Campus and Community / Faculty and Staff

The Directors: New Talent Joins O’Kane Theatre

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In existence for 40 years, the O’Kane Theatre at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) was named for Harry W. O’Kane—former dean of students at South Texas College–whose namesake is also affixed to the O’Kane Gallery. From 1976 to 2016, the Theatre was helmed by Tom Lyttle.

Now, O’Kane is experiencing a resurgence of new talent and leadership. Enter stage right: Tim Klein, associate professor of drama and director of theatre; and Adam Spencer, technical director and lecturer—both now in their second semester at UHD.

Growing up in a household with school-teacher parents, Klein’s journey into education seems quite apropos. Teaching drama for about 20 years, the Buffalo, New York native was an actor in Los Angeles and Chicago after earning a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in dramatic art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He taught drama for eight years at Missouri Southern State University before coming to UHD in 2016.

As O’Kane’s director of theatre, he manages four lecturers and two adjunct lecturers; selects plays to be performed and their directors; assigns classes to theater faculty; and he also teaches two courses and directs plays.

After Klein’s first week at UHD, he hired Spencer.

Everything you see on stage before the actors step on stage is Spencer’s responsibility—from the set design to the color and placement of lighting to the way the set looks and its construction. The Nebraska native received a Bachelor of Arts in theatre at Chadron State College and an MFA in theatre at Illinois State University with a concentration in scenic design. After graduate school, he worked as technical director and set designer at Birmingham Children’s Theatre for two years and went on to join the Louisiana Tech University faculty as an instructor. Before joining Klein at UHD, he worked as a carpenter at Alley Theatre in Houston.

Meet the directors.

Childhood ambition?

Klein:  
I wanted to be a veterinarian, then a clinical psychologist. In fact, I went to undergrad for clinical psychology…and decided that I didn’t want to hear people’s problems for the rest of their lives or mine.
So I tried acting.

Spencer:
An architect, scientist or engineer, but I realized that it required a lot of math and school. Now, the joke’s on me, what I do know is a lot of math and the like.

Why theatre?

Klein:
I was a bad kid, all the time, in high school. After detention, me and my two buddies walked into an audition for Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water” to make fun of the kids auditioning. So, the director said, ‘If you think you’re so funny; why don’t you audition?’ We auditioned while making a big mockery of it. The director gave me the lead and my friends got the two other big leads. I’ve been loving it ever since…for the past 27 years.

Spencer:
Even though I went to college to be an actor; I discovered technical theater. I really enjoy how I can affect how people perceive a show without ever talking to them.

Indulgence?

Klein:   
Scotch. Straight or are on the rocks? “Yes.” And, I’m obsessed with sports…all sports.

Spencer: 
Video games. Favorite Game? League of Legends.

Favorite play?

Klein:
Shakespeare’s “Othello” and “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard

Spencer:
“Copenhagen” by Michael Frayn and “Ragtime”…especially the music.

Inspiration?

Klein:
I didn’t pursue theatre as an undergrad, but there was an English professor at the university who directed four shows a year for 35 years and he never got paid a cent. He did it because he loved it.

Spencer:
I’m reminded of a quote from American scenic designer, Robert Edmund Jones, “There is no more reason for a room on a stage to be a reproduction of an actual room than for an actor who plays the part of Napoleon to be Napoleon, or for an actor who plays death in the old morality play to be dead.” Theatre takes imagination and by placing everything on stage can actually takes away from the audience’s experience. The idea of stretching the audience’s imagination is by not giving them the full picture and only parts of it to invite and encourage the audience to fill in the blanks.

Proudest Moment?

Klein:
In 2007, I acted in more than 50 performances as Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  We received standing ovations after every performance before an audiences of more than 600.

Spencer:
One of the first students I ever taught is now graduating this year and has decided to attend graduate school for design.

Life’s Mantra?

Klein:
I’m very lucky to be here [at UHD].

Spencer:
Always be arriving. You’ve never completely done…always strive for better and new things every single day. Living in the moment.

For its first production of 2017, the Theatre will be presenting eight performances of “Proof,” at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 31, which will run through April 8. The play, by American playwright David Auburn, is the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play, is about the daughter of a brilliant, but mentally disturbed mathematician, who tries to come to grips with her possible inheritance—his insanity.

O’Kane Theatre’s Lunchtime Theatre performances will feature, “Group,” with a 1 p.m. curtain call on April 24- 27. The original play, written by Klein, centers around a group therapy session for people with anxiety.

For more about the O’Kane Theatre performances and ticket (only $5) information, call 713-226-5597.