by Minnie Elwood

An interview with Kim Tobin and Philip Lehl of Stark Naked Theatre Company

Since launching in 2011, Houston’s Stark Naked Theatre Company has garnered critical and audience acclaim, establishing a firm spot among Houston’s creative and independent theater ranks.

The theater company, founded by Kim Tobin and Philip Lehl, aims to help artists explore and develop their craft throughout their entire career, and further, help make it possible for artists to have life long careers in Houston.

Now in their third year of participating in the Houston Arts Alliance Capacity Building Initiative and an Incubator program member, we sat down with Tobin and Lehl to get the inside scoop.

HAA: How has Stark Naked Theatre Company participated in Houston Arts Alliance services throughout the years?

KT: Initially, we became aware of the Pre-Incubator program through the then program manager, Jerome Vielman, who encouraged us and helped us recognize the opportunities for growth and development that it offered. We feel like inclusion in the program has helped us get organized and put us on a track with our peers.

Specifically, we gained business insights in terms of general organization, better understanding of scheduling, accounting, etc. From a very basic level, we’ve established a better understanding and way of implementing a structure that was much more organized than what we had previously. 

PL: We’ve seen tremendous impact from individuals who participate in the Business Volunteers for the Arts program. We’ve worked with one volunteer, a marketing consultant – who we really feel is a treasure to us.

This volunteer, Howard Feldman, helped us understand positioning of our company. He led us through the strategic process of picking a tag line that reinforces that position. Together we came up with “Extraordinary performances. Up close.” This has been powerful for us. 

KT: Howard comes from a commercial background, not artistic. His perspective was from a completely different point of view than the arts and that was amazing for us because it forced us to look at things from a business perspective. Howard challenged us, and gave us an entirely new perspective about what it meant to market to a consumer. 

HAA: How have your experiences with the Incubator programs and the Business Volunteers for the Arts program impacted Stark Naked Theatre in a tangible way? 

PL: The help we’ve received with marketing campaigns and other efforts related to positioning tripled our season ticket sales. We kept the same basic strategies, but improving and refining the message helped us become more attractive to the consumer. 

HAA: What do you feel have been the biggest benefits for Stark Naked Theater as a Capacity Building Initiative participant?

PL: The HAA Resident Incubator program has sort of “schooled” me in the proper relationship between board and the organizational staff. As founders, we sit on the board. Kim has had experience with nonprofits whereas I had not.

Understanding that the board is responsible for the financial well being of the entity was something that I really didn’t get. Going through the Resident Incubator program helped me learn why the board was there and how to strengthen the board. 

Additionally, the access to development and marketing consultants that we’ve received through the Resident Incubator and Business Volunteers for the Arts programs have been very effective. We’ve been able to better identify grants and opportunities and have generally seen grant awards increase. On the marketing side, being connected to support resources like consultants, interns, students at UH has been fantastic.

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