The Houston Family Arts Center has something few other theater groups in the country have - an alum in a lead role on Broadway. Eleven-year-old Sadie Sink, former student/performer at HFAC, starts a turn as the lead in Annie at the end of this month. "Two years ago she and her brother came in from Brenham to do some theater with us," Bob Clark, HFAC's co-founder and executive director, tells us. "She was the lead in our production of Annie, Jr. "
That was 2011. In 2012, Sink reprised the role in the TUTS production and in 2013, she was cast as an orphan in Annie on Broadway. Come July 30, she'll be sharing the title role with another young girl. "Here's a young girl who came to our summer camp and three years later she's on Broadway," Clark says proudly. That's not bad for an organization that got its start in 2005 when Clark, his wife Teri and a couple of friends discussed the need for a family theater in Northwest Houston. (The Clarks' children had performed in local productions and the couple was already volunteering with community theaters in the area.)
"Someone said, 'Wouldn't it be neat if there was a family theater in town? Somewhere you could bring your entire family to and they wouldn't be embarrassed - wouldn't that be a great thing?' We said, 'Yeah, someone should do that.'" A few months later the couple visited a church with a performing and visual arts center. The church had visual arts programming, but no real performing arts on the schedule. The Clarks were offered the space to use for theater productions and HFAC was born.
What He Does: Asked what he does for a living, Clark usually responds, "I'm the executive director for the Houston family Arts Center and we are a family organization that produces great quality shows and has an educational program for all ages." That's the formal answer. He usually goes on to explain, "I'm responsible for the day-to-day function and the strategic directions of the organization, which includes the business side and the artistic side."
Why He Likes It: "There are two reasons I like it. One is that we demonstrating that the arts here can be family friendly. Lots of arts push the envelope and that's OK, but there are some people who want family friendly shows. We think it's important because people can bring kids to see shows, they can bring their grandparents to see shows and they're not going to be shocked. They're not going to be offended or outraged by the language or the lack of clothing or the subject matter.
"The other thing that I'm just elated about is that we're helping to raise a new generation of talented actors and actresses. Not everyone is a good football player and that's the only choice some kids have. What if you don't like football and you like the arts? With the cuts in funding in education, those arts programs are the first to go," he says.
"It's fun to watch little kids that used to be shy and not be able to say their name in front of a group and six months later they're on stage in front of a hundred people singing their heart out. I get to give something back to the community something that had major role in my kids lives and I think in our culture."
What Inspires Him: "The inspiration is getting to work with incredibly talented people and getting to see a team come together and create some magic. One of our [tag lines] is 'Touching hearts, touching lives in a dramatic way.' We have the ability to impact people's lives with what we put on stage. That's amazing."
If Not This, Then What: "I've had a great career. I worked for Proctor and Gamble and sold soap. I worked for Nestle and sold some incredible candy bars. I worked at CarMax and I had a great experience selling cars to people who weren't being taken advantage of. If I wasn't doing this, I would probably be back in the business world, but I can also see myself at another non-profit. Any non-profit organization is a purpose driven organization. What happens with many of them is that they have people who have the passion for what they're doing, but don't have the business skills to make the dreams become reality."
If Not Here, Then Where: "We have a daughter in Kansas City. We sometime talk about moving to Colorado. I was at the Air Force Academy and I love the mountains. So Kansas City and Colorado, those are our first choices."
What's Next: "What does the next five to ten years look like? To be honest, we're trying to figure that out as an organization. We just finished our first five-year plan; we've built a theater and about to finish our second theater. What's next is a little bit up in the air.
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"We truly believe family friendly theater is important, and we're committed to making that the highest quality possible. We want to continue to produce high-quality shows. We're committed to new works. We've done five or six new works already. We're always looking to produce new work. We're going to continue having a 10-minute play festival.
"We're also going to explore theater for young audiences, that is, adults doing kids' shows. Right now we have kids doing kids' shows and they love it but in working with adults we could explore some new things. All that's on the drawing board but nothing's decided yet."
For information about upcoming productions and classes at HFAC, visit the center's website.
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