Arts / Performing Arts

Houston’s Arts Leaders Reveal What They’re Reading and Streaming — an Intelligent Guide to Social Distancing

Suggestions That Will Make You Think — and Some That Will Make You Smile

BY // 04.01.20

With so much time on our hands (not to mention lack of sleep) during COVID-19 social distancing, I have turned from reading merely emails, Instagram, Vogue, and Town & Country to poring over crime stories and great writing. But I have had my fill of James Patterson, John Grisham, and the like. And James Joyce’s Portrait of a Lady, while beautifully written, is a bit of a slog for my ADD inclinations.

So I have turned to Houston arts leaders — people whom I respect both for their creativity and intelligence — and queried them about their reading adventures during this bizarre moment in the Earth’s history. I’ve also asked what they are watching.

Their interests provide some refreshing suggestions.

Patrick Summers, Houston Grand Opera artistic and musical director

“I’m spending a lot of time poring over HGO’s archives of telecasts and radio broadcasts, and while it has been nice to tour through our past, it has been heartbreaking not to be doing what we do best, which is to perform live right now. 

“I’m catching up on a lot of other reading and my own writing. I’m comfort reading, which means rereading books that have meant a great deal to me in the past — Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, which is probably the most influential book on my life, and Maynard Solomon’s Biography of Beethoven — and pulling things off the shelves by Jan Morris and Janet Frame, two writers I can never live without.”

Gary Tinterow, Museum of Fine Arts Houston director

He is currently reading three books:

Elizabeth Anthony

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OLYMPIA LE-TAN
EMILY P. WHEELER
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KATHERINE JETTER
MEREDITH YOUNG
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Metropolitan Stories by Chris Coulson, which Tinterow describes as “A charming set of fairy-tale-like vignettes that depict the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, that I knew and loved for 30 years in the Before Times.”

Chopin’s Piano by Paul Kildea: “A fascinating detective story that follows one of Chopin’s pianos for more than a century, through harrowing episodes in Nazi Germany, and starring an unsung hero — unsung except to harpsichordists such as myself — Wanda Landowska.”

Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel: “Sex, lies and great paintings. Tales of the intersecting lives of the extraordinary women (Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, etc.) who were a vital creative force in the New York School after World War II.”

Tinterow is currently watching My Brilliant Friend, The Plot Against America, Babylon Berlin, Homeland, Frontline, “and, for fun, old episodes of Seinfield and Veep.”

My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend is even more intense in its second season.

Kenn McLaughlin, Stages artistic director

“Reading is my calm escape place, and so I’ve been reading like a fiend every night. Books: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson; The Hope of Glory by Jon Meacham; Mengele by David Marwell; One Day by Gene Weingarten; Supreme Inequity by Adam Cohen; Dunkirk; Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson; Dark Towers; Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump and an Epic Trail of Destruction by David Enrich.

“Plays: Mother of the Maid by Jane Anderson; The Last Wide Open by Audrey Cefaly; Tiny Beautiful Things by Nia Vardalos; Queen of the Mist by Michael John LaChiusa.

“I’m not much for television watching. The only things I’ve seen are a Hungarian film called 1945 (loved it!), and I’ve started season two of Babylon Berlin. I’m faithfully watching the final season of Homeland, with each new episode first thing Sunday mornings!”

Rob Melrose, Alley Theatre artistic director

“I’m steeping myself in all things Venice while I’m using this time to translate Carlo Goldoni’s 17th-century commedia dell’arteclassic The Servant of Two Masters. I’m reading The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt and Pinocchio in Venice by Robert Coover. I’m also reading short stories by Edgar Alan Poe, Agatha Christie, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as Shakespeare’s Sonnets to get ready for a program we are launching called Alley@Home where the Alley’s Resident Acting Company will read thrilling stories and beautiful poetry virtually, since we had to cancel the remainder of our season and our Summer Chills offering.”

“For TV and movies, I’m so excited that so many theaters are streaming their work. We just released our production of 1984 and I’m excited to see the National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors this week. My guilty cable pleasure is Better Call Saul because the acting is so good!”

Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul details the time before Breaking Bad.

Alecia Lawyer, Founder, artistic director and principal oboist, ROCO

“I am so focused on repurposing ROCO’s own 15 years of online content that I have to make myself stop and look outward!

“At night, with our teenager and college kid home constantly, we have all gone through the Harry Potters and the Star Wars. They get annoyed about this, because I am such a huge Star Wars fan that I quote the movie the whole time!

“I seem to be too restless to read, but I did try to restart the whole 10-book series Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, though that is probably too ambitious, and I should start with something easier to digest right now.

“I also downloaded all of the Friends episodes. We were out of the country for some of those years, and I missed entire seasons of it. Seems perfect right now! Light and silly and makes me laugh.”

Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet artistic director

“I’m reading David Sedaris’ Calypso: Sedaris is a very funny author, and the book is delightful. And I recently watched Jojo Rabbit. It’s a very unique story told in a fantastic original way.”

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