Express Childrens Theatre
446 Northwest Mall, Houston Texas
Phone 713-682-5044

Tim Fried-Fiori
Executive Director



Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves

(L-R) Brennan Blankenship, Daniel Edwards and David Allen III in Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves showing at Express Children's Theatre July 16 and 23, 2016 at 446 Northwest Mall, Houston Texas.  Touring Schools and Organizations throughout Greater Houston through August 19, 2016.  Photo credit Sari Fried-Fiori.


Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves

Adapted from the Arabian classic

Directed by Zack Varela and Tim Fried-Fiori

Express Theatre at Northwest Mall

 July, 2016 and Touring through August 19, 2016




An Experiment in Theatre

Interview with Tim Fried-Fiori

Executive Director of Express Children's Theatre

By Theresa Pisula 
May 21, 2016

This year marks Express Theatre’s 25th consecutive season creating and presenting culturally-diverse performing arts programs and classes designed to entertain, educate and inspire children and their families.  Express Children’s Theatre was founded in 1991 to create a professional children’s theatre touring company in Houston.  That year, Express reached about 3,700 children.  Since then, Express Children’s Theatre has grown to reach over 75,000 kids a year in schools, libraries, churches, hospitals, museums and community organizations in Greater Houston and beyond. 

From familiar folklore and fascinating fiction to stories of perseverance and personal triumph, five fully-produced original works and adaptations of classics are created and performed each season by Houston’s finest theatre artists.  In addition, Storytelling Programs, including bi-lingual Spanish/English programs, are also performed throughout the year for smaller audiences.  Express offers regular performances at its in-house theatre located in the Northwest Mall and tours extensively throughout Texas.  Express is a Company-in-Residence at Houston Community College and performs 6 shows a year at Miller Outdoor Theatre including Express Theatre’s Hilltop Festival for Children every July.

The current production Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves is adapted from the Arabian Classic, 1001 and One Nights.  This original Hip Hop musical tells the story of a greedy young boy pursued by thieves for stealing their gold.   Set in contemporary Houston, the play was written by Jack Helbig and Tim Fried-Fiori (Express Theatre’s Executive Director) and features Arabian-themed Hip Hop music.  The show examines the themes of honesty, integrity and how to make good choices.

 Theresa:  How long have you been executive director at Express Children’s Theatre?

Tim:  2 and a half years

Theresa:  You are a writer, you wrote this show production of ALI BABA…

Tim:  I co-wrote the show with Jack Helbig

Theresa:  You also co-directed the show with Zack Varela.  Which of these roles is your favorite?

Tim:  Right now, I really like being the director of plays.  I used to act too, I produce and everything.  But I really like working with really talented people like Brennan (Blankenship who plays Morgana).

Theresa:  How did you choose to become the Executive Director of Express Children’s Theatre?

Tim:  I wanted to get back into Theatre.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for a Children’s Theatre opportunity but I’ve done both.  So when this came up, I came to see a show here, I just thought, it’s a really good chance to help kids re-introduce them to theatre.  Most of these kids, it’s the first play they’re ever going to see.  And also to get them some good content that doesn’t talk down to kids.  I mean, you saw the show, you know how it is.  Any age, you can get something out of the show.

Theresa:  It was really good!  And very interactive.  Brennan is encouraging the kids to respond to what the characters are going through.  Also the fact that you can open Ali Baba’s cave with an App on your cellphone and with the magical words “Open Sesame” it’s very up to date.  I saw the 2 and 3 year olds screaming “Open Sesame” to open the gate with so much glee!  Are you originally from Houston?

Tim:  I was born in a small town outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  I went to college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.  And then I went to Chicago for a number of years.  We started a theatre there which I ran for 17 years.  Then I lived in Los Angeles for some years.  And then I ended up in Houston about 8 years ago. 

Theresa:  Please describe in your own words your most memorable childhood experience.

Tim:  You know what’s funny?  I was thinking about it today.  I’m working on the next play which has some Cole Porter music in it from Anything Goes.  As I was doing it today, I remembered that I was a little kid, the first musical that I saw was Anything Goes.  My buddy was in it, it was a high school musical.  As I was watching it from the stage, I remember thinking, “I want to do this!”  But I didn’t really remember that even until today.  And that was about 50 years ago, but it all came back to me.  Wow, this is where it came from, this love of theatre I have.  That completely changed my life.

Theresa:  Who is your source of inspiration? 

Tim:  My favorite playwright is Tennessee Williams.  And Shakespeare.  Shakespeare for the plots because plots are everything especially in Children’s Theatre.  It has to have a good beginning, middle and end.  It has to be alive somewhere.  I found that the worst of Children’s Theatre talks down to kids.  The piece does not give them credit.  The best of Children’s Theatre thinks, kids are smarter than us.  How can I try to reinforce in them the things that I think they need to hold onto for the rest of their lives?  For me, the great playwrights deal with those kinds of themes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, you still feel like, “How do I fit into the world?”  Adults ask that question just like kids do.  That’s what I like about Tennessee Williams too.  Really, all of the classics.

Theresa:  Your show today was quite full, packed with the audience of children and their parents.  What are the initial steps to jump start your Theatre? 

Tim:  The most important thing in having a theatre, I think, is getting the right people together who have the right talents and the right attitude.  Because it’s really hard.  We only do original work here.  So every play is experimental because it’s unknown.  We don’t know if it’s going to work or if it’s not going to work?  We go through a lot of changes with the plays.  Even once we’re open we’re still making changes to the plays.  And a lot of that comes from the actors because they feel it from the inside out.  So to me, that’s the key, is getting people who are talented, who you really like, who can all collaborate.  And that’s usually how fears are borne.  It’s usually friends who say, hey let’s go start this thing.  And it builds from there and then it becomes more of an institution or whatever. 

Theresa:  What are the qualities you look for when hiring people?

Tim:  Creativity and reliability.  Good attitudes. 

Eli:  You have to ask yourself, do you really want to do this?

Tim:  And are you going to be nice, when you do it?

Theresa:  (Laughs) absolutely.  What are the challenges in writing and directing Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves?

Tim:  The challenges were that the original story is really a story for adults.  It’s really violent.  Really violent!  That makes your hair curl, violent.

Theresa:  (Laughs)

Tim:  So we had to figure out: how do we translate that into a story that’s palatable to all ages but also the children can relate to?  So we made Ali Baba a kid, just to start with.  That changed all the dynamics.  Actually, you know, in the original story, Morgana is really the hero.  It’s really more Morgana’s story than it is Ali Baba’s story.  She’s the maid.  She’s kind of this throw-away character who solves all the problems in it.  It’s a real patriarchal story where the woman saves the day but she doesn’t get any credit for it.  And she doesn’t get any credit for it in history.  Nobody knows about Morgana….

Theresa:  (Laughs)

Tim:  So in this story, it’s still Ali Baba’s story, but it’s really clear that she is the Moral Center of the play.

Theresa:  What would you like the audience to gain from watching this play?

Tim:  That it’s really difficult making choices for children and adults.  And to try to think through the consequences of all your choices.  And then not to just get trapped by the consequences because you haven’t considered them and that it’s too late.

Theresa:  What would you like to say to the Houston audience?

Tim:  Come to Express Children’s Theatre.  Book us now!

Theresa:  Express Children’s Theatre is currently touring schools and organizations throughout the Greater Houston area through August 19, 2016.  Please call ph. 713-682-5044 or go to the website for more information.



Interview with Brennan Blankenship

Starring as Morgana in ALI BABA & the 40 Thieves

At Express Children's Theatre

Interviews conducted by Eli Key-Tello 
And Theresa Pisula 
May 21, 2016


The character of Morgana in Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves is played by the ever-delightful Brennan Blankenship.  Albeit true, it is an understatement to say that Miss Blankenship is a musical ball of energy.  She prefers to describe herself as a sassy spitfire.  In 2009, Brennan Blankenship performed as Kim MacAfee at the Travis High School Theatre production of Bye Bye Birdie.  The Executive Director of Express Children's Theatre Tim Fried-Fiori proudly states,  "Brennan was the star of our Christmas show called Santa’s Rockin’ Reindeer.  She played this little elf who wanted to get into Santa’s special seat delivering presents so she disguised herself as a reindeer."

Brennan:  Christmas is my favorite!  Christmas is easy.  It’s like Santa’s coming, I’m going to get presents.  I’m like, I’m going to be good during this performance.

Eli:  Please tell us about the part that you’re playing…

Brennan:  About Morgana?  She is twelve and she is really sassy.  One of the questions I got from the audience is, “Why is Morgana so sassy?”  And I answered, “Have you met my brothers?”  (Laughs).  But I feel like she’s a spitfire because she has to be.  You know, she does everything at the house.  Her brothers are not always all there.  One dropped out and the other one’s going on that path and she’s trying to keep everything together.  I think it’s very interesting that the one girl in the show is this person who’s holding everything together.  I think that says a lot about my life, I feel that way.  I feel like a lot of women feel that way.  I feel really powerful in that sense.

Eli:  Who or what inspired you to be an actress?

Brennan:  I actually really love Saturday Night Live.  Women like Ana Gasteyer, she’s the biggest inspiration.  Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig, they are all big inspirations for me.  Probably when I was younger, Megan Mullaly.  Will & Grace was my favorite show when I was like 6 and I wasn’t supposed to be watching it.  Megan Mullaly is my favorite person in the world.  Her and Bernadette Peters, really.  I feed off a lot of their energy (laughs).

Theresa:  strong comediennes…

Brennan:  And they’re strong women and I feel I want to emulate them…

Eli:  Everyone has an inspiration.  Some people don’t want to admit that they have inspiration but they do.

Brennan:  Oh, I have many…

Eli:  What is the best part of being in Theatre?  What do you enjoy the most?

Brennan:  In Children’s Theatre specifically, I really enjoy being able to interact with the audience.  I really enjoy being able to feel like they are engaged and they’re actually trying to help.  Even when the bad guy comes on and he says “What’s that noise?”  I really love it when the audience shouts, “Its Ali Baba!”  Like, they’re so engaged!  I just love feeling that.  For Theatre in general, I just really love being able to step outside of myself and really take people somewhere new, that they might not have experienced before.

Eli:  Where are you from originally?

Brennan:  Born and raised in Houston.

Eli:  What would you like to tell the Houston audience about this play?

Brennan:  Come see the show at Express Children’s Theatre.  Whatever age your child is, they’ll get something out of it.  It’s a great place to meet people.  We’ll even come to you if you’re having an event or anything.  Even a birthday party we’ll do it.  (Laughs).



Express Theatre


446 Northwest Mall, Houston Texas 77092 USA