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Celebrating Black History Month-Sterling Houston Papers now available online

February 26, 2016

(Sterling Houston Papers) Sterling Houston had a thirty-year career in professional theater as an actor, musician and writer in San Antonio, New York and San Francisco. The Sterling Houston Papers primarily document Houston’s involvement in San Antonio theater through scripts, screenplays, programs, and press materials. Also included are correspondence, research materials, project files, photographs, and audiovisual materials.

Sterling Houston was born in San Antonio in 1945. Houston attended Los Angeles City College before dropping out in 1964 to study acting in New York. He worked as an actor Off-Broadway and was involved with the Playhouse of Ridiculous theater. In 1968 Houston moved to San Francisco with Larry Neal, his partner and collaborator. For the next seven years they performed as the rock and roll band, Fleshtones. In 1978, Houston returned to theater and began working at the Magic Theatre as a stage technician, staff technician, actor and advisor on issues of African-American and gay sensitivity. In 1981, panicked by health issues, Houston returned to San Antonio to join the family real estate business.

Fleshtones perform in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, undated

Fleshtones perform in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, undated

 

Sterling Houston and Fleshtones promotional photograph, undated

Sterling Houston and Fleshtones promotional photograph, undated

After returning to San Antonio, Houston became involved with the local community and professional theater companies as an actor, director and producer. In 1983, encouraged by a residency with George C. Wolfe, Houston began to write plays. In 1985 he was commissioned by the San Antonio Museum of Art to create a work about the Harlem Renaissance, which became the musical, A’Lelia. Houston joined Jump-Start Performance Company, a not-for-profit presenting and producing theater company, dedicated to the exploration of alternative viewpoints in performance, in 1988 and worked as performer, writer-in-residence, administrative director and artistic director over the next 18 years, premiering 30 plays in that time. His theatrical works in that time include: Relationships: Good and Not So Good, a collaboration with dancer Blondell Cummings, which toured nationally; La Frontera, about a Latino family moving into San Antonio’s historically black East Side; High Yello’ Rose, an all-female musical retelling of the myths of traditional Texas history toured to Austin, after a successful run in San Antonio; Isis in Nubia , an epic re-telling of the myths of ancient Egypt; Santo Negro, a mixed-media musical around events in the life of 16th century African saint, Martin de Porres; On the Pulse of the Morning , a collaboration with poet Maya Angelou for a cast of nine speakers and four singers; Black Lily, White Lily a domestic farce chosen to open Cleveland Public Theatre’s Festival of New Plays; The Alien Show/Kool Jams ‘99 , a play with music dealing with aliens, alienation, and the coming millennium; Message Sent , a short play commissioned by the Actor’s Theater of Louisville’s Humana Festival; Cameoland , a musical history of San Antonio’s African American community before integration; Miranda Rites, a surrealistic tragicomedy. His plays are known for their biting social commentary, burlesque humor, and intensive musical ideas.

High Yello Rose promotional flier, 1992

High Yello Rose promotional flier, 1992

Sterling Houston received numerous honors and accolades throughout his theatrical career. He earned the Individual Artist Grant from the Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs, City of San Antonio three times, and was one of only a few Texans to receive a commissioning grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance. He was chosen “Artist of the Year” in 1991 by the San Antonio Business Committee for the Arts and in 1992 by the San Antonio Light. In 1997, Houston was the recipient of the prestigious Arts and Letters Award from the San Antonio Public Library, given for outstanding contributions to the arts and cultural life of San Antonio. High Yello’ Rose was nominated for seven Alamo Theater Arts Council Globe awards in 1993, winning two, for Best Original Score, and Best New Script. Houston was one of two local recipients of a New Forms Regional Initiative Grant (NFRIG) funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, for the commissioning of Santo Negro, which also received a grant from Art Matters, Inc., and was selected by The Art Institute of Chicago to be a part of The Americas: Zones of Contact series in spring of 1995. In 1997 the State of Texas Legislature recognized Sterling Houston with a citation for his outstanding contributions to the cultural life of the state. Houston received a Rockefeller MAP (Multi-Arts Production fund) grant for research and development of Cameoland, which was presented in collaboration with the Carver Community Cultural Center in 2003 and was cited by the San Antonio Express News as one of the ten best plays of that year.

Cameoland promotional material, 2003

Cameoland promotional material, 2002-2003

Houston lectured and presented on his work in theater at colleges and institutions in Chicago, New York, London, Boston, Cleveland, New Orleans, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. He served as a peer review panelist for the states of Nevada, Georgia and Texas, and presented on panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts, Outwrite, College Art Association, and The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Association of Theater in Higher Education. Houston was also involved in community projects, including the clean-up of Ellis Alley in east San Antonio and the Founding Mothers Mural and the McCreless Library Project. He died in November 2006.

Ellis Alley Founding Mothers mural, 2002-2003

Ellis Alley Founding Mothers mural, 2002-2003\

The Sterling Houston Papers can be viewed online through the collection guide. Select the “view contents” links. Access the physical materials can be obtained by submitting a “request access to a collection” online form. The collection is housed at UTSA’s main campus and can be accessed at the John Peace Library Special Collections reading room.

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Sources: Sterling Houston Biography 1945-2006. Jump-Start Blog, http://jump-start.org/?p=191; Hennessy, Keith. “Jump-Start Performance Co.: Interview with Sterling Houston.” Community Arts Network; and Paddie, Dennis. Sterling Houston Walkin’ His Blues. The Gay and Lesbian Review, vol. 14, no. 2.

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