When news broke back in August that 4th Wall Theatre Company was closing its doors—and truncating its 2017–2018 season—it seemed an inglorious end to an organization that won multiple accolades across its seven years in Houston.
Co-artistic directors and co-founders, husband-and-wife duo Kim Tobin-Lehl and Philip Lehl, had had enough. They needed a full-time staff, they needed funding, and, most of all, they wanted to pay their actors a fair wage. With funding in short supply, they made the decision to shutter the theater company and pursue their own acting, directing, and teaching careers.
But the theater company is about to raise the curtain on a second act, thanks to a $100,000 gift from Ken Bohan, president and owner of The Liberty Group and a longtime supporter of Houston theater. According to a press release sent out by 4th Wall, the gift will be used to hire a full-time managing director, someone who can take on day-to-day operations and be the organization’s chief fundraiser.
“Kim and Philip do first-rate work,” says Bohan. “The quality of their productions, whether it’s Shakespeare or Reckless or points in between has been outstanding. It was hard for me to think that they were even thinking of closing their doors.”
Tobin-Lehl says that Bohan’s donation also kickstarts a matching gift campaign. 4th Wall’s fundraising efforts, dubbed "Wall of Strength and Solidarity," will solicit donations from individuals and organizations with the goal of matching Bohan’s seed money. An actual wall in the company’s Studio 101 theater will recognize select patrons, who can purchase a brick in their own name or honor someone else with the purchase of one.
“We want the wall to commemorate not just the growth and survival of 4th Wall Theatre but the spirit of giving in the community of Houston patrons of the arts who stepped forward and made sure 4th Wall Theatre survived,” Tobin-Lehl says. “Such generosity gives resonance to our commitment to fair pay for our artists and underscores the importance of keeping the mid-tier theater community alive and thriving in Houston.”
Tobin-Lehl says that after she and Lehl made the announcement to close, she’d been approached by many patrons, asking what they could do to help. Encouraged by their enthusiasm and by the six-figure sum, she said she’s excited to begin the process of hiring a managing director and planning next year’s season, even as they finish out this one.
“We’ve added Suzanne Bradbeer’s Shakespeare in Vegas back to the schedule,” she says. “And we just opened Craig Lucas’ Reckless, so we know we’ll finish this season strong. We’re hoping to have a managing director by April 1.”
The managing director will be expected to play a strong role in generating more funds for the company and overseeing its operations. Tobin-Lehl and Lehl will continue to serve as co-artistic directors.
“We are so, so grateful to Ken for his generosity and to everyone who wanted to help ensure that we could stay open,” says Tobin-Lehl. “This will help us continue to bring Houston extraordinary performances for years to come.”