Houston’s Rec Room Arts Wants to Bring Us Together

Rec Room Art’s Artistic Director Matt Hune says that building a theater season is like creating an album: each play makes up a story that flows through the year. This year, Rec Room’s season-long story explores the dynamics that bring people together and pull them apart. Beyond that, Hune wants to explore what Rec Room can offer beyond seeing a show.

“I want them to have a whole experience: from walking out of their car, stepping into the space, and leaving. I’m always interested in how the play is in conversation with the space. I’m a really strong believer that companies need a strong identity to develop trust with audiences. Even though there is variety in the programming, I’m interested in creating a more cohesive conversation.”

Rec Room’s 2024 season started off with King James, but it’s not about the king you might be thinking of. Written by Rajiv Joseph and directed by Philip Kershaw, King James follows the friendship of two men, using the career of basketball star LeBron James to chart the course.

“LeBron doesn’t necessarily make an appearance,” Hune explains. “It’s really using sports as a way to talk about friendship and how ultimately these guys express love for each other. I was super interested in how we, outside of romantic relationships, express love to friends. Lately I have been finding the male experience really interesting—what it means to be a man, what it means to be friends with a man.”

In June, Rec Room will open Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, directed by Associate Artistic Director Sophia Watt. Betrayal is a play about a love triangle and is one of Pinter’s “memory plays.” Betrayal offers thoughts on Rec Room’s seasonal theme, exploring what brings us together, pulls us apart, and how we come together in the middle. It’s an ominous play, but these are ominous times we live in.

In the fall, Hune will direct Spring Awakening by Steven Sater. Rec Room has produced plenty of shows with music involved (the Dead Rock Star shows, Rite of Spring) but this is the first proper musical for the company. “The subject matter is pretty relevant and speaks to modern generations and the tension between the generations,” Hune says. “It gets political without being overtly political, which interests me. And the music is just good.”

Mounting a musical in a smaller space provides just one of many challenges, but Hune says those challenges are why people want to engage with Rec Room. “Physical limitations do come into play. What happens if it doesn’t fit? Let’s see what happens if we program a play that doesn’t actually fit in the space. It gets us to work more creatively…We’re asking for artists and audiences to put in more work that, we hope, ultimately pays off.”

The final show of Rec Room’s season is Winter Solstice by Roland Schimmelpfennig, directed by Bradley Michalakis. Winter Solstice is a new play from Germany about Christmas dinner and fascism—a dark comedy, emphasis on the dark. It will be a compelling alternative to people wanting a play during the holiday season that challenges our notions of festivity.

Hune emphasizes that the making of Rec Room’s season is a team effort. “It often feels like family here,” he says. “We do bring in new artists. But it’s always great to further the depth of collaboration with someone. Makes it easier.” Watt proposed Winter Solstice and Stefan Azizi, Rec Room’s Executive Director, also serves as Director of Design. “We couldn’t do what we do the way we do it without his work. He can take this 1800 square foot space and transform it each time. Every show, I am more in awe of what he does. I love seeing people’s expressions when they walk in the room, not realizing our space could do that.” Houston theater veterans like Robert Leslie Meek and Leah Smith will return in various design roles throughout the season.

Rec Room’s 2024 season offers something for lovers of good theater:  an award winning musical, dark comedy, introspection, and basketball. And it does it all from a 60-seat space where you can have a drink with your pals afterward. Maybe you can talk about the ups and downs of your day, how your friendships have changed over the years, the game that was on last night. Whatever you talk about, you will be doing it together, and part of the reason you will be doing it is because of Rec Room Arts.