We had the good fortune of connecting with Jennifer Decker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jennifer, let’s talk legacy – what do you want yours to be?
I want my legacy to be in the form of successful artists who have gotten their early opportunities from me and my theater company, Mildred’s Umbrella Theater. I would like people who have worked with me in my theatre to become successful, realize their dreams and remember me for providing them with a place to create and grow.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I founded Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company in 2001, and we’ve evolved into a theatre that produces edgy, new work with a mission to support women in the arts. We produce mostly plays by women, or plays that have female protagonists or ensembles, and we provide opportunities for female directors, actors and designers. Before I started the company, I was an actor. I started the company with a playwright friend, and became a director and producer by necessity. We had about $500 of our own money, a script and a handful of actors who were wiling to take the risk with us. We are still challenged as far as funding, because we have never had any major benefactors, so our budget is still very small, but we have been nominated for and won quite a few awards, including the Houston Press Theatre awards, and an award from the American Theatre Wing. We are now doing full seasons of theater, and maintaining with small donations and grants. We have been called the ‘little company that could’, due to our ability to roll with the punches and stay relevant and vibrant, even on the shoestring budget and skeleton staff we’ve always had. We champion female artists, and we present challenging, thought provoking work that engages a diverse group of artists and patrons alike. Obviously, right now we are dealing with the inability to present live theatre due to Covid-19, but we are trying to keep engaged with our patrons by presenting performances in various digital formats.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, lets pretend it’s normal times and we can actually go places. Right now, everything is on lockdown, but normally, I’d say you can’t miss the Menil, and there is often something really interesting going on at the Contemporary Arts Museum, so those would be on the list for visual art. Have some breakfast or lunch at Empire Cafe in Montrose. It’s been there forever, so it’s a part of the old Montrose, but it has the best salads and cakes, so it has survived the gentrification. In the Heights, there are a ton of new things, but I still prefer Onion Creek, which is a cafe by day, and a bar by night with a huge outdoor seating area. Both of those have parking lots, which is also a bonus. For theatre, it depends on what is playing. People know about The Alley, but they should check out some of the smaller theatres, like Mildred’s Umbrella, of course, as well as The Classical Theater, 4th Wall Theatre, Landing Theatre and Catastrophic. Stages also has a new, fabulous space, Main Street Theatre and the Ensemble are mid-size theatres that are always great. I’d tell them just to check the listings and check some of them out. For live music, The Heights Theatre usually has something good. For dinner restaurants, if you want some authentic Asian food, check out the Chinatown area. My two favorites over there are Hokkaido Sushi and Pine Forest Garden, which is a Vegan Buffet. If you want to be a little fancier, I love Prego and Backstreet Cafe.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My theatre company, Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company is dedicated to supporting and promoting women in the theatre arts. All of the artists who work with our company, our board members and our patrons deserve credit in my story for the success of that little theatre.
Gentle Bear Photography Anthony Rathbun Dave Snook