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African-American Theatre, Artistry and Music That ‘Stirs Your Soul’

Houston’s Ensemble Theatre is cultivating the next generation of creative thinkers

African-American Theatre, Artistry and Music That ‘Stirs Your Soul’

Houston’s Ensemble Theatre is cultivating the next generation of creative thinkers

Published 07-03-24

Submitted by Enbridge Inc.

A group of four dancing in a theatre production.

From comedies and dramas to musicals and contemporary works, The Ensemble Theatre is lifting the curtain on culture and letting creativity take center stage.

“The arts teach more than the basics,” says Eileen Morris, artistic director at Houston-based Ensemble Theatre. “Our young performers learn theatre, dance, music and writing, but there are other basic skills you’re learning that you will use for the rest of your life.”

Such skills include learning how to build confidence when speaking to others, expressing oneself with clear communication, taking direction and working in teams.

You could say that students of theatre learn how to be part of an ensemble.

Since its inception in 1976, The Ensemble Theatre has produced fifteen world premieres and over 100 regional productions out of Houston. More than 200 artists, including actors, crew designers and distinguished teaching guests, work with the theatre annually.

“We are an arts non-profit, but we’re still a business,” says Donald Mason, managing director at The Ensemble Theatre. “We steward relationships with our business communities to get them as involved as possible with the incredible engagement we have here.”

While many have heard of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), the theatre also embraces the concept of STEAM to include the arts among the fields that are commonly associated with problem solving, innovation and critical thinking. The revised acronym is growing swiftly in popularity among business and educational audiences.

“That one letter can make such a big difference,” says Mason. “It adds an extra layer of creativity and encourages young thinkers to explores different alternatives to a question or problem.”

June 19 is Juneteenth, marking the day in 1865 when more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas received news of their freedom, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Enbridge has a history of supporting The Ensemble Theatre for more than 40 years. In 2023, a $10,000 Enbridge Fueling Futures grant supported the theatre with its 2023 holiday production of A Motown Christmas, featuring classics from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, and The Jackson 5.

“We sent out a survey after that show, which was months ago now, and we are still getting responses,” says Mason. “The energy was really special—people were holding back their claps and snaps.”

The Ensemble Theatre doesn’t reserve its entertainment and education for ticketholders only. The institution runs multiple residencies and in-school programs that teach youth about theatre, such as its Young Performers Program catered towards those aged 6 through 17 in the Houston area.

“The arts are well-celebrated in Houston,” says Mason. “Yes, we are putting professionals on a stage and providing entertainment, but we want people to find their creative self in that process.”

Fans can attend any of the six mainstage plays the theatre puts on each year. The theatre’s next production, Pullman Porter Blues, begins June 28 and runs through July 28.

Morris, who has been with the theatre since the mid-1980s with founder George Hawkins, has a simple goal with each production: “It’s all about bringing families together to enjoy the artistic experience that makes you want to get up on your feet and scream and shout—because it stirs your soul.”

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