4th Wall Theatre Company, formerly known as Stark Naked, and originally known as Brave Dog, abruptly announced via email Wednesday that it would be closing its doors after seven years in Houston.
Despite the parade of names, Philip Lehl, co-artistic director and co-founder of the company, told Houstonia the closure wasn't an identity crisis, but rather a matter of numbers. As the company grew, the looming need to hire a staff and managing director grew untenable. Large foundations, Lehl says, are reluctant to cover such operating expenses, and grants from city and state sources are hard to come by these days. The prospect of adding multiple salaried positions to an already cash-strapped arts non-profit made it impossible to both put on a full season and compensate actors fairly. "That funding is frankly not available in Houston anymore," he says.
The decision to close has evolved over the last 10 days, Lehl says, culminating in a board meeting Tuesday evening. After, there were many emails and phone calls to make to 4th Wall stakeholders before the news went public this morning. "We can’t have people who had given us thousands and thousands of dollars find out from Facebook," Lehl says.
As for the upcoming season, all but two productions will be scrapped; Disgraced, the Pulitzer-winning play exploring the identity politics of the moment, and Reckless, a dark Christmas comedy. Lehl says the first was kept because it was already in rehearsal, and the second is "sort of poetic" in that it's a show 4th Wall has previously produced. The two plays will consume what remains in the company's coffers.
Lehl says going forward, he will continue to advocate for fair pay for professional actors—a concept at the core of company's stated mission—although the specifics remain hazy.