A recent production of Barber of Seville by Classical Theatre
A recent production of Barber of Seville by Classical Theatre
Photo by Pin Lim

Beset by Burglars and Harvey, Classical Theatre Works Past Its Troubles

There’s been much worry in the theater community about Harvey’s lasting effect on the health and sustainability of the city’s smaller companies. Will they all make it, we wonder in hushed, concerned tones? What will be sacrificed for the ones that do? Our anxiety is born out of both empathy — we know the struggles small companies are now facing — and out of selfishness — we want more, not less theater in Houston.

It’s a bit of good news, then, that we can look hopefully to Classical Theatre Company, a company dealing with its share of post-Harvey woes, which through pitching in and making do seems to be working past its troubles.

And what troubles they’ve had. How’s this for a one-two punch? First they were broken into and burglarized; then came Harvey, which delivered moderate to serious cosmetic damage to their Chelsea Market space in the form of leaks in their lobby, office and studio space.

Let’s start with the break-in. It happened this summer and was discovered one morning when a company staff member came into the office to find that all the computers were gone. “We didn’t have property insurance covering them because none of the equipment was new,” says Classical Theatre Company Executive Artistic Director John Johnston. “The street value for the stuff was probably only $800, so we weren’t going to reach the deductible and would be overpaying the value of the property.”

But that didn’t mean replacing the equipment was going to be an inexpensive proposition for the company, who needed the equipment in order to deal with ticket sales and other administrative activities. So they decided to increase the amount of their annual Indiegogo campaign, in order to have enough money to purchase new computers as well as bring in general funds.

And it was all working so well. Until Harvey.

“Everything was going along smashingly,” says Johnston. “In less than two weeks we were about 70 percent of the way there, and then the hurricane hit and the campaign stalled out. At that point we stopped pushing the fundraising because obviously people were understandably looking to donate to more immediate causes.” Thankfully for the small company, with 70 percent raised, Classical Theatre had enough to fund the season, but that was all it had.

So what does it mean for the company going forward? “It means we keep lugging in our personal computers to work every day,” says Johnston, who acknowledges that while it’s not terribly convenient, at least it keeps the company plugged in and operating until it can figure out a way to recoup the needed money. As for the damage from the leaks, Johnston says that while it’s “ugly,” he’s fortunate that it isn’t affecting his programming, which is moving forward as planned.

So perhaps Classical has some secret luck working on its side. After all, this isn’t the first time the company has withstood a hurricane and come out okay. In fact, Classical Theatre was born ten years ago out of Hurricane Ike.

“We were in our second week of rehearsals for our inaugural production when Ike came through,” says Johnston. Power outages meant the company couldn’t use its rehearsal space, and many cast/company members were also without power for some time. As with the company’s pitching-in efforts now post-Harvey, Classical had a make-it-work moment.

Miraculously, Johnston’s tiny attic apartment had power, so everyone gathered there to rehearse the play and recharge phones and laptops. When it came time to move into the theater, the Midtown Art Center was also without power, so the crew loaded in everything in the dark. But once again, lucky for them, the power came on the next day just in time to strike the set.

That luck, to a certain degree, has seemed to shine on Classical isn’t lost on the company. They’ve been eager to spread the fortune around, juggling their schedule to allow for Gravity Players to take an extra week in their space to recoup Harvey ticket sale losses and for The Bayou Theatre Company to delay its rental of the space for a week.

As for its own productions, Classical is presently in rehearsals for its season opener, George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. But leave it to Harvey to make nothing easy. The first week of rehearsals had to take place without the show’s director, Julia Traber, as she was busy directing another show that was delayed because of the storm.

“It’s taken some patience and yeah, we’ve had to juggle some things and it hasn’t all worked out,” says Johnston, who in spite of it all can laugh about the bookending of starting the company and celebrating its tenth anniversary with a hurricane.

“Launching our tenth season with a hurricane was not what we planned, but all things considered, it could have been much worse. Now we’re keen on helping the folks that were affected in whatever ways we can, and we’re hopeful the comedy Mrs. Warren’s Profession will be a nice, witty escape for folks come October.”

Performances of Mrs. Warren's Profession are scheduled for October 4 through 22 at Classical Theatre Company, 4617 Montrose. For information, visit classicaltheatre.org.

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