Houston is a theater-lovers’ best-kept secret. While we may not have the prestige of Broadway or the star power of Los Angeles, we do have the second-largest theater district in the country, and we’re one of only five American cities with permanent professional resident companies in all the major performing-arts disciplines (dance, theater, symphony, opera). Better yet, the performing arts are made even more accessible by the many smaller stages located throughout the city. One of those hot spots is artFACTORY, and they’re eager to raise the curtain and welcome audiences to their 2021–22 season.
Operated by gay couple and theater buffs Colton Berry and Luke Hamilton, artFACTORY is located at 1125 Providence Street near the University of Houston-Downtown campus. The organization has operated out of this location in The Docks (formerly occupied by another Houston gem, The Catastrophic Theatre) since 2018. Before artFACTORY, Berry and Hamilton ran another beloved venue, EaDo Playhouse.
Berry’s involvement in theater actually started at a tender young age. “I have three older brothers, and my father has a degree in physical education. We were a very sports-centric family, but it wasn’t my thing. I got a flyer in elementary school in second grade for a youth theater. I did a production of The Emperor’s New Clothes and never stopped. In middle school, my dad and I built an outdoor theater. I started producing at 13 years old, and I’ve been producing my whole life,” Berry says.
Hamilton’s story is quite similar. He began extracurricular drama programs in elementary school, and then found himself heavily drawn to dance in high school. His performance as Harold Hill in Clear Brook High School’s The Music Man in 2011 earned him attention from Theatre Under The Stars’ Tommy Tune Awards, where he was nominated for Best Leading Actor. He later attended Texas State University to study musical theater.
The powerhouse couple first met a decade ago through Houston’s performing-arts circuit. “We saw each other across the room and said, ‘Okay, this is it,’” Berry recalls.
Their relationship has been a boon for Houston’s performing-arts scene, with their artFACTORY vision of offering Houston theater-creators a unique outlet for their artistry through the development and production of new works and the reinvention of existing works.
“We endeavor to continue producing musical theater and grow. We hope to provide interesting new programming for Houston. We don’t replicate [traditional forms of] musical theater; instead, we look at everything from a new perspective. We also try to do new Houston premieres. We want to write and produce original work. We’d like to continue growing in that direction and make artFACTORY a staple in Houston,” Berry explains.
The duo notes that their upcoming season will resemble much of the pre-pandemic season they had finalized before COVID-19 shut down the performing-arts world. “This was originally our 2020 season, [since] we decided that we’d hold on to the titles we had already licensed,” Hamilton says. “We’re mounting three productions in 2021 and five in 2022. Our regular patrons can see that’s a spaced-out season, compared to how we normally operate. It gives us more time in the rehearsal process, and to see how the shows run.”
The pause in production during COVID-19 also afforded the couple lots of time to write new material. One of those projects will be their 2021 season opener, and it should give audiences a taste of what the rest of the season offers.
“The Great Gatsby went into public domain in 2020, so Colton got the idea to adapt the book into a musical. Our first show will be Gatsby, with a full original score by the two of us,” Hamilton adds. Their world premiere of Gatsby, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, runs September 10–26.
Appropriately timed for Halloween, Monster: The Music of Lady Gaga will run October 22–31 and give Houston’s little monsters a chance to witness a Vegas-style concert event bursting with dazzling visuals and show-stopping live music.
Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning Company will then run December. 3–19.
In the new year, artFACTORY will transport audiences to the questionable and turbulent world of Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw with Cabaret, running February 11–27, 2022.
Another Sondheim favorite is the twisted musical haunt Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which will run April 22–May 8, 2022.
The Houston premiere of Head Over Heels, featuring songs by The Go-Go’s, will run July 15–31, 2022. This show holds a special place in LGBTQ history, as the original Broadway run cast RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Peppermint as the oracle Pythio. That casting decision made her the first openly trans woman to originate a principal role on Broadway.
“Oh my God, you guys!” Mark your calendars for the return of Elle Woods, her chihuahua, Bruiser, and the Delta Nu sisterhood in Legally Blonde: The Musical, running September 16–October 2, 2022.
Rounding out the season is a tale as old as time—Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, a Broadway staple that originated in Houston and will play on the artFACTORY stage December 2–18, 2022.
For those wanting a closer look at artFACTORY’s offerings before buying tickets, Berry and Hamilton will host a Grand Re-Opening Celebration on August 28. Tickets are $40, and attendees can expect an evening of complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres, short performances from their upcoming season of live theater, guided tours, behind-the-scenes glances from the creative team, and more.
artFACTORY is located at 1125 Providence St. Visit artfactoryhouston.com or call 832-210-5200 for individual show tickets or season subscriptions.
This article appears in the August 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.