In my freshman Production Practice class at DePaul University we were trained what to say when our families asked why we hadn’t gone to New York for school. When people hear theater, they think New York. Broadway, the Tony’s, etc. New York, sparkling streets where the young ingénue from Texas can get off a bus and become a star. Or a hooker. Whatever floats her boat. Chicagoans are fiercely against this perception. You can be a theater person even BIGGER and BETTER in Chicago. You can be a hooker as good in Illinois as in New York! It’s hard to be a person living in ‘the Second City.
This is what my darling professor told us to say: New York was commercial, Chicago was avant garde. New York was Broadway and money and Producers, Chicago was Steppenwolf and Second City and Free Street, in New York we’d sell out, in Chicago we could be edgy. We could make it in Chicago. Chicago was not, in fact, a second city. It was the first city. Chicago strong. Chicago forever.
I was smarter than that. Sure, Chicago is a better place to be for a young artist than New York, but Houston is better than both. Far better.
My senior year I had to do informational interviews with people who had the job I wanted. My first thought was Matt Hune, co-founder of Rec Room (a fact I was barely even aware of at the time). I called him because he had gone to the same high school (HSPVA) and same college (DePaul University) as I. My playwriting professors (Dean Corrin and Carlos Murillo) fawned over him, and his picture was featured prominently on my route from Playwriting class to rehearsal.
My conversation with Matt was life changing. At the time I had doubts about moving back to Houston. Was it the right thing? Matt said yes. He told me that Houston is the wild west of theater. As a ninth generation Texan this appealed to my instinctual existence. Houston, with it’s potential for great avant-garde work and endless supply of young oil money, was my mecca. Where else is there money flowing right now? Where else is the theater scene not dominated by huge money making theaters? I flew back in June with unending excitement.
Of course, like any young artist, I was nervous. Was there any really any money left in the arts? Was there any reason I should realistically be able to make a living off of my work? I had a job set up at Main Street Theater’s Summer Camp, but where would I get to playwright? Where would I get to enhance theater? Where would my four years of suffering through college pay off?
The answer was sent to me via Facebook message from my former high school theater teacher, Stephanie Wittels Wachs (co-founder of Rec Room with Matt Hune). Stephanie asked me to stage manage and help write Dead Rockstar Sing-A-Long Club 2016. I said yes, duh yes.
Now, six months later, my life is dedicated to Rec Room. My career is dedicated to Rec Room. When I’m not teaching theater (which is also great, I love Main Street, but this about Rec Room) I’m either co-working or bartending or running lights/sound or stage managing or hanging with Iris Wachs (Steph’s 3 year old) at 100 Jackson Street.
Why Houston? Because there is a place here where my voice matters.
Written by Grace Rosenwinkel Cunyus, Production and Literary Fellow