The annual festival focuses on short, experimental works.

Ever since it started in 2006, Mildred's Umbrella's summer festival has been structured as a "living museum" of theater. 

“We were working in a bar on Taft and Westheimer, and we’d have someone in a corner doing a monologue or two people out in the back garden doing a scene,” remembers Jennifer Decker, the company's founder and executive director. “A tour guide led people through this ‘museum,’ where they’d see all these performances.”

The original idea for that Museum of Dysfunction, as it's called, was to fill a gap where there were no shows planned on the company’s calendar while also offering an opportunity to realize artistic goals in a fresh way. After all, most playwrights don’t start out writing full-length pieces. They begin with scenes or monologues, most of which only run five or 10 minutes. Museum of Dysfunction has become a staple of the company’s summer schedule and proving ground for these works-in-progress.

This month marks Museum of Dysfunction XI which, says festival director Leighza Walker, brings back 20 favorite pieces from the last 10 years.

“I asked our performers to recall plays that they were delighted by, that were memorable in some way,” she says. “That’s what people will see.”

The festival now stretches two weeks and occupies an actual theater, although the weirder-the-better ethos remains. Walkers says audiences who’ve never attended should expect to “fasten their seatbelts and get ready to be stretched.”

“Every single one is among the oddest we’ve produced over the last 10 years,” she adds, “and there is a huge range of emotions in them.”

Both Decker and Walker agree the collection of dysfunctional shorts offers something truly different in Houston’s theater scene. And they like knowing Mildred’s Umbrella has been part of bringing these works–whose scripts might have stayed hidden in drawers as writers further developed their styles—to life. After all, they reason, theater is ever-evolving, and showcasing new and little-heard voices offers audiences a front-row seat to see how the landscape is changing.

July 18–27. Tickets pay-what-you can. Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. 832-463-0409. More info and tickets at mildredsumbrella.com.

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