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Artistic director Clinton Hopper agrees. "We wanted our audience to know we're doing this and we're doing that, and it all fits together in a season, and this is how our brand is working," he says. "But because of our size we've had both opportunities and hurdles come up, and we need to be able to go with the flow, but going with the flow costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you're our size, not going with the flow means you don't do a show or you miss a great opportunity or you miss a great script or a great actor or a great...something. So 'go with the flow' is appropriate for where we are now."
The husband-and-wife Hoppers spent six years in Austin before returning to Houston so that Amy could attend UH. In Austin, they were exposed to (and worked with) many of that city's offbeat theater groups like Salvage Vanguard and the Rude Mechanicals, outfits that explore new techniques in show-making and performance, and Nova Arts has adopted a decidedly "theatrical" approach that takes advantage of the intimate audience/performer setup. It also approaches classics with an irreverent attitude.
"We like classics," says Clinton Hopper, "and I'm personally attracted to the Greeks because people don't hold them in the same precious light as Shakespeare. The classics can be like a bolt of pretty heavy-duty material that's pretty well tested, and we know it works, and now I'm going to be so arrogant as to cut it up and make a new garment out of it. Use those universal themes, but deconstruct them and make something new."
Nova Arts also aims to make new audiences, but its approach is different from that of groups in the '90s, operating when Houston had a cohesive art scene. Today our city's theater/music/visual arts scenes feel insular and rarely mingle. Nova Arts has reached out to underserved audiences, especially the Asian community. Stephenson directed a stage version of The Joy Luck Club, and most recently, Nova Arts presented The Gate of Heaven, a co-production with the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Association.
Nova Arts is committed to diversity, both in casting and production staff. To further develop audiences, the group is even considering a move outside the Loop, a tactic some might consider foolish but that Nova Arts feels could only expand its reach and unlock hidden talent.
But before it explores that wild frontier many inner-city dwellers would rather blaze through at 80 mph, Nova Arts will collaborate with Opera Vista on ten new ten-minute opera works, and after that, attend to the affairs of finance, grant-writing and bigger and better shows, which might include a drastic reworking, by Amy Hopper, of The Taming of the Shrew — one that explores the play's inherent misogyny.
"Here you have this play that everybody remembers so fondly, but the reality is that at the end [Kate] gives in to the man, so what message does that really send?" asks Clinton. "What, that Kate's really a toolbag and she's completely abused and she should probably kick his ass and go her own way?"
"We should do that with Grease," chimes Stephenson. "I hate Grease for the same goddamn reason," says Amy.
"Any show that's so ubiquitous and starts to get universal," says Clinton, "it's almost like you go and buy it at the fabric store and you take it home, get out your scissors and let's screw with it." — Troy Schulze