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Announcing the 2013 MasterMind Winners

This year's winners danced, sang or delivered their lines in spectaculer fashion. For which we give each entity out thanks, admiration and a check for $2,000.

Stokes tells us that while KSD has many goals, they all boil down to fostering the performance and appreciation of modern dance in Houston. "We want dance to continue. We want it to grow and build in Houston. We love that we have the Houston Ballet and the classical arts, but we also want to have the funkier, crazier, edgier contemporary work also happening here."

Modern dance sometimes gets a bum rap, Stokes says. "When people tell me they've seen modern dance and they didn't like it, I always ask them, 'Well, how many performances did you see?' If they've just seen a couple of performances or just a couple of companies, they don't have a real sense of what modern dance really is. For my work, I want people to know that I'm reaching to you with this work. I want the work to be deep enough so that an educated dance viewer would be intrigued by it, but I don't want it to be so deep that a viewer who knows nothing about dance can't engage with it. My goal is always to balance those two."

Stark Naked Theatre Company

Opera in the Heights Artistic Director Enrique Carreón-Robledo is balancing adventurous programming with measured financial management.
Photo by Jeff Myers
Opera in the Heights Artistic Director Enrique Carreón-Robledo is balancing adventurous programming with measured financial management.
The daughter of Roberta Stokes, one of the founders of modern dance in Houston, Karen Stokes is invested in cultivating the next generation of dancers, choreographers and audience members.
Photo by Jeff Myers
The daughter of Roberta Stokes, one of the founders of modern dance in Houston, Karen Stokes is invested in cultivating the next generation of dancers, choreographers and audience members.

Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin do not, despite what the title of their group, Stark Naked Theatre Company, implies, perform in the nude. They don't completely rule it out in the future, but it hasn't happened yet. Tobin and Lehl gave their company its rather titillating name because it aptly describes the emotional state they strive to reach every time they step onstage. Lehl says, "We insist that this is the starting point to every play, every ­performance."

Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Lehl studied at the Juilliard School and Moscow Arts Theatre School. A longtime actor and director with Broadway, television and regional credits, Lehl came to Houston in 2001 and has appeared in dozens of local productions at the Alley Theatre (Hamlet, Eurydice and the ­current Clybourne Park), Main Street Theater (Arcadia), the Houston Shakespeare Festival (Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar), and Theatre Under The Stars (The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady).

Tobin grew up in Houston and spent ten years working as an actor in New York before she returned to Texas to complete her college degree. She had every intention of returning to New York after graduation, but as she and Lehl both joke, "L-o-v-e happened." The two were married, and Tobin's temporary move to Houston became permanent.

She had trained extensively in the Konstantin Stanislavski and Stella Adler acting techniques, including a stint at the Stella Adler Conservatory with Adler herself. After returning to Houston, she quickly found that no one in Houston was teaching those methods (or at least no one she could find). Rather than abandon her training, in 2009 Tobin launched her own acting school, where she would teach the Stanislavski and Adler techniques.

"If you ask a dancer or a musician, if they're not working, they're training," says Tobin. "That same principle applies to actors. When you're not in a show, you're back in the ­classroom."

Lehl points out that, with the right mixture of luck and natural talent, it's possible to occasionally give an excellent performance. But performing at a consistent level of excellence requires constant training and commitment.

"We build a performance the same way that you build a house," says Tobin. "You have to have a foundation; you have walls, some rooms, a door. That's what we do in rehearsal; we build that solid foundation. That way, the play is always the same story and the same texture."

Lehl points out that the goal is not to give the same performance every night but to give an authentic performance.

"It's the same house, but the furniture can be moved around," Tobin adds. "The pictures can hang on the wall in different ways. So one night I might cry in a place that I never cried. One night I might have big tears rolling down my face; the next, my eyes might just be a little moist.

"The point is, you have to free yourself to completely hate someone or love someone in that moment. What an actor's job is onstage is to take everything personal and to judge the other person. Onstage, for those two hours, every single look you give me, every single thing you say to me, I have to take that personal. Because I'm moving towards something, so I have to like it or not like it depending on where I want to go."

Tobin and Lehl launched Stark Naked Theatre not because there was a shortage of small theater groups in Houston but because, as they saw it, there was a shortage of small theater groups promoting a high-quality aesthetic while providing competitive pay to their artists.

Lehl tells us he's heard other directors lament the cost of union salaries (Stark Naked hires some Equity actors for each production). "I've heard other directors say, 'If I could just figure out how to pay union actors less, that would be great.' We think that's moving in the wrong direction. Yes, you can do more plays or plays with bigger casts if you pay everybody less, but I don't think the quality of the play rises, and I don't think the quality of the town rises. We believe we can grow the pool of talent in Houston. We believe people can say, 'Yes, Houston is my town. It's where I want to be because I can make a living here. I don't have to go be a telephone marketer or wait tables in order to be an actor.' We're trying to grow in that direction. Every season we try to up the ante and pay our actors more, not less."

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