Take a cup of passion, a pound of energy, a tablespoon of condensed humor and a pinch of creativity. Mix it well and let it simmer on a college campus. The result may surprise you, as it surprised me.
One day in March 2012, backstage at the University of Houston Wortham Theatre, I greeted a trio of speakers who were getting ready to dazzle a standing-room only audience with stories about their years as students. The speakers were none other than Dennis Quaid, Robert Wuhl and Brett Cullen, former students of world-famous University of Houston drama coach, Cecil Pickett. After a brief exchange of formalities, I sat in the audience, listened to them and admired their talent, humility, but most of all, their love for the professor who, as they said, built their character.
A few weeks later, I received an email from Steve Wallace, our Director of the School of Theatre and Dance announcing that Wuhl, two-time Emmy-award winner, had decided to create and produce a play on our campus. Steve agreed to co-direct it. What’s the problem? Well, Robert had never written a play before and the University of Houston had never produced a play for the New York stage before! I had certainly not experienced a creative journey of this nature ever before.
On January 29, 2013, the newly produced play called, Hit-Lit, made its debut in Houston. It was the 20th version of the script and as I learned later, the script went through 7 more revisions before its debut in New York City. To my naive eyes, the play was simply perfect. I noticed that it was able to make even the most sarcastic critics laugh out loud. “Wow” is all I could say at the end of the play. Students were dancing with joy and directors were beaming with pride. The play received great reviews by almost every reviewer in Houston.
Then came March 7, 2013 and Hit-Lit made its New York debut as the season opener at Queens Theater. Several of our students performed, and many others were involved as technicians, computer artists, and stage managers. One of our alumnus who attended the play in Houston had been so inspired by the production and the work of the students that he made his private plane available to fly them all to New York. No, he did not major in theatre and dance!
A large group of the University of Houston alumni gathered to watch the premiere in New York…it was not a watch party for football, but it could very well have been. Everyone was upbeat, commenting on what a great theatre program we have and what a great occasion it was. Interestingly, the play had pulled together a group of alumni who had lived in the same city, had the same Cougar spirit, enjoyed each others company, but had not found a medium to bond with one another.
Hit-Lit proved to be a big hit in New York. It was ranked as one of the top plays running in New York City that week. One critic even predicted that it might soon be on Broadway! A simple idea with some risk-taking had transformed itself into a Tier One, nationally competitive production! The students came back from New York with the experience of a lifetime. Some had job offers in hand! One production company contacted our School of Theater and Dance to produce another play. Hmmmm!
What a joy it has been to watch the journey of Hit-Lit from Houston to New York!
Hit-Lit is one more reason why universities should support the arts and why people should support the arts in universities.