If you are a long time Oak Forest resident, then you probably remember Theatre Suburbia’s location on 43rd Street. Theatre Suburbia’s board president – and sometime director and actor – Elvin Moriarty has been involved with the theatre for more than 30 years but said that the group had been active long before that.
“The original group did ‘You Can’t Take It with You’ at the Episcopal church next to [Frank Black] middle school,” explains Moriarty. “It was part of a mission project. Someone knew the Holmes family who owned the strip center [on 43rd]. There was a toy store there and a $1.95 steak house. Theatre Suburbia started renting month to month and borrowed wooden chairs from the steak house for audience seating. This was 1961 and right after they moved in they had to prepare for Hurricane Carla. ‘Philadelphia Story’ was their first play.”
For 47 years, the theatre continued renting month to month, until the Holmes family sold the land to Resource One Credit Union. For a short time after they moved from 43rd, Moriarty said the company did productions at Scarborough High School and Northwest Crossing Baptist Church until the stress of trying to find rehearsal time and prop storage got to be too much for the volunteers, many of them with day jobs.
“We decided to stop production until we found something and two weeks later we found a new space,” said Moriarty.
The current location is at 4106 Way Out West Drive about five miles from the former location. Interestingly enough, another hurricane – this time Ike in 2008 – came along just after they moved in. They configured warehouse and theatre space in 12 weekends, just in time to produce ‘A Nice Family Gathering’ on Halloween.
All this hustle and moxie has resulted in Theatre Suburbia being Northwest Houston’s longest running all volunteer playhouse.
They are now in their 57th season and have produced 396 shows. Theatre Suburbia produces seven plays each year – including their popular mellerdrammers – remaining dark for only two weekends between productions.
No one gets paid.
“Every penny goes back into the theatre,” said Moriarty. “There’s the lease and utilities.”
Actors and directors, as well as anyone else who wants to support the theatre, join the membership which then elects the 6 to 12 person board. Moriarty was selected by the board to serve as president.
A committee pre-reads potential scripts for the next year and selects those that they feel would be most applicable for their stage. Then, they work at matching the right script to the most appropriate director. The public is welcome to audition for plays. There’s even a script contest for next year’s Summer Mellerdramer.
The current cliffhanger for Theatre Suburbia is where they will make their home after August of 2020. There is a new owner of their building, and although Theatre Suburbia signed a long term lease, they have a few year’s notice of their end date.
Moriarty used to live in Oak Forest and said he’d love to stay in the area.
“We used to draw mostly from Oak Forest, but now people have spread out and we get people from all over,” he said.
Their current space is 5,000 square feet and if the next location is smaller than that, they’d have to look at additional storage options.
One bright spot is the challenge grant that Theatre Suburbia has been offered from an anonymous sponsor.
To receive the funds, the theatre must raise a matching $5,000 by October 13.
If you can help them – or if you want to engage your inner thespian and try out for a production, please visit their website at http://www.theatresuburbia.org.