THE ENSEMBLE THEATRE 2000 - 2001 SEASON
OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION AND SUBSCRIPTION PARTY
September 21, 2000, Thursday
by Theresa Hyde
(L-R) Karey Statin, Wilma Barnett, Deborah Wilson, BeBe Wilson, Director Kelley Dianne Smith and the Director's proud mother Dianne Smith
Melissa Cross and I walked into The Ensemble Theatres grand, spacious lobby surveying the much talked about $4 million
dollar renovation to this theatre facility. My eyes and ears were greeted by the magnificent flower arrangement that adorned
the Hors doeuvres buffet spread and the soothing jazz music by the Joe Carmouche band. The Ensemble Theatres
Marketing / Audience Developer, Mr. Wilbert O. Taylor, Jr. gave us a tour of the 4 different spaces of the Art building,
which included the George Hawkins Theatre and the Audrey H. Lawson Arena Theatre. Mr. Taylor explained that the
spaces were named after the founding pioneers of the awe-inspiring theatre. I asked him how he got involved in theatre and
he stated that being an architect himself, it is in his opinion that Art, Theatre, and Architecture, they all go together.
Opening Night Reception, Thursday September 21, 2000 Featuring Jazz by Joe Carmouche
After making my selection of Chardonnay wine for tonights beverage, my eyes sampled the first class buffet table. The
delicious smell of perfectly seasoned rice wafted through my nose. I definitely had to find out who is responsible for this. In
keeping up with The Old Settlers Two Sister theme for the evening, I met two sisters whose names are Renee and Cynthia
Ferrell. They run The Bennie Ferrell Catering Company together, which was founded in 1959 and is named after their father.
They have provided catering service to the President of the United States and they are the creators of the 24 Karat Gold
Covered Truffle. I asked her for a brief description on whats for dinner tonight.
Wine and Hors d'oeuvres' Reception
Theresa: The buffet looks delicious. What a beautiful presentation........
Renee: We wanted to create something that was warm and inviting for the Opening Night Reception of The Ensemble
Theatres The Old Settler. We wanted to put some comfort foods in there. But also, kinda stretch the imagination to make it
interesting. So we have the pecan smoked sirloin, served with the home made rolls and condiments. We have a vegetable
tempura with the ginger sauce. We also have the salmon mousse, international cheese and fruit fresh vegetable tray and we
have a crab manier. Its a real good dish that is spiced with a little wine. Basically, its fun types of foods. For drinks, we are
serving Chardonnay, Cokes and assorted beverages. Thats what we wanted to create for the Opening Night of the First
Event of the Season. So, we are all excited about the New Season. We work exclusively with the Ensemble Theatre and we
do all the events here. We keep everything light and lovely and beautiful like the Theatre.
(L-R) Renee and Cynthia Ferrell of Bennie Ferrell Catering
Theresa: Do you cook all the food?
Renee: (laughs) No, I dont cook all the food, but theyre my familys recipes. My sister, Cynthia Ferrell is the executive chef
and we have a staff of great, wonderful cooks and chefs in our kitchen. And they prepare all the foods.
Theresa: Thank you very much. It looks great and its very appetizing.
Bennie Ferrell Catering
Catering Service Location: 5100 Westheimer, Suite 200 Houston, Texas 77056
Kitchen Location: 4141 Hollister (at Clay in Spring Branch) Houston, Texas 77080
INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
FOR THE ENSEMBLE THEATRE, MS. ARGENTINA JAMES
September 21, 2000, Thursday
By Theresa Hyde
President of the Board of Directors of The Ensemble Theatre Ms. Argentina James
Founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins, The Ensemble Theatre is one of the oldest and most distinguished professional
theatres in the southwestern U.S. devoted to the African American experience. From its humble beginnings as a touring
company, The Ensemble now boasts a main stage auditorium with seating for 200, an arena stage that seats 150, and a grand
performance hall that accommodates 500. The Ensemble presents a full season of classic and contemporary African American
works by local and national playwrights and artists. In addition, The Ensemble provides educational community outreach
through its touring company and Young Performers Program.
I had the most wonderful opportunity to interview the President of the Board of Ensemble Theatre, Ms. Argentina James The
interview was conducted in the Green Room where on the wall hung a picture of the old Ensemble Theatre on Taum Street
and of the founder and visionary, the late George C. Hawkins.
Theresa: Congratulations on the beautiful Theatre and the New Season!
Argentina James: Thank you.
Theresa: Who makes the decisions for the New Season?
Argentina James: The Artistic Director does. The Programming Committee made those decisions for this year. We are in
absence of an Artistic Director, which we hope to have filled by January, 2001.
Theresa: You look too young to be a President of the Board (laughs).
Argentina James: 35 (laughs).
Theresa: Are you from Houston, originally?
Argentina James: No, Im from Chicago. I came to Houston to attend College at Texas Southern University, I majored in
undergraduate in Journalism and I received a Masters in Speech Communication, both from Texas Southern University. I fell
in love and stayed here with my husband and the city. Ive lived here since 1984.
Theresa: How did you get involved with Ensemble Theatre and theatre in general?
Argentina James: Actually, my role with the theatre is more in a fund development, as a Board. How I became involved with
Ensemble Theatre is when I attended a play as a college student and supported it from a patron. And as I grew to know the
theatre better, I then began to subscribe. I got involved with the Ensemble Theatre from a board perspective and from a
volunteer perspective with the Gala five years ago when we brought Lou Gossett Jr. here and he did a performance as a fund
raiser for the theatre. And Ive been involved with the Board from that point on. And its been about seven years.
Actor and Director Louis Gossett, Jr. (center), with Robert Townsend (L) and Andre Braugher (R)
Theresa: Were you involved in the renovation of the new theatre? What was the old theatre like?
Argentina James: Theres a picture of what the Ensemble Theatre looked like 24 years ago on Taum Street. And that was the
size of it, it was an old computer facility. George Hawkins, who is the founder (thats a picture of him), he had the vision for
the theatre. He wanted to provide a place for African American Artists to display their talent and have a place for their work,
because there was not a venue prior to the Ensemble Theatre for that to happen. And we were there and we outgrew that
facility. George Hawkins moved here and this used to be an old car dealership and he had a vision that this could be a
Entrance to the GEORGE HAWKINS THEATRE at The Ensemble Theatre
He died in 1990 and we won the Audelco Award five years later to have a theatre to survive the founder, a major
accomplishment. Then, to be able to build and renovate the theatre to a $4.5 million dollar state-of-the-art facility is another
major accomplishment. And that Capital Campaign was led under the previous President of the Board, which is Audrey
Lawson. She is the President Emeritus. She led the fund raising for the Capital Campaign. She and many other people who
were involved in other Corporations, etc. And we raised the money over a two year period and we renovated this theatre.
We essentially gutted it out and started all over again. Now we have a main stage, George Hawkins. We have an Audrey
Lawson Arena. And a performance center in the back. With a total capacity of seating of about a thousand, if you add all
three spaces together. And then we have the facility. One of the things that we wanted to do with this facility was to have
many purposes and uses for it. In the front, having receptions, having a theatre, having an important theatre with the Audrey
Lawson Arena and having larger performances in the back. We had a fund raiser in August, 2000 with Kurt Whalem as the
featured entertainer and we raised $270,000 for the theatre.
Theresa: Is this your full time occupation?
Argentina James: This is volunteer work, I do not get paid. Besides being a mom of 2 and a wife, I have a 15-month old son
and a 4-year old daughter (my namesake Argentina), I have a full time job. Im Vice President of Corporate Affairs for
Sterling Bank, which is a bank here in Houston.
Theresa: Wow, a banker. So, you started in the old Ensemble Theatre.....
Argentina James: Actually, I came on to the theatre when we were in this facility. I was not part of the theatre in terms of the
Board, when we were in Taum. I became a part of the Theatre when we were here right before we began our Capital
Campaign. And Ive been on that Board since that time.
(L-R) Melissa Cross, Ensemble Theatre Marketing Developer Mr. Wilbert O. Taylor, Jr., and Full Season Gold Subscriber
Theresa: What are the biggest challenges in making George Hawkins vision happen?
Argentina James: This Theatre has a budget of $1.2 million dollars every year. We went from Taum Street of $50,000 a year
to $1.2 million dollars a year over a 25 year period. The challenges with all Art venues is to get Corporations to donate to
support the Arts. As you know, the National Endowments and the Foundations have not received federal funding as they have
and those dollars have shrank. The challenge is getting the Corporate donations, providing a season that will enable you to
attract the patrons, the subscribers. And thats what this Subscription Drive and Opening Night Celebration is all about. And
were pleased to have about 150 people on a Thursday rainy night (laughs).
Theresa: (laughs) Thats right. But we have complimentary valet parking.
Argentina: So the challenge that I see is 1) The Ensemble Theatre is the only venue that has 6 full productions a year by
national and local playwrights that are primarily for African Americans. They can go to the Alley, maybe there might be one or
two productions on stage. You know, theres just not enough work for them. So were providing a venue. 2) We have a
Young Performers Program to cultivate young actors to get the interest in the support of the Arts. We also have a touring
program, which we take the Art outside of the four walls of the Ensemble Theatre and that is a way to market the theatre,
bring the kids, bring the group that we go on tour with, back into the theatre.
Theresa: Different High Schools in the Houston area?
Argentina: They go wherever theres a venue that they are asked to come, where they can do a presentation.
Theresa: Congratulations, this is such a huge success story.
Argentina: Yeah, were proud of it. We have 43 Board Members, we have everyone from the city attorney to a retired
educator. So we have a good balance of the Board which represents all facets of industry. Theyre all volunteers. In fact the
Director Level Board Members are required to raise $10,000 and the Trustee levels are required to raise $2,500 and we only
have a 2% attrition rate of our board members. So that meant that everybody met their commitments.
Theresa: Is your family involved in the theatre as well?
Argentina: Theyre so involved (laughs), theyre very much involved. They support me to be involved. They enable me to be
involved. My husband has seen every production (laughs), everything. He lives in the Ensemble Theatre, as I do. The Young
Performers Program is year-round where we have Fall, Summer and Spring productions. Where the kids come in, and they
actually learn from professional artists. How to mount a production, how to act, stage discipline, etc., all of that culminate into
a Finale production.
(L-R) Scenic Design Consultant James Thomas, Marketing Developer Wilbert O. Taylor Jr., and Production Manager Meredith McCrory
Theresa: I think its great, and the kids can feel comfortable and share the African American experience in their own
Argentina: The wonderful thing about it is, the Ensemble Theatre was George Hawkins vision, to create a place so that we
can tell our story. Our story relates to all cultures. We are sharing with the audience our experience, but I think, applies to all
ethnicities. You can identify with whats going on. Were just telling it our way, through our experience.
Theresa: What would you like to say to the Houston Theatre going public?
Argentina: I would just like to share with the Theatre world and with Houston, in general that the Ensemble Theatre is a
crowning jewel for the city. We are in the midst of mid-town, a part of Downtown, which is about to become great, within the
next 5 years. We are on the cutting edge, we have a whole lot to offer. We want to share it with this world.