Houstonian Tales: Emily HyndsEmily Hynds. Photo: Bryan Chan
Houston has, for a good while, had plenty of theater that didn’t happen in places like the Alley Theater. However in the past decade, new shows and spaces have popped up and had plenty of success far away from the larger houses throughout our city. With BooTown, co-founder Emily Hynds has become well known with shows like Neo Benshi and puppet shows. The group’s largest show, the massively popular Grown Up Story Time has been delighting audiences while drawing in tourists as a bucket list item when visiting Houston for almost a decade. With he co-owned retail shop El Bambi, Hynds is carefully curating a vintage shop full of handpicked goodies for men, women, and the home. Free Press Houston was more than delighted to catch up with her to see how BooTown and El Bambi got their starts, as well as what they have planned for the future.
FREE PRESS HOUSTON: Where are you from?
EMILY HYNDS: Houston. I went to high school in Alief.
FPH: What made you come up with BooTown, and how did the name come about?
HYNDS: In college we worked with a student organization called Unheard Voices at University of Houston where we only produced student done works by minorities. When I graduated, there was nothing like Boo Town, so we started up thinking that it would be temporary. But, here we are nine years later, so it wasn’t very temporary at all.
The name was thought up by our friend Tim. When we were in college, Julie Gomez and I were co-directing a show. It was our first time directing, the lead actress’ first time in a show, and there was a dance scene in it that we had dance rehearsals for. When Tim couldn’t attend, he’d call it boo time, so whenever she and I did shows together we’d refer to them as boo time. We changed it to BooTown when we started up to give it more of an identity.
FPH: There’s a board at Boo Town correct, is every decision made through the board?
HYNDS: Yes, you have to have a board if you’re a non-profit organization. No, Lindsay [Burleson] and I make all of the artistic decisions, and the board is more about approving our budget. Their biggest function is serving as cultural representatives and we value them as a sounding board for our goals.
FPH: There was once a BooTown space, correct? What made you decide to start doing shows in different spaces rather than your own?
HYNDS: We used to do house shows but we never had a space per se. There are better ways to spend money than spending it on rent and finding others who will rent out the space. We know people who have spaces and we didn’t want to become rental managers. We also like the idea of doing shows in different spaces, and taking the shows to different people in their own areas outside of a traditional theater. Because, our crowd is not a traditional theater crowd.
FPH: The Grown Up Story Time shows are immensely popular, in fact they’ve become bucket list items for those who live here and who visit Houston. Who came up with the show concept? Did you ever think they’d get as popular as they have gotten?
HYNDS: The show concept was created by Tim Wood. When we started in June 2007, we wanted to do a storytime event, and we did the first one at Rudyard’s in November of that year. We started off with a 10 pm show, and we did that to get a more non-theater crowd. But at a certain point we moved to a 9 pm time slot, and the crowds just grew bigger and bigger to where it was just insane. Two and a half years ago we switched to the two show format, one at 8 pm and one at 10 pm to split the audience. But what happened was that the 8 pm had more people attend, and that show is standing room only and the 10 pm is more relaxed. But at the later show, it feels like those who attend are there more to hear the stories and we never have to shush people at the 10 pm show.
FPH: Boo Town does many other shows like Neo Binshi and various other productions like shadow puppet shows. Is there a type of performance you never see happening over there or a type of show that you guys would never ever do?
HYNDS: Scripted plays or traditional theater.
FPH: What do you guys have planned for the 2017 season, are there any new shows in the works?
HYNDS: Our season runs July to June, and we do three to four larger shows a year. But what they’ll actually be is just ideas at this point, and what they will become will be something different entirely. We will keep doing Grown Up Story Time, and Neo Benshi, plus in January Neo Benshi will move to The Secret Group in January.
FPH: You also co-own El Bambi, can you explain the idea behind the shop?
HYNDS: Lindsay(Beale) and I are both thrift shop enthusiasts, and I think it’s economically important to not buy new all of the time. A lot of the things I buy from a thrift shop doesn’t fit me, so I’ll have to have them altered. So aside from curating a shop we wanted to have a tailor to alter items on sight as a part of the store as well.
FPH: The shop has monthly art shows and various events as well as a pretty heavily curated selection of clothing and home goods. Is it safe to say that in many ways, El Bambi is the two halves of your world put into one?
HYNDS: One thing I really like about the shop is that it’s a different way of organizing things. With El Bambi I’m getting to learn new things like E-Commerce, which in a way is like being in school again. And, the shop feels artistic because we’re curating it piece by piece.
It’s hard not to see how driven Hynds is behind Boo Town and behind El Bambi. You can catch BooTown’s Grown Up Story Time every third Tuesday at Rudyard’s, and Neo Benshi will start up at The Secret Group in January. You can see Hynds in action this Sunday when El Bambi celebrates with other shops in their shopping center on North Main at the North Main Pop-Up Market. The all ages event runs from noon to 5 pm, it has music from Greg Cote and Ancient Cat Society, and tons of vendors as well for the 100% FREE event.