Fresh from her duties as managing director of Denver's Curious Theatre Co., Katie Maltais will begin working as the new managing director of Stages and its theater complex The Gordy on August 1, sharing leadership duties and a commitment to community outreach with Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin.
Her hiring the result of a nationwide search, Maltais headed up Denver's first Diversity in Theater panels. Before coming to the Curious Theatre Co., she had several years experience with a variety of arts organizations, including the international consulting firm TRG Arts which worked with several arts groups including Houston's Alley Theatre and the Houston Arts Alliance.
She describes Curious Theater as a company whose motto is "No guts, no story" and says it has focused on new work, almost exclusively on regional and world premieres, with an emphasis on commissioning new plays itself. That puts her in line with Stages and its mix of commissioned new work as well as more established plays.
In her high school in Indianola, Iowa, Maltais says, "I was the student that was the lead in all of the roles and I love theater and I was just a total theater nerd. And then they decided to do a show that I wasn't really interested in auditioning for so I went to the director and said that I wanted to do the marketing for the show. And he said, 'I don't really know what that means, but okay.' And I went out and created partnerships — it was a show that dealt with veterans issues — so I seeking partnerships with the veterans community in my town. I got billboards painted, got posters. All the stuff that they'd never had before.
"On opening night of the production I stood in the back of the theater and it was a fairly large theater and it was completely full of not just people who were family and friends of the people on stage and I thought 'Well, this is really what I'm meant to do.' I really think my role is to bring people to the arts. I am in this business because I truly believe theater can change the world."
A star was born - albeit a behind the scenes one.
Actually, there were hints earlier in her career that spoke to her abilities for organization and drawing in audiences. When she was six years old she was putting on plays in her back yard, bringing in all the neighborhood school children to perform or watch, she says.
Maltais is taking over from Mark Folkes who shepherded Stages through a $35.4 million building and relocation project resulting in its new campus that opened in January 2020 (an unfortunate timing given the coronavirus). Folkes has gone on to to be the chief growth officer at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, while Maltais saw the move to Houston's Stages as a big step up in her career — especially given that she likes the diversity of the theater's offerings and says its core values line up with hers.
"It was a pretty easy choice to make to say I'd like to move to Houston, humidity in August notwithstanding," she says with a laugh.
She applauds the wide spread range of plays and productions that Stages puts on and says she was initially intrigued by the organization's commitment to the Sin Muros festival with its support of the Hispanic community and bilingual work. "The Sin Muros festival, before I knew anything about Stages, originally attracted me to the posting itself."
She knows, just as every other performing arts center manager throughout the area, that her biggest challenge in months ahead will be to persuade people to come back for live performances, while ensuring that the venue offers the safest possible setting given the fact that COVID-19 is not gone. "How do we not only create a safe environment, but make sure people know that it's a safe environment?"
Or as Lise Bohn, Stages Development and Communications Director, explains: "This is how we are all operating during this time. We're making our best predictions about what the fall might look like with the recognition that it could change at any moment and we will respond to what's happening in the moment. As of right now, for Lady Day we're at a really limited capacity; a max of 68 people in a 250 capacity theater." She added that they carefully manage the lobby in terms of people congregating and are still doing temperature checks as people enter the building. "We have expanded our outdoor space as well. We do still require masks. And whether it looks like that in the fall is still a question."
Besides attracting patrons and subscribers, Maltais says she is determined to seek out the different communities in Houston, in an effort to understand their needs and where theater might fit into their interests. She also is in full agreement with McLaughlin about reaching out to other arts groups and make the best use possible of all the space at The Gordy with its three stages and countless meeting rooms.
"Theater can change the world. For me that’s because theaters allows audiences to create empathy, to create understanding, to create connection, to create joy and I think that is critically needed in a lot of different areas right now.
"That doesn’t mean you have to go to the theater to have a completely intellectual experience. You can go to have an entertainment experience, you can go to just enjoy a night out. But every time you go to the theater it connects to your heart or at least it should in a different and new way and for me that's the thing that makes theater such an exciting art form, such a powerful art form and it's really the reason I want to work in theater," Maltais says.
"My role isn’t is to be the person everybody talks about. My role is to be the person who inspires people to come see the amazing and creative work that is being put on our stages."
And in that regard, here is Stages' upcoming season:
Stages’ 2021-2022 Season:
By John Leonard Pielmeier
October 1, 2021 - 17, 2021
A long-lost journal from the notorious, and much maligned, Captain Hook offers the true tale of Peter Pan and nothing is as you have been told! Award-winning playwright John Leonard Pielmeier (Agnes of God) joins Stages’ favorite Donald Corren (Bobby Riggs in Balls) to create a one-man tour-de-force that tells the Pan story from Hook’s point of view. Finally, discover the friendly alligator, the helpful tick of the clock, the true love of the island’s indigenous population, and the real price of never growing old in this magical, theatrical romp for the whole family.
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE
Lester and Sue Smith Stage
Music and lyrics by William Finn
Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Conceived by Rebecca Feldman
October 15 – November 14, 2021
Six spellers enter and only one speller leaves! At least the losers get a juice box. An eclectic group of adolescents compete for the spelling championship of a lifetime, while candidly disclosing hilarious and touching stories from their home lives. Winner of the Tony and the Drama Desk Awards for Best Book, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has charmed audiences across the country with its effortless wit and humor. This is one bee to remember!
SISTER’S CHRISTMAS CATECHISM: THE MYSTERY OF THE MAGI’S GOLD
Lester and Sue Smith Stage
By Maripat Donovan with Marc Silvia and Jane Morris
November 26 - December 31, 2021
It’s “CSI: Bethlehem” in this holiday mystery extravaganza, from the author of Late Nite Catechism, as Sister takes on the mystery that has intrigued historians throughout the ages - whatever happened to the Magi’s gold? (“We know that Mary used the frankincense and myrrh as a sort of potpourri - they were in a barn after all.”) Retelling the story of the nativity as only Sister can, this hilarious holiday production is bound to become a yearly classic. Employing her own scientific tools, assisted by a local choir as well as a gaggle of audience members, Sister creates a living nativity unlike any you have ever seen. With gifts galore and bundles of laughs, Sister’s Christmas Catechism is sure to become the newest addition to your holiday traditions.
PANTO LITTLE MERMAID
By ShaWanna Renee Rivon and Elizabeth A.M. Keel
December 3 - 31, 2021
A tidal wave of magic, romance, and hilarity! Hans Christian Anderson’s tale is reimagined in Galveston Bay, as marine biologists and loveable sea creatures work together to save their shores from the wicked, accessory loving Pursula. Come ready to laugh, cheer, boo, and tap your toes...or fins!
MACGYVER: THE MUSICAL
Lester and Sue Smith Stage
Book by Kate Chavez, Robin Ward Holloway, Lindsey Hope Pearlman & Lee David Zlotoff
Music by Peter Lurye
Based on the original TV series created by Lee David Zlotoff
February 4 – March 6, 2022
Do you have an extraordinary talent for solving impossible conundrums and global catastrophes with a paperclip? Then we want you! The creator of the classic TV drama brings the world’s favorite hero to the stage in MacGyver The Musical - a rock-n-roll musical comedy that pits MacGyver against the Soviet Empire in 1989 East Berlin. Best of all, the leading actor who plays MacGyver is selected from the audience each night. Can you MacGyver your way to the stage and save America? Only one way to find out.
Sin Muros (Without Walls): A Latinx Theater Festival
February 17 – 20, 2022
Stages will celebrate Latinx voices and stories reflecting the diversity of local Texas communities during the third annual Sin Muros (Without Walls): A Latinx Theatre Festival. The weekend will be filled with free public events for audiences and local theater-makers, including workshops, play and poetry readings!
Lester and Sue Smith Stage
By Brendan Borque-Sheil
March 25 – April 11, 2022
Hallie has been a caring nurse to her community for much of her life. When her eyesight fails, she finds a new calling among a local coven as she thwarts the business of Western medicine to access drugs and healing for her patients. A brilliant new dark comedy about American health care by the author of the Stages’ hit The Book of Maggie.
YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO SIT-IN
Rochelle and Max Levit Stage
By ShaWanna Renee Rivon
April 1 – May 22, 2022
Houston, Texas. Spring of 1960. It’s the peak of youth in the lives of four Black college freshman. Some are ready for fun, some for success, some for love, and some just want to pledge and party, and in Third Ward they have all of the potential in the world...a segregated world. No longer content with being separate, the four join the revolution against inequality and racism and find the path to adulthood along the way. Set to the love songs, dance hits, and revolutionary tunes of the 1960s-1970s, this rockin’ new musical is inspired by the real story of Houston’s first sit-in that led to the city’s desegregation, and full of up-to-the-minute spontaneous humor.
BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA
By Inda Craig-Galvàn
April 22 – May 8, 2022
When Sabrina Jackson’s son is the victim of a police shooting, she retreats inward to a powerful technicolor universe, living as a comic book superhero named Maasai Angel. Compared to the pain of the real world, this battle is one Sabrina can handle. But will Sabrina stay in this dream world or return to reality and mourn her son? Surprising comedy and grace mark this stunning new play by one of America’s most acclaimed new writers.
SONG OF ME
Lester and Sue Smith Stage
Written by Mai Lé
Created by Mai Lé and ??t Peter Ton
May 27 – June 12, 2022
Philip and Luci are Vietnamese Houstonians – a brother and sister duo navigating their futures together. As they cook, plan, and reminisce on the eve of Philip’s wedding, cultures clash as the two siblings seek their own path and long to sing in their own voices. A jubilant world premiere about family, tradition, Vietnamese cooking, and growing up in Houston from two of the city’s most exciting young artists.
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