Mildred’s Umbrella Theater joins nationwide reading of #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence

an upcoming project of Mildred’s Umbrella’s

Houston Arts Journal

Actors Juan Sebastian Cruz, Maya Monsavais, Alric Davis, and Chandler Kelly from Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company’s film of the short play “Rehearsal” by Willa Colleary / Photo by Sam Stengler

Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company is one of four Texas theater organizations – and one of more than 50 communities across the country – that will aim to raise awareness about gun violence through a national reading of #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence on April 20, 2022.

This year’s reading marks the 23rd anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting, which was among the first to ignite major discussions about school safety, access to firearms, and youth mental health.

Founded in 2019, #ENOUGH is a national playwrighting competition for teens to “confront gun violence by creating new works of theatre that will spark critical conversations and inspire meaningful action in communities across the country,” according to its website.

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What’s in a photo?

The cast of TOMORROW MORNING, by Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre Co. 2004

Sometimes a photo pops up on social media, and at first glance, it’s just a random photo of random people. To anyone who wasn’t there, that’s all it is; completely unremarkable. It’s a fairly boring photo of some attractive people sitting passively  and fairly expressionless, posing for a group photo. It almost looks like one of those school class photos from elementary school in the way it is laid out. 

However, if you were there, you might be transported to the moment of the photo. There are humans involved, and if you were there,  and in the photo, you know exactly what was going on with at least one of them.  

This photo was an early play done by my theatre company, Mildred’s Umbrella Theater. It was  an original play called TOMORROW MORNING. It was written by our playwright at the time, John Harvey (top left), with input by myself (in the jean jacket) and Greg Dean (down right). We had just had our first successful show a few months before, and we excitedly cranked out another one in a very tight window of time when we had the space again. 

The play was about a train taking a group of people to the Auschwitz museum, but they eat some drugged food and a wormhole opens in time , and they find that they are really going to a concentration camp.  Two of the actors were waiters who turned into Nazis at the end, and one was a singing angel on a separate platform that watched in horror as the events unfolded, and reacted in song.  The idea was really ambitious, and we didn’t have enough time or resources to fully realize the project, and it was kind of a mess when it opened. It had some really good moments, but we needed more time to make it what it deserved to be.  We learned a lot from that show. Here are some photos from the show. they aren’t the best. We were just learning to be digital at that point, but you can tell that the show was far more interesting than the cast photo.

If you just look at that cast photo with us in our street clothes, it looks like a passive cast photo, but there is so much going on when I look at it.   There are so many stories here. 

  1. I think I was coerced into sitting for this photo, and was really about to lose my mind trying to get the show up and not kill anyone. I was pissed off at everyone by about this time  (you can see the tension if you look closely). Not that it was anyone’s fault. I just was acting in the play, and producing the whole thing on a shoestring. Back then, I always ended up dealing with the set, and picking up slack in every area of the show, so I was super stressed out every time we opened anything. 
  1. A few  people in this picture don’t speak to each other anymore. There are 2 friendships and one romantic relationship here that ended  very tragically. 
  1.  There is one person in the photo that none of us talk to anymore. Several of us have that person blocked from our lives in every way.  
  1. Two of these people are now married to each other and living in Europe. I keep in touch with them. 
  1. One of these people now lives in New York, and another lives in Austin. I still talk to them online. 
  1. Of the ones who still live in Houston, I am still very close to two of them. I run into two of the others once in a while, and we say hello and remember each other fondly. 

When we are all gone, this photo will go back to being unremarkable. A photo like this means nothing if you weren’t there.  

Amy Warren!

This week in AWESOME WOMEN I KNOW…. Amy Warren!

She’s so pretty!

She’s a fabulous actress who has performed many times in Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company’s shows since we met. We played sisters in a show once, and it was one of my favorite shows ever.  

Amy and me in NIGHT OF THE GIANT

Also, sometimes it seems like we should be sisters. We both like white wine, all animals, and especially our chihuahuas. 

She’s an animal whisperer. They all come to her yard. (Here are a few of them. She also took these photos).

She’s also a really talented photographer:

Amy is also a teacher, and she always wins political arguments, because she keeps her cool, even with other people are losing their minds. This is a talent most people do not have, including me.

She’s rockstar, and I’m so happy to know her!

Courtney Lomelo!

I have had one of the busiest few months ever lately, so instead of an essay, I decided to do another episode of “Awesome women I know!” Today’s awesome friend is COURTNEY LOMELO!

Courtney is one of the coolest friends I’ve ever had. She’s like that one girl in high school that is gorgeous and popular, but still nice to you, even if you’re a dork, because she’s way too mature to be a mean girl. She’s one of those people that I can’t even believe is my friend sometimes, because she’s just so perfect.

This lady is a movie star AND a movie producer (proof! : https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5007481/) .

She is an anime star: https://animevoiceover.fandom.com/wiki/Courtney_Lomelo

She is a theatre actress of the highest caliber who has worked all over Houston, and she is the founder and producer in her own company, as well (https://www.facebook.com/gravityplayers).

She’s also one of the subjects of one of the best photos I’ve ever taken, which only happened because Courtney (and Arianna, pictured with her) is so cool. I felt like Linda McCartney after taking that photo.

Arianna Bermudez and Courtney Lomello in a limo.

She’s also one of the biggest advocates and rescuers of animals I’ve ever seen. She’s the Goddess of dog-saving.

I feel so lucky to know Courtney.

Dani Decker!

This week in “Awesome Women I Know”, I want to blog about my sister, Dani Decker! 

She’s 7 years younger than me, so I was grown long before she was, but now she’s a friend.

the two of us.. quite some time ago.

My sister has always been a person who knows her own mind, and goes for what she wants.  She’s smart, and she has a lot of sense when it comes to business, which is one of those things that isn’t in my skill set, so I admire that!

She and her husband, Tom, ran a retail energy efficiency business for a while, until they got so big their suppliers couldn’t keep up with them, so they decided to start manufacturing their own products. Soon after, their competitors started buying their products, too!  So, they  founded The Attic Depot, which they run with Tom’s brother, Tim. The Attic Depot offers solar attic ventilation and energy efficiency products to home improvement and service contractors. They are now too big for retail and have moved to wholesale, so they can supply other home improvement companies.  Dani wears many hats, serving as the Operations Manager, Human Resources,Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Customer Account Manager, and Shipping Manager. So she’s a ROCK STAR at running that business. 

Also… Solar power FTW!!! 

Ethan! She made him!

She is also the mom of my fabulous nephew, Ethan, who is a recent high school grad contemplating his future, and she has 2 happy, chubby, sweet pups, Lucky and Buster. 

us, more recently

We are often night and day about things, but I admire the things about her that are different from me. A sister is a built in forever friend, and I’m so glad I have mine!

BOSS LADY!

Sonja!

This month in Fabulous Women I know…. My high school friend, Sonja McKenzie! 

Sonja and I were in a gang of 5 girls in high school. Whatever you do, don’t judge our hair. It was the 80’s, and we were 15. It definitely could have been worse.

We were in the band, and she was a sophomore when I came in as a freshman, and she was super nice , so I lucked out having a friend that knew everyone already and knew how everything worked around there.  She graduated the year before me, and we lost touch. It was the 80’s, and there was no social media or email, so it happened

We reconnected a few years ago on social media, and she’s just as amazing now as she was then.  She is the mom of Four amazing, good looking and smart kids. She’s also worked for Dress for Success, Planned Parenthood and Urban Teens, because she’s the kind of person who wants to make the world a better place. 

Her gorgeous kids!

Nowadays she is an elected school board official, and just recently, she became the President elect of OSBA (Oregon School Board) and in 2023, she will be the first African American woman to serve as President of the Oregon School Board Association. 

I’m so proud of this lady, and so glad I still get to be her friend. She is a super hero! I hope I can see her again soon, and we can get a photo of us together now to add to this.

Arianna!

Since I haven’t blogged in a while, I thought I’d better do another FABULOUS WOMEN I KNOW Post to keep the dream alive.  Today, I want to tell the six people who read my blog about a fabulous friend of mine, Arianna Bermudez Case! 

I met Arianna in around 2012, when she did choreography for a show I was in. Shortly after, I cast her as the lead in one of our shows, CARNIVAL ROUND THE CENTRAL FIGURE. Since then, she has worked with Mildred’s Umbrella in several key acting roles, and she’s a very busy and popular actor all over Houston. She’s a fantastic actor, and she can also sing and dance, which makes her a superstar to me. 

In addition to this,she has a fancy job as an Executive assistant, which means she is super smart and organized. She’s on the board of the theatre now and proof reads all my press releases so I don’t mess up. 

Even though she is a superstar on stage and off, the most amazing thing about her is that she’s like a Disney princess. She always looks great. I have never seen her when she doesn’t look like a fashion plate. Also, we went on a group trip with some other ladies one time, and I shared a room with her in the Air B&B. I’m not lying. She wakes up in the morning looking like this: 

actual footage of Arianna in the morning.

She is an all around fabulous lady, and I just wanted to give her a shout out!! 

You’ll survive, sad girl.

I came across a picture of you online. You are the me of I2 years ago. You are standing in an art gallery, next to a carved, wooden horse, wearing your favorite blue dress with the seahorse embroidered on the skirt. You are there because you directed and produced a play in that art gallery. You are smiling, but you are miserable. You aren’t even really sure you will survive. I’m here to tell you that you will. Eventually. 

You started a theatre a few years before with nothing but dreams and fairy dust. It consumes you, but it never makes you full. You are the only constant, but nobody seems to see you. They only see the people you are putting in the light. You don’t want to kill it, so it’s killing you. You try to walk away, and people say,  ‘No! We need you’. You’re afraid that if you leave, you’ll have to leave behind your self-worth, which is tied to that theatre like a battered hostage. The money you work hard to raise pays everyone else, but there’s nothing left for you, so you also have to work in other places for money so you can live. Twice, you worked 48 hours straight with no sleep so a show could open on time. You once went seven years in a row with no vacation. 

Three months before this picture was taken, your marriage fell apart. One week before the photo was taken, a rebound relationship that you fell into in a panic crashed and burned, leaving you feeling like trash. You have friends, but you’ve been away from them so much working that they often forget to invite you anymore. You turn to unstable types that make a point to be where you are to get a piece of what you’ve created. They wear the faces of friends, and your head is such a mess, you can’t tell the difference. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to sometimes. When this photo was taken, a person you thought was a friend had just turned on you. She had sucked all the blood she could from you and found you not to be useful anymore. While you stand here smiling, she is tweeting about what garbage you are. You think she might be right. 

You are ashamed that you are falling apart, that you are spending all your time working or drinking wine alone That you lash out at people in messages That you cry almost every day. That you have wondered more than once if anyone would care if you just weren’t there anymore. You stay on that lonely island that you created because it seems like all you have, and if you leave it,  it will die. Or maybe you will die. Everyone else will go wherever they all go when they don’t need what you have to offer them there, and you will be stuck where you are, holding an empty bag. 

You need rest. You need help. You need therapy. There is no time for any of that. You are a wreck. 

I am here to tell you that it will get better. Not right away. You still have a few more pretend friends to deal with and a couple more shitty relationships, because all you really want is love and security, and you keep missing the mark. The universe will finally lead you to someone worthy, and you will marry him. Your real friends will forgive you for all the years you were crazy. They will welcome you back with open arms. Others will shut you out and never forgive you, but you don’t need those people. They think they are nicer than they actually are. 

You will never find a fairy godmother. You will never be fully appreciated for your sacrifice. But you will find a way to find your worth in other ways. You will find ways to make it not matter so much. 

I look at you, pretty, blue-dress girl, and I give you a hug in my mind. You are in the last days of your youth, and you can’t even enjoy it.  You have done something great, whether you or anyone else can see that you have.  I’d never want to be you again. You are a sad, lonely wreck. But you’ll be ok eventually. 

Christie Guidry!

To continue the AMAZING WOMEN I KNOW series… today, I want to shout out to my good friend, Christie Guidry!

Christie has been a company/staff member of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company since 2004. That’s when I met her.  It turns out, she’s a woman of many talents. She’s good at everything she tries.

She has acted in many shows with us, as well as other theatres in Houston. She also does films and commercials and voice acting, so she’s a very accomplished  working actress.

In addition, she is a professional photographer for the company she founded, Gentle Bear Photography. She has professionally photographed wildlife for the Alaskan Zoo and others, as well as promotional and archival photos for theatre productions, headshots, etc.

Christie taking Promo photos for Mildreds Umbrella’s THE DROWNING GIRLS

She is a huge animal lover, and used to be the Manager/Wolf keeper/handler at Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. She’s also into gardening, as a hobby, and shes good at that, too.

If that wasn’t enough, Christie owns her own business as a LuLaRoe Fashion Retailer, where she has enjoyed considerable success.

Also, she’s stunningly beautiful, smart and funny, a fabulous dog mom and one of the best people I know. I’m proud to count this accomplished woman among my closest friends. 

Kim Tobin-Lehl

Lately, I’ve been really distracted with everything going on in the world, as have most of us, I’m sure. I took a break from blogging, which probably made my 6 followers very sad, if they noticed at all. 

I decided to fire it back up today on a positive note with another installment of AMAZING WOMEN I KNOW.  Today’s amazing woman is a fellow Houston Artistic Director, Kim Tobin-Lehl. 

Kim is the co-founder/Executive Director and Artistic Director for 4th Wall Theater, here in Houston, TX. She’s an actor, director, manager . Basically an all-hats wearing lady who has worked extensively on the stages of Houston, Los Angeles and New York City.

On the stage at 4Th Wall Theater

She’s won a bunch of awards for her acting and directing work in Houston, including numerous Houston Press awards, and having worked with some of the world’s best teachers in acting and directing (including Stella Adler), she also runs her own acting studio, Kim Tobin Acting Studio, to share her knowledge with the artists here in Houston.

She’s also the friend I can vent to about how it is to be in charge of a theatre (particularly a woman in charge of a theatre), so we have to meet for lunch now and then and let off steam so we can both survive it. 

Kim, Luke, me and Carolyn in a play at Mildred’s Umbrella Theater (Kimberly Akimbo)

Also, she has a really nice and talented husband and the cutest dog ever. 

To learn more about her, go here: https://4thwalltheatreco.com/

For her acting Studio, go here: https://kimtobinactingstudio.com/

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