As published in April 2011 issue of Arts & Culture Magazine: Meet Tre Garrett, Jubilee Theatre’s new artistic director. He’s a short, stocky man with a direct gaze and firm handshake. His gregarious laugh echoes like it wells up from a deep spring.
He may be only 30 years old, but he’s packed a lifetime of experience into the past decade. He says he feels like he’s been riding along on a fast train. Spend an hour or two with him, you’ll swear it’s high-speed rail, instead.
A native Houstonian and the second child in a large working class family, Garrett claims he was “so talkative and social” in school it would get him into trouble, in spite of the good grades he earned. Margo Ellen Gillman, his middle school drama teacher, recognized his raw talent and helped him funnel his creative energy into performing. His first role was as Harker in Dracula; it gave him his calling. Gillman coached him for the highly competitive audition to attend Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. “There I was given the tools of my craft, confidence, respect for the arts,” he explains. In spite of the fact that no one else in his family had even considered college, Garrett pursued his artistic dream at the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts, where he earned a BFA in Directing. He then went on to garner an MFA in Directing, focusing on film, from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, known as “the art school of arts schools”. Garrett tread the path to directing through play-writing, after winning awards from the NAACP ACT-So Program and the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, “I loved acting but I also found a great love for writing. It was in wanting to see the plays staged that I was bit by the directing bug, and I haven’t looked back since.” At The University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he studied with Obie award-winner Gerald Freedman, former Yale and Juilliard professor and long-time artistic director of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, the first American artist ever invited to direct at London’s Globe Theater. Garrett describes him as, “a brilliant artist and an amazing man, who taught me everything I know about directing.”
The combination of fine-tuning multi-faceted talents and skills with superior mentorship has opened many doors. Garrett was honored as a Kennan Fellow at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC from 2004 – 2005, where he developed new works through staged readings and assisted in national Kennedy Center shows and tours. From there he developed an impressive resume of regional directing credits, including serving as assistant director for Denzel Wahington’s Broadway production of Julius Caesar. In 2005, Walt Disney Productions hired him to direct over 150 productions, from live entertainment to videos. But the creative possibilities of live theatre beckoned. “Even with the amazing experience of being a director for Disney, I was still being pulled towards the theatre. So I went back out on the road, directing plays, concerts and even an opera.”
Jubilee Theatre sought him out as an artistic director candidate and eventually selected him from a competitive field. Garrett considers it a “dream artistic position” that he is honored to fill. He says, “I believe in the healing and teaching power of the live theatre experience, in the ability of theatre to bring people together, to share our stories, pass on our traditions and provide cathartic and emotional release. I intend to be true to these beliefs as I select shows, work with artists and embrace the future of the theatre. I will honor Jubilee’s distinguished past by selecting work and providing programs that will give Jubilee a distinguished future.”
Garrett’s directorial debut at Jubilee Theatre takes place this coming summer when he directs Once On This Island, an atypical musical he describes as a light-hearted 1990 classic with juicy singing roles. He considers it the perfect way to introduce himself to the wider community. Highly accessible for all audiences, it’s based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”. He exudes enthusiasm in discussing the upcoming season he has selected, with each show chosen to reflect specific themes: “cultural, traditional, historic, contemporary and challenging.”
He opens the season with “a volcano about to erupt”: Suzan-Lori Parks’ 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning drama about two brothers, Topdog/Underdog. Topical and edgy, it honors the issues and values of youth culture and should appeal to an intelligent, erudite audience. “It’s not your granny’s theatre.”
A Pure Gospel Christmas follows with playwright David Tobin coming from Europe to direct. Garrett considers this a strong, fresh holiday show for that traditional niche, with music ranging from Broadway tunes to Gospel to Bob Marley. It’s a show that will nurture Jubilee Theatre’s audiences’ holiday spirit with song and celebration.
Filling the historic niche and touring to FWISD schools after its initial run, Charlayne Woodard’s one woman Pretty Fire is a coming of age tale portrayed through five autobiographical vignettes. It deals with prejudice, racism’s impact and the loss of innocence. “What are we doing to our children and how do our actions affect them?”
The Langston Hughes gospel music classic Tambourines to Glory follows next. It was written in 1956 with a 1963 Broadway debut; Garrett says it was considered controversial for its era due to its frank examination of hypocrisy and corruption in religion, couched in Hughes’ inspired, transformative language. A contemporary Texas premiere follows, in partnership with Houston’s Ensemble Theatre . Broke-ology, by the dynamic, young playwright Nathan Louis Jackson, concerns the challenges of an aging population and the younger generation’s members who become caretakers. The final production of Garrett’s inaugural season with be a diversity cast production of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 relationship musical “Company!”, which Garrett feels will allow him to incorporate the fabulous singing voices throughout the region’s artistic community.
In addition, Jubilee Theatre will sponsor a New Works Playwrights Festival under Garrett’s leadership, with full-length scripts now being solicited for consideration, critical feedback and possible staged reading. Starting April 4, he will conduct acting classes for anyone age 15 and up, on the first and third Mondays of each month. Busy, exciting times for Jubilee Theatre and its new artistic director.
Tre Garrett reminisces about meeting Sydney Poitier while assistant directing Julius Caesar at the Kennedy Center. Poitier complimented him on the depth of his early career resume, and Garrett wondered out loud if that fast train he was riding just might halt abruptly. Poitier reminded him that “some of us are on trains that don’t stop”, urging him to never let fear of failure become greater than his faith in success. Tre Garrett’s leadership and commitment to Jubilee Theatre, honoring the proven traditions of founding director Rudy Eastman while branching out into new creative ventures, reflects his faith in the success he envisions.
Check out the season and get involved — http://www.jubileetheatre.org
Ben Brantley’s 2005 NYTImes review of Denzel Washington’s Julius Caesar: http://theater.nytimes.com/2005/04/04/theater/reviews/04caes.html?pagewanted=1