Doing it all: Performing Arts Houston offers a big tent of arts experiences

“Zero constraints” that’s how Performing Arts Houston executive director Meg Booth describes the programming possibilities when the organization puts together a season lineup like the recently announced 2024-2025 season.

“We can do classical music. We can do roots music. We can bring in speakers from any background to talk about anything. Dance from all over the world. We are always trying to create variety so that no matter what when people come to see a Performing Arts Houston performance, they will see something different that they may have never seen before,” explains Booth.

A few of those shows this season will also take audiences beyond the traditional theater experience with interactive performances and nontraditional venues.

Whether considered a performance or an immersive event, the most unconventional yet paradoxically retro of shows has to be At the Illusionist’s Table. Illusionist and mentalist Scott Silven takes the dinner and a show concept to a magical new level, transforming Houston’s historic Eldorado Ballroom into a Scottish Victorian dinner party.

“You are actually joining a dinner party where you get to eat extraordinary food prepared by chef Chris Williams,” describes Booth. “And Scott Silven brings you on a journey of his childhood and family from Scotland and mind-bends the entire dinner party throughout the course of your two hours together.”

Though performed at Jones Hall, genre-bending musician Ben Folds will also require some audience participation, as his Paper Airplane Request Tour stop asks fans to literally sail paper airplane requests to him on stage.

“After having done so much symphonic work and touring with his band for so long he wanted to go on a solo tour. He has really enjoyed that interaction with the audience,” says Booth.

Because of the breadth of each season when it comes to genres of performances, PAH has for decades offered series within the season to help audiences and members better navigate through the many options, but Booth says that flexibility also allows them to create new series when inspiration calls. This year that brand new category is “Global Voices.”

“Performing Arts Houston has always brought artists from all around the world but this year we wanted to give a particular focus to global music,” explains Booth.

She notes that Houston was home to some large, multi-day music and especially world music festivals in the past that no longer exist. For some time now, they’ve contemplated ways to fill those music fest gaps.

“We really wanted to kind of bump out a focus on world music and program to that,” explains Booth, adding that this year they especially went looking for artists with that global reach.

Booth is particularly excited to kick off the new series by presenting the Aba Diop Trio as they embark on their first tour to bring their blend of West African sabar music fused with rock and jazz influences to the U.S. In October, PAH welcomes acclaimed “Queen of Mariachi,” Aida Cuevas. Then, Grammy winning sitarist Anoushka Shankar will perform new work from her most recent albums, mixing traditional Indian and modern electric music. The global journey also includes traditional Japanese drum ensemble Kodō for their latest show, Warabe. Big stars on the world music stages for decades, South African vocal ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo round out the series in April, 2025.

“All of that is really a representation of the extraordinary diversity that we have within our communities in Houston and making sure the work we put on stage is reflective of a diverse world and culture that we live in,” explains Booth.

While neither is technically part of the Global Voices series, two more examples of the diversity of their music offerings this season are the Houston Mariachi Festival in August, and the English choir Tenebrae for a special performance at The Church of St. John the Divine. This performance also highlights PAH’s flexibility in getting artists into venues that can best frame their art, in this case sacred choral music spanning five centuries sung within a church “where most of this music was created to be sung.”

The dance lineup this season also reflects that diversity of cultures and genres with artists and performers like Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández and Complexions Contemporary Ballet featuring new contemporary work choreographed to the music of U2. In September, the legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp and her new company of dancers return to PAH. “She is 80 years old, not slowing down at all, and continuing to create new work,” says Booth.

Then there are those multidisciplinary performances that defy categories all together like Counterpoint: Conrad Tao & Caleb Teicher, the collaboration between pianist and composer Tao and tap dancer and choreographer Teicher as they create new visions together of classic works from Bach’s Goldberg Variations to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Amid all the world class dance and music there’s a lineup of speakers including Jenna Bush Hager, Amor Towles, author of the bestselling A Gentleman in Moscow, Queer Eye star and fashion designer Tan France and long-time PAH favorite David Sedaris. For those audiences who think they’ve seen everything, those  are those wonderfully unclassifiable shows like Yippee Ki Yay, a one-man poetic reenactment of the film Die Hard and cabaret diva Meow Meow’s new show celebrating the “wild women” of the Weimar Republic.

And yet, Booth says there might be more to come, as other possibilities are still in the works to add to a season already defying constraints.