If you’re put off by the strict rules when you go to the Theater, then you are in good company with Stephanie Wittels Wachs. It was her and Matt Hune’s disdain for such rules that resulted in the laid-back nature of Rec Room. In this recreational performance space, feel free to unwrap all the mint wrappers your breath desires or pull out your phone to take pictures and videos if you’re enjoying the show. It’s okay if you slip in twenty minutes late, and you can proudly eat the Girl Scout cookies you hide in your purse. There’s no theater “etiquette” shaming at Rec Room because this isn’t the kind of theater your grandmother goes to with her Bridge gang. This is a cool theater in a very cool downtown space.
Matt Hune says about one of the goals of Rec Room,
We’re trying to bring in people to the performing space that would typically never walk into a theater.
Rec Room: The Inception
Wachs and Hune were burnt out by the traditional art form of theater. Both attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and both continued to pursue theatrics in college. Wachs and Hune have been trained in the rules of theater and eventually, both taught at High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. For Wachs, she had been participating in theater since she was three years old.
Exhausted from the routine of teaching and traditional theater, they asked themselves,
How can we take what we know and do something new with it?
Their goal was to create something new to Houston, and that was low maintenance, fun, an artistic alternative to a bar, a performing space, something ever-changing, and a recreational room-Hence the name “Rec Room”, which is also a nod to Wachs’ late brother’s show, Parks and Recreation.
The Changing Space of Rec Room
Rec Room’s first event was called “Magic Monday” and was nothing short of mystical and curious. Stephanie Wachs’ husband, Mike Wachs, hosted the event, donning a tuxedo and concocting “Black Magic” drinks. And, performing was a psychic, magician, and a flamenco dancer. A week later, Rec Room had its opening party, a Beer and Ice Cream Social, which was a massive hit with 200 attendees, beer provided by Eighth Wonder Brewery, and a DJ.
Future Rec Room plans include a 19-week project called “My So-Called Mondays” where cast and audience will perform an unconventional stage reading of all 19 My So-Called Life episodes on Mondays, starting July 18th. If you have ever wanted to star opposite Jared Leto, this is your chance. A handful of audience members will join the cast to perform small roles in each week’s episode.
Another future project of Rec Room is Dead Rock Star Sing Along. Fueled by the recent deaths of rock stars like David Bowie and Prince and inspired by the public grieving of Wachs’ brother’s passing, the show will include the emotional proximity fans feel for celebrities-people they’ve never met, Greek tragedy, mourning rituals, and, of course, a sing-along.
What Makes Rec Room Special?
Rec Room is unlike anything Houston has ever seen before. A huge priority for Wachs and Hune was that the space is a haven for artists of all kinds. The shows will be a mix between work produced by Rec Room and shows by other artists. Everything from a bluegrass music show to a bar mitzvah is in the planning process. Anything can happen at Rec Room because it is first and foremost a performance space for all mediums.
Stephanie and Matt: Before Rec Room
The genesis of Rec Room dates around ten years ago when Wachs and Hune were at Cafe Brasil and began to discuss opening a studio space for artists. Ultimately, both went into “safe jobs” of teaching. Although this was not part of the plan for Stephanie, Wachs firmly believes that almost everything that’s happened in her life has been an “organic” process that unfolded itself.
After attending the High School for The Performing and Visual Arts, Stephanie graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in Acting and Directing. As a recent graduate, Wachs lived in New York during 9/11 and was shaken by the event. With no idea what to do next, she decided to return home to Houston to regroup with every intention of moving back to New York. Upon her arrival in Houston, a teaching job at HSPVA opened, which she accepted. And, now, almost ten years later, Stephanie Wachs is a teacher, wife, and mother, living firmly in her hometown.
In 2015, Wachs’s brother, Harris Wittels, passed away from a drug overdose. Stephanie was catatonic afterward and at a complete loss. It took months for her to reach a “new normal”. After this immense loss, she realized she needed to quit her teaching job to pursue this “studio space for artists” vision she had shared with Matt Hune ten years before.
At the same time, Hune had been running a “Living Room Series” out of his living room. Hosting and producing small shows in an intimate environment, Matt was often sold out, but eventually, the immersion of turning his living room into a theater became a little too much method acting for both him and his wife.
With Wachs’ realization and Hune’s fading Living Room Series, Rec Room’s timing couldn’t have been more ideal. Wachs says, laughing,
I quit my teaching job in hopes of having more flexibility and time than I did before. But after opening our business and trying to keep up with my two-year-old, that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Stephanie Wach’s Other “Rec”-reation
Wachs keeps herself immensely busy-between co-owning Rec Room and keeping up with her two-year-old daughter, Iris, she co-hosts a weekly podcast called, Hands Off Parent. Hands Off Parent is about being a “mediocre” parent compared to the stickler mothers of today who insist on limited TV time, organic food, and other strict regiments for children. Every Tuesday on iTunes, Stephanie Wachs, and co-host Abby Koenig post podcasts about their trials, tribulations, and tales of being “hands off” in their parenting techniques over wine with their children’s playing as ambient background noise.
While the podcast does talk about casual topics like Mac N Cheese meals, other more somber topics are discussed. Wachs and Koenig both had siblings pass away from a drug overdose, and Wachs’ daughter was diagnosed with hearing loss after she was born. But with Stephanie and Mike’s persistence, Iris is at a three-year old’s speech level as a two-year-old. In 2015, the Wachs family lobbied for a bill that would ensure insurance companies help pay for children’s hearing aids.
When she’s not doing all of the above, Stephanie maintains a blog about parenting and her brother on Medium. She has also written for the Houston Chronicle and the Huffington Post. Stephanie Wachs does it all and still has room for recreation.