3617 Main Street
709 Berry Avenue
615 Texas Avenue
On October 7, 1945, Alley Theatre founder Nina Vance held a meeting, asking, “Do you want a new theater for Houston?” And the city did. For 75 years, the spirit of Alley Theatre has enriched the cultural life of all Houstonians.
Alley Theatre’s first home was a single, large room at 3617 Main Street, hidden at the end of a long alleyway. Serving as a dance studio by day, at night the room became a theatre in the round with 87 seats for Houston’s newest theatre company. But less than two years after its inaugural performance of The Sound of Hunting, it was time to find a more permanent home.
Nina Vance and the board located an abandoned fan factory at 709 Berry Avenue, just off Louisiana. It was from this boxy, unprepossessing building that Alley Theatre would transform into a 215-seat theatre in the round. Attracting and rewarding the city’s best young actors, artists and intellectuals, the quality of the work anticipated a real renaissance, still to come. On February 8, 1949, the Theatre was ready for the opening night performance of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour.
The theatre on Barry Avenue would see 151 productions over the next 29 years. During this period the theatre would earn a national reputation for the quality of its productions and the caliber of talent it employed. The Ford Foundation took notice and funded Alley’s acting company to become members of Actors Equity Association in the 1950’s. In the early ‘60’s, the Ford Foundation granted $2.1 million for a new home and $1.4 million to support the work. At the time this was the Ford Foundation’s largest grant to any theatre in America.
Construction on the new theatre began on August 10, 1966 with the dedication celebrated 26 months later on October 13, 1968. The new theatre complex at 615 Texas Avenue housed an 800-seat thrust theatre and 300 seat theatre in the round with administrative offices and shops for scenery, props, costumes and a rehearsal hall. By opening night, November 26, 1968, more than 20,000 subscriptions had been sold, and it seemed the entire city was on hand to watch. And the nation would follow.
The 1990s proved a successful decade for Alley Theatre under the artistic directorship of Gregory Boyd. In 1996, Alley Theatre won the Regional Theatre Tony Award® after producing the world premiere of Jekyll & Hyde which toured to 40 cities and ran for two years on Broadway. Also, in the 90’s Alley Theatre produced Angels in America by Tony Kushner and Robert Wilson’s Hamlet: A Monologue at the Venice Biennale. Following that success, the Theatre went on to produce Anthony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar starring Vanessa and Corin Redgrave. In 1998, Alley Theatre produced the American premiere of a lost Tennessee Williams play, Not About Nightingales, which went on to a successful Broadway run.
A decade later, in November 2002, Alley Theatre unveiled its new Center for Theatre Production. A five-story, 75,000-square-foot “theatre-making laboratory in the sky,” the Center is located fourteen stories above downtown Houston. One of the largest production facilities of any theatre in the United States, the Center includes spacious rooms with 56-foot ceilings for creating sets, costumes and props, three new rehearsal studios, Alley Theatre’s artistic, production and administrative offices, as well as a boardroom, staff cantina, script library, and archive.
In 2014-15, Alley Theatre Theatre underwent a major renovation to the Hubbard Theatre, creating an entirely state-of-the-art facility meant to rival the best halls in the world. Upon the return to the downtown location, the Theatre was fully transformed into a luxurious space to create the best in Houston theatre.
Today, Alley Theatre is the only major Houston performing arts company that owns its building. The building houses the Patricia Peckinpaugh Hubbard Theatre, which features a unique thrust stage, and seats 774, and the Hugo V. Neuhaus Stage, seating 296 and which can be configured as either a thrust stage or as an arena – a tribute to Nina Vance whose early productions were always performed with the audience on four sides.
In November of 2018, Rob Melrose was announced as the new Artistic Director and his first season would begin in Summer 2019. Melrose directed the wildly popular Murder on the Orient Express followed by the Shakespeare classic The Winter’s Tale. Later that season, in March 2020, Melrose directed a critically acclaimed adaptation of 1984 that was cut short, closing after 5 previews and one full performance, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proving once-again its resilience, Alley Theatre pivoted and created an all-digital, filmed season offered free to the community. Resident Acting Company members, from their homes, filmed productions ranging from adapted classics to new works by emerging playwrights. Live performances began October 1, 2021 with the kick-off of the 75th Anniversary Season.
Over the course of its first 75 years, Alley Theatre has grown, struggled, persevered, and triumphed. At times stretching its capabilities, it has always exceeded expectations. From its humble beginning in a dance studio to its current position of national and international prominence, Alley Theatre has made its downtown home a cultural nexus in Houston.