Marley Singletary, the newly minted producing executive director for Queensbury Theatre, is ready to bring some changes to the Houston stage. And as the former head of the much-lauded (and now defunct) TUTS Underground series, she is looking forward to bringing the same experimental flavor to the west Houston organization.
“I came on in September,” she says. “And the board has been so very supportive of growth for this company. I love that people are so willing to go forward.”
Two years ago, following nearly 60 years as Country Playhouse and jumping from theater to theater, the company moved into a stunning new space on CityCentre’s Queensbury Lane. The change in location also coincided with the transition from a community theater to a professional one.
Now, the 250-seat house provides an intimate yet state-of-the-art venue. Singletary explains the new digs are courtesy of Microsoft, which wanted the land the old theater sat on; in exchange for the sale, the tech giant offered to build the new theater, which now claims the title as one of the finest venues on that side of town.
Since Singletary plans to continue her push to producer newer, edgier musicals, much as she did at TUTS, she finds Queensbury offers multiple advantages.
“Doing new works in the 500-seat house we had at the Hobby Center was a challenge,” she says, noting that newer works often lack the name recognition of Broadway warhorses, making it difficult to fill the house. “But this house is a great size, even as it’s larger than many small theater company stages. It really lends itself to what we’re going to do.”
Singletary believes Houston is ready for what she’s got in store. After all, TUTS Underground did well in attracting new audiences to the theater, many of them younger people, many who were hungry for shows with more bite, like Reefer Madness (2014), a musical satire of the seminal piece of anti-pot propaganda, or Lizzie (2013), a rock musical where a daughter brutally axes her parents to death.
Singletary says Queensbury’s season will have four or five musicals, with at least two titles that people might be familiar with, and one entirely new work, where the theater will partner with writers and artists to launch the show. Being that kind of incubator is important to Singletary, who says doing so helps cement the future of the artform.
Ahead of her arrival, Queensbury scrapped its season, which allowed Singletary to come in and build from the ground up. The first show under her watch, Striking 12, opens Dec. 15 as a modern retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. A grouchy New Yorker is determined to spent Christmas alone in his apartment, but that’s upended as a stream of unexpected guests turn up.
“We’re doing it with the same cast we had when we did the show at TUTS,” she says. “And we’re hoping it might become our holiday tradition. It just feels different from a lot of other pieces out there this time of year.”
In February, Queensbury mounts a regional premiere of Unlock'd—Carner and Gregor's 2013 raucous story of a missing head of hair—and Singletary says the company is planning on two more to-be-announced shows before the end of the current season.
“I think that theater is part risk and part luck,” she says. “And I know this is a big challenge. We plan to have an equity contract with every show [meaning that each production will be able to cast actors who are members of the Actor’s Equity union, in addition to performers who are not]. Fundraising is a challenge. We’re really like a startup. But TUTS Underground prepared me for this, and I am excited for the opportunity.”
Most of all, though, Singletary says she wants Queensbury to be seen as an addition to a city that already proudly supports its arts community.
“We’re open to the community,” she says. “We want people to use our space when we don’t have shows there. We want to create a safe place for artists to come and create. I think our location will make CityCentre even more of a destination than it already is. Houston is a really open-minded city, and we’re going to tell stories that are about the human experience. I think Houston’s ready for that.”