Houston Grand Opera Moves to the George R. Brown for Three Productions

The lower level of the Wortham: A soggy mess with miles of work to go.
The lower level of the Wortham: A soggy mess with miles of work to go. Photo by Marco Torres

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The lower level of the Wortham: A soggy mess with miles of work to go.
Photo by Marco Torres
The Houston Grand Opera announced today that it is moving its upcoming shows to the George R. Brown Convention Center, since, as was announced last week, the flood-damaged Wortham Theater Center will not be available for use until May 15, 2018, at the earliest.

"Houston Grand Opera (HGO) will transform an exhibit hall in Houston’s downtown convention center into an intimate theater for “unconventional opera,” a press release stated. That means La traviata (October 20 through November 11), Julius Caesar (October 27 through November 10) and The House Without a Christmas Tree (November 30 through November 17) will be performed in Exhibit Hall A3, about to be renamed the HGO Resilience Theater.

Opera companies around the world are performing in new and unusual venues,” said HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers. “While we are disappointed that we temporarily cannot perform in our creative home at the Wortham Theater Center, our artists and creative teams are excited to take advantage of the extraordinary possibilities at the George R. Brown. We are fortunate to have the freedom in this new venue to customize the space to fit our unique needs and to maintain the artistic integrity of the productions. The quality that audiences have come to expect from HGO will not change. We are thrilled to be able to provide inspiration and healing through great opera in the heart of downtown Houston.  

HGO is just one of several performing arts organizations forced to seek new billets thanks to the water damage from Hurricane Harvey. The Houston Ballet performed a shortened schedule of Mayerling at the Hobby Center this past weekend, and will return there in late October for its mixed-rep program Poetry in Motion. Society for the Performing Arts put out an appeal last week, saying that many of its planned shows at the Wortham and Jones Hall would needed to be relocated.

Last Friday local media outlets were given a tour of the Wortham and were told everything had flooded from the first-floor level down. Some carpet and sheetrock had already been removed from the entryway and the basement area, but clearly there was far more work to do, especially in the still-soggy basement area.

Some water is still seeping in through the lower-level walls, and piles of musty debris remained, including boxes of now-ruined shoes and belts. Cleanup crews in masks were working to haul out dirt and muck as they attempt to dry out the building.

"The parking garage entrances became like rivers and the water flowed to its lowest point, which was down that ramp and into the garage." — Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First, which manages the Wortham Theater Center

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Dawn Ullrich, president and chief executive officer of Houston First, the manager of the city’s buildings, said that the $6.5 million worth of prevention measures put in place after flood damage from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 did help, just not enough.

“Most of [the floodgates] worked. We think that what happened is the bayou came up high enough, for instance, that the parking garage entrances became like rivers and the water flowed to its lowest point, which was down that ramp and into the garage. In some cases, the water was higher than the gates, so the flood was worse than the mitigatory actions were prepared to withstand.”

Theories abound as to exactly what happened to the building that sits right next to the bayou, Ullrich said, adding that they need to understand what went on before they remove all evidence of the damage, and to do that, they’ve hired an outside firm to assess it.

“We had a series of floodgates, flood doors, submarine doors that were put in throughout. They held back water up to a certain point,” she said. “Jones Hall did not suffer much damage because its door held; 611 Walker, same thing. It depended on the location.”

Asked why the building, which opened in 1987, was built right on the bayou, Ullrich said she didn’t know. “We think that water perhaps came in on the backside and in the basement there and potentially in from the garage. You can see from pictures, the water was halfway up the glass doors at the front door of the Wortham.”

She predicted the repairs to the Wortham this time would not be “inexpensive.”

Houston First’s other role in all this will be to help the performing arts find other venues for their shows, Ullrich said, with possibilities ranging as far afield as the new Smart Financial Center in Sugar Land. The question there is, of course, whether die-hard Inner Loopers will drive that far.

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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