AP NEWS

World Theater links cultures, people

June 21, 2017 GMT

Since World Theater opened 14 months ago in Katy, co-founders Burton Wolfe and Lawrence Wong have produced more than 12 musicals and events.

They use the arts to bridge cultures and whether the language is English or Mandarin, the message is the same - entertainment that promotes good morals and that touches people’s hearts.

Show posters displayed on the performing arts academy walls all come with a story shared by Wolfe. Ten thousand people attended Miller Outdoor Theater to view Wolfe’s show “Tale of Kieu,” based on a 7,000-line poem composed by Nguyên Du, who is considered Vietnam’s Shakespeare. “Artists Heart,” a show performed by artists who donated their talent and time raised $10,000 to benefit Japan and the Red Cross after the Asian country was hit by the 2011 tsunami.

Between posters are photos of Wolfe with Audrey Hepburn through the United Nations Children’s Fund and former Houston Mayor Lee Brown through a cultural exchange program as well as a 1988 framed letter by President Ronald Reagan praising Wolfe’s 1987-88 AsiaFest in Miami for its entertainment and teaching American businesses how to do business with Asia.

Bringing their worldview to Katy, Wolfe, executive and artistic director, and Wong, producer and director of operations, converted a former church to their office, dance studio and theater. Though their base has changed, their international network is strong and the goal unchanged.

“The World Theater mission is to produce multicultural theatrical productions and educational cultural events that can become a bridge contributing to global peace and prosperity; that diverse activities to promote both culture and commerce will enrich Katy life,” said Wolfe, who teaches speech and drama at Houston Community College.

“Metropolis,” an original production this past year, told the story in English and Mandarin of Houston’s “Sister City” Shenzhen, China.

“The show broadened its creators, performers and audiences alike - creating a context for better understanding and appreciation of global cultures and artistry,” said Wolfe. Actors, singers and dancers flown in from Shenzhen earned standing ovations, he added, and more bilingual shows are ahead.

As to enriching Katy life, Wong and Wolfe both smile with pride about the young woman never in a show before cast as the lead in “Sister Act,” who likes being part of her theater family, and the fact that three generations of one family performed in “My Fair Lady.”

The center is open to others. J&H Dance School is among the first to make use of the facilities. Ballet folklorico was added after one of Wolfe’s HCC students explained his mother was interested in teaching dance at the center. More recently Bollywood joined the dance lineup, much to the excitement of Wolfe.

Not happy with what’s happening to society in terms of shootings and violence, Wolfe says World Theater focuses instead on musicals such as “My Fair Lady” and “Sister Act” and shows such as “Golden Buddha Jazz Orchestra.”

Wong talks about the impact on a personal level. Young students who are shy and say little are transformed after they complete summer camps offered at the theater at 1012 S. Mason Road, Katy.

At end-of-camp presentations, Wong said he has seen parents with tears in their eyes because they didn’t believe their children could do that.

“They need to feel it is fun to motivate them to learn,” Wong said.

The biggest challenge remains getting the word out to the community about the new theater.

“Building the patron base is always a challenge for a new business, whether it’s a restaurant or a bicycle shop. We are still trying out a variety of shows and events to satisfy the diverse greater Katy and Houston area public,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe refers to author Deepak Chopra as he talks about the importance of being the best he can be and of gifting people encountered in daily life.

The gifts of a smile and a compliment make a difference, he said, and that’s the bottomline for World Theater, too, making a difference one cast member at a time and one audience at a time.

Visit www.worldtheater.us, email worldtheatertexas@gmail.com or call 281-392-8188 for more information.