Hit comedy creates lots of laughs and impacts city's economy


If you’re one of the 14,000 Houston women who have howled in laughter at the long-running blockbuster comedy Girls Only - The Secret Comedy of Women, you’ve unknowingly given a nice boost to the Houston economy – and to a lot of other Houston women.
Hilary Clinton famously said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes what seems like a good-sized hamlet to mount a theatrical production like this popular comedy.
“People who don’t know theater are flabbergasted when they learn how much economic impact a show like this can have,” the play’s producer Sydney Greenblatt told Houston Woman.  “And with Girls Only, it’s women who benefit most,” she said.
“Those 14,000 fans who’ve seen the show,” Greenblatt said, “are providing  income to three Houston actresses, our three-woman producer’s staff and our 13-person theater crew (nine of whom are women) – and  those direct salaries are just the start.”  
“Now add in a host of other women – our promotional partners at IW Marks Jewelers and the American Heart Association, the sales reps at magazines and radio stations where we buy advertising, plus printers, sign makers, our box office vendor – the list goes on,” she said, “and I estimate that 90 percent of those people we buy from are women.” 
Featuring Houston actresses Tracy Ahern and Shondra Marie (both understudied by Lendsey Kersey), Girls Only mixes sketch comedy, improvisation, audience participation and songs in a unique examination of all things girly.  
The show is being staged at Main Street Theater-Chelsea Market in the Museum District.
Longevity is the key  
The hit comedy’s staying power is exceptional.  Last year, Girls Only played for five months and 99 performances, Houston’s longest-running show in that time period. 
“Houston women just can’t seem to get enough of Girls Only,” said Greenblatt. 
Brought back because of this strong demand, the show this year will run another four months and 66 performances.  The play must close its doors June 1st to make way for the theater’s long-established summer youth program.  By then, this comedy will have been presented here more than 160 times — up to nine months of work for a lot of people. 
According to Rebecca Udden, Main Street Theater’s founder and executive artistic and director, Girls Only has played longer than any production in the theater’s 39-year history. 
“It's good income for the theater, but our biggest reason for doing the show is good jobs for theater artists,” she said.
“This is the longest-running show I've ever been a part of,” said co-star Ahern. “Finding steady work is what we actors dream about.  I'm so grateful to be earning a living while doing my dream job!”
“Girls Only is extremely unique,” Ahern added.  “Women see the show and want to come back again and again with different groups of friends and family, which gives it an incredible staying power – that’s where its economic impact comes from.”
For almost two decades, Houston audiences have been enjoying the work of Shondra Marie, Ahern’s co-star in the current run.  
“I’ve appeared in many shows in Houston,” said Marie, “but never in one that has run this long. It is such a wonderful        experience to create and share in the memories and laughter of so many women. Women come out with tears in their eyes from laughing so much.” 
Behind the Scenes
The actresses, however, are only the start of the economic story, according to Greenblatt.
“Have you ever stayed to watch all the credits at the end of a movie?” she asked.  “The list of names seems to go on forever.  Well, a theatrical production is a lot like that.”
She ticks off the necessary crew – scenic designer, lighting designer, props designer, costume designer, production stage manager, assistant stage manager, sound engineer, house manager and staff.  
“It’s a long list,” she said. For this show, the theater crew is 13 people, in addition there is a box office manager, group sales manager and producer – all women. That’s  a lot of good work for a lot of Houstonians.”
Beyond the Theater
Direct salaries, however, are only the tip of the financial-effect iceberg, as Greenblatt sees it.    
“When you add in things like advertising, theater rental, printing, sign makers, restaurant deals, insurance and utilities, the economic impact begins to mount, ” she said.  
She estimates the show’s direct cash flow into the Houston economy to be well more than half a million dollars and the indirect economic impact as a more than double that.  As an example of indirect impact, she points to industry data indicating that more than half of theater attendees go to a restaurant before or after a show.  
“They call it ‘show business’ for a reason,” she pointed out, “because it really is a business. And, like any local business, its economic impact has a ripple effect in the local community.” 
“It makes all of us proud,” she said. “Proud to be part of a production that has created jobs for so many Houston women.” 
She hopes a lot more gals can’t get enough of Girls Only before its final curtain on June 1.  
W. Wanda White is a free-lance journalist living in Houston. 
Editor's Note: Houston Woman Magazine Night at Girls Only is Friday, April 25. Save $5 when you order your ticket for that night. Just visit or call 800-514-3849. Code word is HoustonWoman. 

Artist partners with hotel to support breast cancer causes

Fran Padgett knows a little something about the healing power of art –– and about survival. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, she underwent a radical bilateral mastectomy, meaning she lost both breasts at the same time. 

She attributes her condition to radioactive treatments she received as a child for “a cough that wouldn't get better,” but insists she doesn’t dwell on that. Instead, she focuses on creating art –– “portraits, landscapes or whatever comes to me” –– to benefit other breast cancer patients. 
Through the Weathervane Foundation she started, and with a lot of support from  Marcus Hotels and Resorts, Padgett’s work supports breast cancer research and causes.
“In particular, I like to help the support group at Houston Northwest Medical Center, which is where I received my care,” Padgett said.  
The non-profit foundation’s website  ( describes its mission of supporting breast cancer patients at the local level, especially with resource libraries within a clinic or hospital setting and research through a genomic studies laboratory to identify the cause which can lead to a cure. 
Padgett’s art was first installed in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn in 2002, shortly after it was built in northwest Houston. When Allan Hant became the manager in 2012, the exhibit had to come down during a renovation. Hant said he was determined to re-incorporate the artist’s work back into the hotel.
“I was truly scared that we might lose that relationship,” Hant said. 
“He had all my paintings in his office, and he wanted to talk to me about a project,” Padgett said with a lilt in her voice. 
The Hilton’s parent company, Marcus Hotels, has an Artist-in-Residency Program in other cities that features studios where artists can create onsite. Hant knew he wasn’t going to have room to replicate that concept in a smaller hotel, so he did the next best thing. With approval from his corporate office, he forged a philanthropic partnership with Padgett called the Charitable Art Program. 
In a “pre-function space” within the hotel,  Hant created a gallery to showcase Padgett’s work, renamed the board room in her honor and committed 10 percent of the room rental fees to benefit the Weathervane Foundation. The exhibit of about 15 to 20 paintings changes every six months.
About 125 guests attended an open house and silent auction in October 2013 where the hotel’s spa and restaurant partners donated gift certificates and baskets to benefit the cause.
“It’s nice to see space ––which may not be active when we don’t have a banquet –– with guests looking at her art,” Hant said. “Fran is very open, and she wants to do ‘Meet the Artist’ nights, and we definitely want to get her in here. I think it’s important to get into the community and bring new faces to the hotel when we do we these events.” 
Hant said he has had family members affected by breast cancer, including an aunt and some college classmates. Because of that, he found Padgett’s art and story particularly moving. 
“When I hear her talking about the moods she was in when she was painting them –– that moves me. I’m very honored to partner with her,” he said.
A prolific artist for more than 30 years, Padgett estimates that she has created several hundred paintings and has at least 300 in storage. She works primarily in pastels, oils and acrylics to create emotionally charged images that represent different phases of her personal journey from diagnosis to recovery. 
Padgett is also the author of two books on the subject: Breast Cancer: No One Chose This Journey, and Breast Cancer Recovery: No One Wrote a Manual, the latter of which has won six literary awards. 
Color is important to her, she said, and her art continues to evolve, as explained in the gallery on her personal website ( 
“Since the breast cancer  diagnosis, I find the images have transitioned to more and more abstract, although the figures have remained quite  realistic in an impressionistic vein,” she said. 
Deborah Quinn Hensel is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Houston trio unite to produce films to empower women

Three local businesswomen had every reason to cheer loudly and proudly as the film, I Dream Too Much, premiered at the 2015 SXSW Film, Music and Interactive Technology Conference in Austin in March.  

Alicia Goodrow, chief execuive officer;  Deborah Kainer, chief financial officer; and Donna Cole, a co-founding manager of Pantheon of Women (POW), dared to dream very big when they launched their film production company here in Houston — outside of the Hollywood sphere of influence — in 2013.

“We are women committed to changing to world, and film is the media of choice of the 21st Century. Everybody is walking around today with their eyes glued to a screen,” Goodrow said. “But, you no longer have to be at a big studio in Los Angeles to produce an outstanding movie.”
With film as the media for mass communication, the trio hopes to reach a larger audience with the same kinds of messages they already deliver one-on-one in mentoring local women. They are committed to creating new images in film that influence how women and girls view themselves, as well as showcasing men who are supportive of women. 
“This is the time for women to take action –– to do something about showing their stories and hearing their voices on the big screen,” Goodrow added. “If we make a beautiful, well-told story into a movie, we can change millions of lives.”
I Dream Too Much is the first film by Pantheon of Women to reach out to that wider audience, starting with three showings in Austin. And, South by Southwest is the perfect place to shop an indie film around to distributors, Cole said.
The film stars three-time Academy Award Nominee Diane Ladd;  Eden Brolin, daughter of actor James Brolin; and Danielle Brooks, actress in Orange is the New Black. It is a coming-of-age story about a college student who learns a few life lessons from her reclusive great aunt. 
Pantheon of Women is not just looking for stories about strong women, but Goodrow, Kainer and Cole expect to encourage and support women behind the camera in writing and directing roles, as well.  
I Dream Too Much is written and directed by Katie Cokinos, whose mentor for the last 20 years has been fellow Texan Richard Linklater, executive producer for this film and recent nominee for the Academy’s Best Director Award for Boyhood. 
The producers are open to reading other good scripts, but they are keeping their day jobs as they focus on producing one good film at a time. 
Goodrow is an attorney, specializing in corporate finance, commercial agreements and tax planning for the Philips & Reiter law firm. She already had strong ties to the film industry.
Kainer is a CPA and the former owner of a certified public accounting firm she sold to a larger firm in Houston four years ago. 
Cole brings 34 years of diverse business knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit to the group as head of Cole Chemical. 
It was just “good networking” that brought them all together to work toward a common goal, Cole said.
Corporate sponsors of the production company include all three women’s firms, as well as Cregan Design, Decode Digital Marketing, On-Site Partners, Provis HR and YK Creative. 
Currently, they are talking to Sarah Byrd, a Texas writer, to develop a film about Cathay Williams, the first African-American woman to enlist and serve in the U.S. Army, posing as a man and Buffalo Soldier. Another project is also under consideration, Cole said, but three projects at a time in various stages of production are more than enough on their plate right now. 
“We want to make sure what we do is quality and give it our business best. We want a good return for our investors, as well,” Goodrow said. 
While they aren’t able to review 20 scripts a week, Goodrow said she is often able to suggest another direction for projects that might not be right for POW — simply because of time or budget constraints. 
The time is right for celebrating women in film, and there is funding available from a variety of sources for female-focused films, Goodrow said, citing the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard production company and Annapurna Pictures as entities with similar goals. A new film festival focusing on diversity and gender issues will launch in Bentonville, Ark. in May, backed by the Davis Institute. 
“There’s been a lot of analysis and research and complaining – in the media and elsewhere –– that women’s voices aren’t heard, and film is a bastion of all-white male perspectives,” Goodrow said. “At some point, people need to take action. Pantheon of Women is about taking action to change things. We won’t be the only ones.”
Women have always been the keepers of the stories and the culture, and in so many ways, cinema is the campfire of our society today,” she added. “People go to the cinema and turn on the television set; they watch a movie and, then, they talk about it. They process their reality through the stories that are seen onscreen. It is very important that this dialogue includes women’s voices.”

City's ethnic mix reflects national trend

When it comes to diversity in Houston, the future is already here. The city’s current ethnic mix, with its many cultures, reflects what the population of the rest of America will look like by the mid-21st century. While such diversity gives Houston an edge as a global city, this population shift is also creating challenges for future generations to maintain economic prosperity to keep the city competing on the world stage.

“The census projections for the United States in 2050 is the same chart as the reality of Houston in 2010,” explained Dr. Stephen Klineberg of the Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “So, Houston is one of the places where the American future will be worked out because it’s here now. And it will be across all of America by 2040 or 2045, where the entire population of the United States will be majority-minority.”

According to the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, diversity breaks down as the following for the multi-county Houston area: 40 percent Anglo, 35 percent Hispanic, 17 percent African American and eight percent Asian and other. Klineberg’s August 2013 presentation, “The Changing Face of Houston,” reports figures for Harris County in 2010 as 41 percent Latino, 33 percent Anglo, 18 percent African American and eight percent Asian.

“This is what all of American will look like in about 35 years,” said Klineberg. “How we navigate this transition will have an enormous significance not only for Houston’s future, but for America’s future. Houston is where America’s future is going to be worked out – worked out for better or for worse.”

The city’s diversity, nonetheless, translates into a melting pot of cultures reflecting variations in the arts, cuisine and neighborhoods. Houston has 93 consulates – the third largest consular corps in the nation – and more than 8,000 restaurants reflecting a wide range of ethnic food choices.

“The different cultures make Houston what it is. You can see diversity in the food scene, in the art, in the business community and in the Texas Medical Center,” said Holly Clapham-Rosenow, vice president of marketing for the GHCVB. “In turn, it also makes Houston more attractive to people from around the world to visit and to live. It comes full circle.”

Clapham-Rosenow said the GHCVB recently completed a destination perception study polling a combination of Houston residents, residents from other parts of Texas and visitors from other states. The study revealed 71 percent of the respondents agree Houston is diverse and rated Houston very highly because of the city’s variety in dining and its arts and culture. Regarding tourism, she believes there’s an indirect correlation between the city’s diversity and attracting tourists.

“We can’t draw a straight line and say people are visiting specifically because we are the most diverse city in the country, but we can say that we’ve gotten significant national and international media attention because of it,” said Clapham-Rosenow, citing coverage of Houston’s diversity by NPR, the BBC and Smithsonian magazine. “And, those stories make Houston more appealing to a visitor looking for a dynamic, cosmopolitan city. Plus, our diversity is the foundation of our two biggest assets – our food scene and our culture – and we know those are the two main reasons people visit.”

According to 2011 statistics from the Greater Houston Partnership, more than one in five (21.9 percent) Greater Houston residents were foreign-born versus one in eight nationwide. Houston ranked sixth in the nation in that category, as same year GHP figures reveal Greater Miami leading the way with 38.2 percent followed by Los Angeles (34.1 percent), San Francisco (29.7 percent), New York (29 percent) and San Diego (23.4 percent). Houston’s foreign-born population of 1.34 million is more than the total populations of nine states and Washington D.C., the statistics show.

Houston’s diversity mix has changed dramatically from 50 years ago. Klineberg’s “The Changing Face of Houston” presentation reveals in 1970, for example, diversity percentages for Harris County were 69 percent Anglo, 20 percent African American, and only 10 percent Latino and one percent Asian.

“The essential story of Houston is virtually all the growth of the city during the oil boom years was Anglos, pouring into Houston from everywhere else in the country because this is where the jobs were,” said Klineberg. “One million people moved into Harris County between 1970 and 1982.”

“After the oil bust of 1982, the Anglo population stopped growing and then all the growth of this city – the most rapidly growing city in America – has been due to the influx of African Americans, Latinos and Asians,” he continued. “And this bi-racial southern city – dominated by white men in all of our history – during the last 30 years has become the singular most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the country.”

The story of America’s diversity is interesting as well. Klineberg said between 1492 and 1965, 82 percent of immigrants to the U.S. came from Europe. When civil rights laws changed in 1965, then came an influx of large numbers of non-Europeans.

“Eighty-eight percent of all immigration since 1965 came from everywhere else on this Earth but Europe, and Houston is at the very center of this transformation,” he explained. “It’s a truly remarkable transformation.”

Other statistics reveal older folks across America are disproportionately Anglo – 57 percent over the age of 65, compared to 22 percent Anglo under 30 years old. “Nowhere is that clearer than in Houston,” said Klineberg.

“Seventy percent of all the children of Harris County are African American or Latino. And, they will be the future of Houston.”

He warned, however, that with the baby boomers retiring, the diverse populations will be faced with the challenge of propelling the city well into the 21st century.

“How well educated and prepared are they to do the job? That’s the great question for Houston’s future.” This ethnic saturation can be the greatest asset Houston can have in this global economy,” concluded Klineberg, “or it can tear us apart and become a major liability.”

Richard Varr is a staff reporter and free-lance journalist. Previously, he was a news reporter for FOX26 News.

Diverse communities making Houston better for all

In a well-quoted story in the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus is questioned by a lawyer as to who are our neighbors. “Are they only those of the same race, faith and class or persons of other beliefs and ethnic groups?”

Living in a diverse city, we have seen that the term continues to be inclusive of all. As new groups move to Houston, they recognize an obligation to not only care for those who look like themselves but their neighbors wherever they come from. Truly, this makes Houston a very special place.

As an attorney specializing in immigration and nationality law for the past 36 years, I have had a front row seat in observing the changing demographic of this city. This was even heightened while serving as an at-large member of the Houston City Council.

As each group has joined in the fabric of Houston, it has not forgotten its role in making the cloth itself better. I offer three examples:

Recognizing the lack of affordable healthcare available to the thousands of uninsured in our community, the Pakistani community created the Ibn Sina Foundation in 2001 to create its first of now six community clinics. Medical attention can be provided with no appointment and only a small donation.  No questions are asked about legal status only your health. While manned in large part by volunteer physicians of South Asian ancestry, the clinics now serve almost 60,000 Houstonians annually from all walks and back-grounds. Several other clinics have also been formed, including the Hope Clinic — the first Federal Qualified Health Center in the International District off Bellaire Blvd. to address this population.

The Houston Royal Oaks Lions Club, primarily consisting of Filippine-Americans, and their back-to- school drive and health fair. Their two events this year — one at Northwest Mall and the other at PlazAmericas — assisted almost 7,000 children in getting needed supplies to begin the school year.

Statistics tell us that we are seeing a “greying” of America.  Addressing the need for affordable housing for our aging population, one Vietnamese organization worked closely with the City’s Housing and Community Development Department to create the Golden Bamboo Senior Citizens Village in 2007.  The group has recently opened its third project in Southwest Houston’s Alief area with 300 quality units — all affordable and with private garden plots for tenants to grow vegetables to supplement their diets and incomes. The grand opening featured a United Nations of tenants from all parts of the world.

The Apollo 13 astronauts are known for the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem.” Well, Houstonians continue to amaze me with their solutions. Whether they arrived last week or last century, caring for our neighbor is in our DNA. We are indeed fortunate for the diverse communities who have made Houston their home. They continue to give of their talent and treasurer to make this a better place for all of us. 

Gordon Quan has a long history of community activism. He was the first Asian American elected citywide to the Houston City Council and first to serve as Mayor Pro Tem, Professionally, he is the co-chair of Foster Quan, LLP, the second largest U.S. immigration law firm in America, with offices in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Washington, The Rio Grand Valley and Mexico City.

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