The Houston Symphony Wine Dinner & Collector's Auction held in February on stage at Jones Hall was one of 2020's last festive events. (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Stephen & Kelley Lubanko (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Nick & Beth Zdeblick (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Artists of Houston Ballet as Wilis in Stanton Welch's 'Giselle' Photo by Amitava Sarkar (2019), Courtesy of Houston Ballet
It’s a tough summer for Houston performing arts groups — a drought that began in March, when COVID-19 brought an end to gatherings of the kind that fill theaters. And the fallout continues.
In mid-June, the Houston Symphony reduced its full- and part-time staff from 83 to 62, a move that followed pay cuts in March. In late May, the Alley announced that it was reducing its schedule of eight plays to five as part of the effort to reduce the operating budget by 35 percent. That meant staff losses and salary cuts. Houston Grand Opera has suspended performances until April 2021. The losses and cuts are being felt across the Houston Theater District and beyond.
It’s a devastating time for those working in the performing arts — and a somber time for those who view these arts as an integral part of humanity and the cultural soul of the city.
In this fourth in a series about those who are going the extra length to help support the performing arts during this crisis, we visit with two couples who have a long history of supporting the city’s various arts groups.
Stephen & Kelley Lubanko
Kelley Lubanko and her bestie, Leigh Smith, have cut a glamorous swath across the city’s art scene — most notably for the Houston Ballet. Lubanko not only chaired the Ballet Ball with Smith in 2019, but she also serves on the Ballet’s executive committee. She and Smith will chair the ROCO Chamber Orchestra virtual gala in September. In addition, Lubanko and her husband, Stephen, are regulars on the gala scene, supporting a variety of organizations through their attendance.
She focuses on how these organizations are improvising in the time of social distancing:
“Our world-class Houston Ballet has provided multiple options for interaction on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, including open-to-the-public classes, glimpses into dancers’ home lives, and streaming broadcasts of performances in Brunch with Houston Ballet, a personal favorite,” Lubanko says. “There are enlightening interviews with the performers and staff, which have shown an entirely different facet of their stage glitz and glamour.
ROCC recently toured Houston giving socially distanced performances at supporters’ homes in a program called AmBRASSadors. Though the September gala will be held virtually, musicians will be ‘seated’ with supporters after the performance, allowing for fun interactions. ROCO has streamed its live performances free online since its inception, striving to be inclusive of a wide audience. Their past performances can be heard on YouTube.
“The performing arts are important as a way to explore our essence as people, individually and collectively,” Lubanko says. “By watching, they show what it means to be human, while providing a glimpse of the sublime. Performing arts build community. They foster beauty. They transform mundane into otherworldly.
“Houston is especially lucky to have so many excellent performing arts groups within our midst. It’s critical to keep this vital creative spirit alive, as the performing arts provide both transcendence and hope for us all.”
Nick & Beth Zdeblick
Coincidentally, the Zdeblicks are another duo deeply involved in Houston Ballet. They chaired the wildly successful 2020 Ballet Ball (earning $1.8 million before COVID-19 canceled all galas), and she serves as vice president of academy on the Houston Ballet Board of Trustees.
Due to her post with the ballet, Beth focuses on the challenges facing the Houston Ballet Academy.
“HBA has moved online to all virtual classes,” she tells PaperCity. “Once we realized COVID-19 was a huge problem, we needed to immediately move online and craft a plan so that we could continue training the dancers and maintain a key part of our revenue. We are continuing with virtual teaching this summer.
“I remain hopeful that we can return to classes at the Center for Dance in the fall. But we are in the same unfortunate position that schools are in, and we have no idea what the future brings with COVID-19.
“Outside of HBA, getting back into the theater for performances is a key focus right now at Houston Ballet. Two big challenges exist: the number of dancers that can be around each other at one time safely and social distancing in the Wortham and how to make that happen?
“The performing arts are where we gather to witness the greatness of our fellow Houstonians. In the case of Houston Ballet, the dancing, choreography, music and stage creations all put greatness right in front of our audience. Seeing excellence in others is what makes our city so welcoming, so it’s essential that these organizations navigate through the COVID disruption with the full support of the Houston community.
“We can’t wait for the Houston Ballet to resume performances. They will delight our audiences but also lift our entire city.”