When Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Matt Hune founded Rec Room Arts last year, they deliberately set up a quirky space designed for creative collaboration. Part theater, part bar, part co-working spot, Rec Room doesn't so much try to be all things to all people as it actually is many, many things for many, many people.
“Matt and I are both theater directors,” says Wachs (they’re both also HSPVA alumni, like Beyoncé). “So, we’re used to trying new things, figuring out what works and changing course if something doesn’t.”
The nimbleness allowed them to build a place that had multiple revenue streams. In addition to renting out their space, the bright, cozy bar just inside the front door offers a steady stream of cash to help pay for Wachs and Hune’s theatrical endeavors. Or, it did, until Hurricane Harvey hit and people wound up hunkering down instead of heading out.
So, the first thing Wachs wants you to know is that Rec Room is up, running and open for business. The second thing is that the organization received its first major grant from the Houston Arts Alliance: $10,000 in funding that will go to six new resident artists and culminate in Rec Room’s inaugural Residency Festival next February and March.
They designed the residency to be a place where artists will receive both artistic and business mentorship. The year-long program will give artists access to rehearsal spaces and technical support, alongside public relations and marketing training, as well as lessons in box office and front-of-house operations. Residents will have the time and freedom to create works of theater, dance, music, opera, performance art, film, “and/or more,” says Wachs. “And we are particularly interested in artists who work to bend and break the rules of conventional performance.”
In addition, each resident will receive a performance stipend.
“Matt and I saw firsthand how much an organization can grow when it has support from the community,” says Wachs. “And we want to provide that for the next generation of artists.”
The next generation is a huge theme for Rec Room, as evidenced by the group’s programming. They kicked off last season by having actors (and the occasional audience member) do live readings of scripts for the ‘90s sitcom My So-Called Life. Earlier this season, they mounted a performance of The Rite of Spring, an avant-garde take on Stravinsky’s riot-inducing ballet, except staged not as a ballet but as almost performance art in the organization’s smaller back room.
Upcoming on the calendar are a world premiere of Sender, a play by Ike Holder about a young man presumed dead after a year-long absence from social media, and a production of the opera Hansel and Gretel, stripped down, performed in English and directed by Hune in what Rec Room promises will be an immersive experience.
All the programming and the laid-back feel of Rec Room is aimed at making younger audiences feel welcome. Other theaters might tell you to turn off your cell phones; Wachs and Hun are cool with you Instgramming live from your seat. Other theaters might look for pieces that have already proven their chops; Rec Room wants those if the fit seems right, but is even more interested in launching new works, creative performance art or something just plain cool, like a Game of Thrones watch party and panel discussion.
“We see our residents as being an integral part of the creative team,” Wachs says about her hopes for the program. “We’re truly hoping to see a natural cohort form, where artists help and learn from each other.”
Application deadline is Nov. 15. More information at recroomarts.org.