It's only been a week or so since The Pilot Artist Board and The Pilot Dance Project packed up their gear, setting their sights on greener pastures at The MATCH and other East End venues, leaving the iconic steel building at 5102 Navigation up for grabs.
So like any good matchmaker, Houston actor (and playwright, director, set designer and producer) Leighza Walker whispered in the ear of Christine Weems that landlord Rebecca French (choreographer, dancer and co-founder of FreneticCore) was looking for a new tenant, this time hoping for a theater troupe that could set up shop and stay the course.
Most of us realize that, when it comes to relationships, it's less a matter of bad people than of bad combinations. So it didn't matter to Weems that the dance studio, office, exhibition hall and outdoor patio were no longer part of the package; the remaining set-up of green room, box office, lobby, audience seating, stage and backstage looked pretty darned perfect for Cone Man Running Productions. Weems serves on Cone Man's board along with Michael Weems, Eddie Rodriguez and Bryan Maynard.
There are a lot of musical chairs in Houston's theater community. Cone Man, which was named one of the Houston Press's MasterMind® Award winners earlier this year, had been planning on moving over to The Landing Theater at the Docks, the former home of The Catastrophic Theatre, but those plans fell through. So when Walker whispered, Weems jumped, and the ink is barely dry on the new lease.
"We went into the space yesterday and started cleaning it out," says Weems. "We’re going to rename it. Technically it’s still the Pilot on Navigation, but we’re going to rename it the Beacon Theater." Weems says it's partially a play on nautical words but also a nod to the fact that three of the four board members started out as Phare Play Productions out of New York.
"We’re super excited. We also plan on leasing it out to anybody who may be interested," says Weems, about finding ways to make the most of those dark dates between shows. "There are some classes. Friends have talked about improv. We’re real excited about the opportunities and it will give us a chance to embark on some things that we’ve been thinking about. We’ve been contemplating a stage combat show, doing something for charity for a women’s shelter."
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There's no time like the present, and Cone Man is mounting its first show in the new space on June 17. It's the tenth incarnation of their wacky, 'let's cook up a short play in 24 hours,' Spontaneous Smattering.
This year, instead of raising money and canned goods for the Houston Food Bank like they have in the past, Weems is asking for school supplies, with proceeds from ticket sales benefiting Houston-area teachers. What hasn't changed is that Weems is giving playwrights, directors and actors just 24 hours to put on a new play (including scrambling for props and costumes), often to hilarious results.
"The great thing is that it's the perfect kind of theater for non-theater people," says Weems. "This is the fun, corny ride you want to go on. You never know what’s going to happen."
And, lest you worry about what's in and what's out on that lease agreement, the concession stand stays and they'll be offering up beer and wine by donation. Plus theatergoers of legal age are offered a shot as they enter the space. "It helps," says Weems, about setting just the right atmosphere for a night of zany laughter.