Arts in the Schools

Dennis Quaid, Brett Cullen & More Return to UH to Honor Theater Prof Cecil Pickett's Memory

Cecil Pickett, who died in 1997, is a revered name not only in Houston theater circles but across the United States among his former students. But when Steve Wallace, director of the University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance, arrived here from Tennessee five years ago, he wasn't familiar with Pickett or his legacy.

What Wallace was looking for was a way to reunite the UH theater school and its students with some of its most prominent alumni. Actor Brett Cullen (Apollo 13, The Replacements, Ghost Rider) came back to the campus some and talked to students, but Wallace wanted more.

At a football game two years ago, Wallace had his chance. He'd flown out to a UCLA-Houston game and met Cullen. It was Cullen who told him that if he was looking for something to pull everyone together then Cecil Pickett would be the linchpin. Cullen, in turn, introduced Wallace to actors Dennis Quaid (Breaking Away, Far from Heaven) Robert Wuhl (Bull Durham, Batman) and eventually Cindy Pickett (Pickett Fences, St. Elsewhere) -- all alumni of UH's theater program.

On Saturday, April 14, all three are coming back to UH for An Afternoon with the Artists, a benefit for the Cecil J. Pickett Scholarship Fund.

Pickett taught at UH from 1970 to 88 and before that at Bellaire High School and Houston Baptist University. He was Quaid's teacher at both Bellaire High School and UH.

"Brett told me early on, if you want the industry to come back, you're going to have to acknowledge his [Pickett's] contributions," Wallace said.

Besides the actors' reminiscences, Wallace, who became the producing artistic director of the Houston Shakespeare Festival last year, hopes the Houston community as well as students will attend and that people who knew Cecil Pickett will come to the mike and share their stories.

"He was really ahead of his time," Wallace says. "The students who studied under him were the ones who went out and were able to get jobs. There's some success there. I want to celebrate that. I want our students to understand that just because you're not in L.A. or you're not in New York has nothing to do with success or your potential of success.

An Afternoon with the Artists begins at 1 p.m. April 14 with a lobby reception, followed by a 1:30 p.m. presentation with moderator Ernie Manouse in the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre (entrance 16 off Cullen). For information, call 713-743-2929. Tickets are $20-$60.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing