It’s difficult to accurately describe the Vagabond Theatre Project without talking to two of the founders — juniors Artistic Director Caleb Travis and Dramaturge Matthew Padora. As entrepreneurs in the field of theatre, they’ve experienced the humble beginnings of their project and can speculate on its success after graduation.
“We have been discussing the possibility of building something at the University of Houston or continuing in the surrounding community, maybe even finding our own space,” Travis said.
The Vagabond Theatre Project is all about students from the School of Theatre and Dance gaining real-world experience before graduating.
Most of the crew is made up of students from UH, but funding does not come from the University. Though the group uses UH facilities and looks to faculty members for guidance, the rest is entirely independent of the School of Theatre and Dance.
“They definitely give us a lot of support,” Travis said. “It is not through money, but each faculty member in their own small way contributes to us. For instance, I can ask the head of graduate acting department, Jack Young, questions and he seems to always know the trick; that is a really helpful resource.”
The Project began with the right people coming together at the right time. As freshman playwriting majors in the Fall of 2009, Travis, Padora and other members quickly learned how important it was to use their theatre training outside of school.
After brainstorming the first year, they created the Backyard Theatre Project. While experimenting with directing plays, they decided to officially start a theatre company shortly thereafter.
“It was created through a desire to work on our projects in a way that liberated us from the school, but at the same time allowed us to find our own resources, which is the way it’s going to be once we leave the University,” Travis said. “It’s very exciting and also very difficult — a joyful struggle.”
So far, the Project has put on several plays in a variety of locations. Some, like the recent production of “Tomato/Tomáto,” are student-written. Others are written by notable playwrights, like Sam Shepherd’s “Fool for Love.” The final production of this play will be offered free in the Honors College Commons on Sept. 26.
“Sam Shepherd is a canonical playwright and a lot of people know him as an actor too,” Padora said. “He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and ‘Fool for Love’ is one of his difficult plays.
“We read it and just fell in love with it because it was so violent in emotions and exciting to us. That’s why we wanted to produce it.”
As the founders of the Project look to develop their company, they realize that growth starts with using the right materials and marketing strategies. One of their options includes competing in the Texas Non-Profit Theatre Festival. Closer to campus, however, the members of the Project have to start by involving more students and musicians. They plan to work with the Student Program Board and hold more events for students to attend.
By the time members of Vagabond Theatre Project graduate, they want their names already established as the forerunners of a successful theatre company that encourages students to reach out and involve themselves in the School of Theatre and Dance. They also hope to inspire other students to start their own ventures.
“We want to expand because expansion eventually means we could rely on our art form as a way to earn a living and that’s what it takes to give everything you are to an art,” Travis said. “That’s my biggest goal. If I could live off my art, I could give everything I am to my art, which means I could become the greatest artist that I have the potential to be.”