Houston is a rambling, gambling town and this year Best of Houston celebrates those in the community who are taking a chance.
Rebecca French, choreographer, dancer and co-founder of FrenetiCore, has faced more than just naysayers in the 14-plus years it has taken her to establish her performing arts organization.
There were timid bankers who wouldn't loan FrenetiCore the $150,000 it needed to buy its own building in the East End. "We would just get lumped in with all the other non-credit-worthy applications. Nonprofits and churches -- nobody will lend either of us any money," she says.
There were area thugs who didn't like the idea of French and company moving into the East End. "Mobsters harassed us for a while," she says. "They'd paint-balled the building. It was six straight months of people slashing my tires and paint-balling everything."
There were homophobic neighbors. "Guys would drive by in pickup trucks and yell things at the [gay] actors from Infernal Bridegroom. They really did not want gays in the neighborhood. For a while, we weren't sure if there was going to be more destructive violence or if it was going to stop at paint-balling and shouting."
There were wardrobe malfunctions. "One time I was onstage and not only did I give myself a black eye, but my top fell off. That was just adding insult to injury."
And there were leaky gutters. "We were having a show during a storm. The rain got so bad that the gutter broke, and all this water came pouring in on the audience. It was raining on the audience. Yeah, that was a difficult day."
The biggest challenge, French says, comes in believing in yourself, thinking that you have something to say as an artist. "Nobody becomes an artist full-time or starts an arts organization because we want to. It's because we have to. There's really no other option for us. We tried the job where we didn't get to be creative and that didn't work. Or we tried working for another lead artist and that was educational and fun, but at some point a voice in our head says, 'You have to do this on your own. You'll get to make the decisions, but it's going to consume your life, so get used to it.' And it's the most exciting, wonderful, thrilling thing you'll ever do. I give my life to dance, so of course I'll buy a giant warehouse full of junk. Of course I'll offer free classes for the community. Hopefully, you get better at the business side, but you have to start with that crazy idea that you have something to say."
Taking chances is just part of the formula. "It's a controlled risk," she says. "As a performer, you go onstage and you want to give everything you have, but at the same time you don't want to break a bone. You put all your resources into your season, but you make sure that you have some buffer built in [to your budget] in case one show doesn't do well or some funding falls through."
Thankfully she's not going it alone. She has a board of directors who look at the numbers as much as the art. "I don't really have that business brain," says French. "I say, 'Of course we're going to teach kids for free.' Then they say, 'Well, how are we going to pay for it?' Together we figure it out."
French happily reports the neighborhood has changed. Now she can worry about budgets, choreography and pesky wardrobe malfunctions instead of homophobic and violent neighbors. "The gangsters are gone. Now the cops are just a couple of blocks away. You can be gay outside on the sidewalk. I've tested that. Yes, you can be gay outside in the East End and not get attacked. It's really changed."
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