Bender Arts Center is looking forward to a bright future in entertainment


After months of home confinement where entertainment options largely consisted of hours of Netflix series and home repair shows, fans of the live theater production are stepping out again and enjoying in-person performances in one. of Houston’s northernmost neighborhoods. dynamic and attractive places.

The Charles Bender Performing Arts Center in downtown Humble offers a full program of entertainment options for fall 2021, including an intimate evening with a beloved author, a showcase of song and dance with a rowdy crowd of young newspaper vendors and a holiday program featuring a well-known contemporary Christian gospel singer, supported by a full orchestra.

“We bring entertainment from all over the country and we have a full season,” said Jennifer Wooden, director of the Bender Theater and the Humble Civic Center. The centre’s entertainment offerings include the presentation of one or two unique shows each month, as well as the rental of the hall to other theater companies, which stage their own productions.

Built as a school in 1929 as a High School in Humble, the historic building that now houses the Arts Center also served as the college and administrative building of Humble ISD. In 2011, Humble ISD transferred the building to the Town of Humble, who restored it and transformed it into its current configuration as a performing arts center with a 350-seat theater. Scott Brady, a Humble ISD graduate, was the architect of the renovation project.

The modest-sized theater auditorium has some of the best acoustics of any entertainment venue in the greater Houston area, Wooden said. “It’s a beautiful theater. We are very proud that the town of Humble has chosen to offer it as a performing arts venue for our townWood said.

Pandemic shutdown

Like every other entertainment venue across the country, the global COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the Bender Center, forcing the theater to close for months, starting in March 2020. Since then, the theater has gradually staged its reopening to welcome customers, while instituting strict health protocols to thwart the spread of the deadly virus, Wooden said.

The spirit that led the performing arts center to reopen despite the lingering threat of coronavirus is reflected in a sign on the doors, which reads: “Impossible is un-American.”

Although the theater did not host its own shows for about a year, it began renting the hall to allow other theater companies to present their own productions to a 50% crowd in the spring of 2021. Wooden said in order to attract the business, the Bender center offered these groups additional rental time to accommodate the limited number of spectators per show and took additional sanitation measures in the theater.

“What would generally be a show, we proposed to split it in half,” Wooden said. “We did extra cleaning; we cleaned up the staff throughout the event and had it cleaned in between. We also installed hand sanitizers throughout the building and left all doors open to reduce contact with common surfaces.

In July, the performing arts center presented the first of its own shows in over a year, still limiting audiences to 50 percent of capacity. It’s like that Dueling pianos with musicians Brian Holland and Carl Sonny Leyland on piano, and Danny Coots on drums, playing favorite pieces of American pop music from the first half of the 20th century. Over the summer, the center opened its performances, allowing the public to attend at full capacity.

“Now that many people are vaccinated, a large part of our public is vaccinated, we sell out, with recommended masks,” Wooden said.

Yet despite opening the theater to full capacity, initial audience attendance for the first performances was significantly down from pre-pandemic levels. “Shows have always sold 50-60%,” Wood observed.

She said attendance numbers have been steadily increasing with each successive show, starting with a performance by a Beatles tribute band in August. At the beginning of September, a tribute to George Strait “still did not sell 100%, but it was a much more complete theater”.

As the fall season approaches, the Performing Arts Center offers a wide variety of entertainment choices, designed to appeal to the tastes of theatergoers.

During two weekends in September, the theater programmed a presentation of The Megaphone of God: a visit with CS Lewis, a production of the Texas Repertory Theater. Steven Fenley, actor and artistic director of the theater company, will play Lewis, the Cambridge gift and bestselling Christian author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and other classics of Christian literature. The show will run until September 26.

“It’s a great show,” said Marinell Mendoza, Texas Repertory Theaterco-founder and director of development. At the end of the show, Fenley invites the audience to participate in a question-and-answer session.

“People who are CS Lewis fans really come for the show,” Mendoza said. “I even saw where the audience portion lasted longer than the production itself.”

Next in its fall lineup, the Performing Arts Center will welcome author, inspirational speaker and classical pianist Jade Simmons. “We are delighted that the Fort Bend Piano Company is allowing us to bring the Yamaha grand piano, which I have been informed is generally reserved for John Legend and Alicia Keys,” Wooden said.

From October 29 to November 7, the theater will present the catchy musical News, based on the 1992 Disney film. Newsies tells the story of a gang of street-hawking teenage newspaper hawkers at the turn of the century in New York City who strike against unfair working conditions imposed on them by greedy bosses. companies.

In mid-November, audiences will be treated to the Texas Repertory Theater production of Driving Miss Daisy, the uplifting story of friendship that develops between an elderly Jewish woman and her driver as they face the racial and religious prejudices of the Jim Crow South together.

On December 11, the arts center will host the City of Humble Holiday Concert, featuring gospel singer Vicki Yohe, supported by a full orchestra and choir.

Neighborhood setting, world-class talent

Wood said new visitors to the performing arts center were in awe of the wide range of offerings at the theater as well as the level of talent of the performers.

“It’s a reaction I find every time I greet a guest or bid them farewell as they leave,” she said. “They say,” We had no idea that this quality of theatrical entertainment was here at Humble. “”

The Performing Arts Center also serves as a magnet, drawing tourists to visit the small town northeast of Houston, the historic home of much of Texas’ oil industry.

“We bring entertainment from all over the country, and we have people from all over coming for the shows,” Wooden said. She said people traveling to Houston from other parts of the country often rearrange their arrival dates to be able to attend a show in Bender.

Mendoza said the Texas Repertory Company looks forward to continuing their collaboration with the Bender Theater next year and has already tentatively scheduled a production for next February or March. “It’s such a beautiful installation,” she said.