houston Grand Opera performance at the cavernous Wortham Center.
Next up: Rigoletto, Sept 26–Oct 5.