Constructing Success: Tobin Center Announces Inaugural Season

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Construction continues at a relentless pace at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Page Graham.

It was with a tremendous sense of anticipation that the leadership of San Antonio’s Tobin Center for the Performing Arts announced the performance calendar for their inaugural 2014-15 season: 33 productions representing a breadth of performing groups and individuals (a total of 73 performances), many appearing in San Antonio for the first time ever.

This list is exclusive of the previously announced performances by Tobin resident companies AtticRep, Ballet San Antonio, and SOLI Chamber Ensemble. To date, 243 total performances are scheduled in the first year of operations (including The Tobin and its 10 resident companies) with another 127 performance rehearsals and private events booked.

J. Bruce Bugg and Michael Fresher make their way to the podium to announce the upcoming season at The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Page Graham.

J. Bruce Bugg and Michael Fresher make their way to the podium to announce the upcoming season at The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Page Graham.

Tobin Center President and CEO Michael Fresher points out that as currently scheduled, “The new facility will be utilized 370 times in 299 days, representing a capacity use of 125 percent. In October 2014 alone, there will be 64 uses in 31 days with 52 performances.”

That is some number crunching. If the logistics appear to be mind-boggling, they are. This is accomplished only with advanced design features such as the mechanical floor that changes the traditional raked auditorium configuration to a level floor in 23 minutes flat, at the push of a button.

A construction worker cuts limestone blocks that match the facade of the original Municipal Auditorium. Photo by Page Graham.

A construction worker cuts limestone blocks that match the facade of the original Municipal Auditorium. Photo by Page Graham.

To the tune of jackhammers, beeping safety horns, and construction booming just outside, there was no pause in the juggernaut as J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., Chairman of the Bexar County Performing Arts Foundation, reminded us of the challenges and successes that the group has faced on this building odyssey.

The project was announced in 2007 as a public/private initiative, at the time heralded by Mayor Phillip Hardberger and Bexar County Commissioner Nelson Wolff. The Tobin is a $203 million project, funded by Bexar County bond proceeds, a contribution of land and buildings from the City of San Antonio and private donations.

“On Track and On Time”

With obvious satisfaction, Bugg announced, “When we open, we will be on time in our fulfillment of the promises we made to the tax payers when the bond issue was passed in 2008. This project would not have been possible without a public and private partnership with the county and city. The Foundation was initially asked to raise $20 million in private donations. We fulfilled that goal years ago, and we are within striking distance of our elevated ask of $54 million.”

The project is “on track and on time,” and the keys to the facility will be handed over on May 31, 2014. Ownership and management of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts will remain in the hands of the Bexar County Performing Arts Foundation.

“We are working very hard to live up to our motto of ‘something for everyone’ as we book dates for our first season,” CEO Fresher said, “and we will be adding even more dates as opportunities surface in the coming months. As performers and producers finalize schedules for 2014-15, we will see availability for even more bookings.”

Michael Fresher leads a group tour of the work in progress at the Tobin Center, August 2013. Photo by Page Graham.

Michael Fresher leads a group tour of the work in progress at the Tobin Center, August 2013. Photo by Page Graham.

Fresher reiterates, “This is going to be a remarkable season. We are going to put this building on the map showing the performing arts world that we are for real. And, we will offer a four show season ticket package starting under $125.” Tickets for The Tobin Signature Series will be offered through the in-house ticketing system, TOBi, beginning April 26 at 10 a.m. by going to www.tobincenter.org or by calling 210-223-8624.

Aaron Zimmerman announces the upcoming lineup during the press conference. Photo by Page Graham.

Aaron Zimmerman announces the upcoming lineup during the press conference. Photo by Page Graham.

“Putting this first season together has been like playing chess, as we have sought variety with popular performers and productions while working around the schedules of our 10 resident companies, galas and other events.” said Aaron Zimmerman, Tobin Center senior director for programming and marketing. “We are looking forward to seeing everyone here in the fall, and grateful for the support.”

Dynamic Facilities and Tenants

This facility is the most up-to-date in every way, with world-class acoustics infinitely adjustable and capable of staging performances and events of every kind – musicals, rock concerts, classical, spoken word, dance, private events for you and 2,000 of your closest friends – you name it. The Tobin promises to be the crown jewel of South Texas when it comes to superior performance art complexes.

Christopher Novosad leads a safety gear-clad group of visitors through the construction site. Photo by Page Graham.

Christopher Novosad leads a safety gear-clad group of visitors through the construction site. Photo by Page Graham.

Attired in the appropriate safety gear, our small group was toured through the construction by Senior Marketing Manager Christopher Novosad (previously with Houston Grand Opera) and Brian Clark, senior operations manager. The transformation since we last toured The Tobin in August 2013 is quite remarkable.

Gone is the 18’ wall that once separated The Tobin Plaza and the River Walk. This will permit a beautiful flow from The Veterans’ Memorial Plaza, providing a wonderful pedestrian experience through The Tobin grounds down to the River Walk, also allowing for access to the river’s system of water taxis.

The view from the Frost Studio Lobby onto the Riverwalk is currently obscured by scaffolding. Photo by Page Graham.

The view from the Frost Studio Lobby onto the River Walk is currently obscured by scaffolding. Photo by Page Graham.

Novosad shares that The Tobin Plaza will boast a 18 foot tall  by 30 foot wide LED screen capable of simulcasting performances from inside the theater and a seating capacity of approximately 600.

Like most other aspects of The Tobin, this will be a flexible space. “Of course we have never done something like this before, so we are still figuring it out as we go,” he said.

Naming rights are available for the plaza adjacent to the Tobin Center. Photo by Page Graham.

Naming rights are available for the plaza adjacent to the Tobin Center. Photo by Page Graham.

And yes, the outdoor simulcast performances will be free to the public.

“The idea is that people can get a taste of what’s going on at the Center and then maybe like to explore coming inside for a performance experience. We are very excited by this aspect of our programming,” Novosad said.

Looking upward from the Tobin Center main lobby into the Founders Bridge lobby. Photo by Page Graham.

Looking upward from the Tobin Center main lobby into the Founders Bridge lobby. Photo by Page Graham.

What’s in a Name?

All you titans of industry out there, listen up – naming rights to the plaza are still available. As well, only eight of the original 37 Founders Bridge Box Seats. The center twelve seats, best in the house, can be yours. Again, this is another illustration of The Tobin’s desire to be “something for everyone,” appealing to a broad range of financial capabilities, tastes, and lifestyles.

The view from center stage at The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Page Graham.

The view from center stage at The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Page Graham.

Inside, we find the Alvarez Family Studio Theater. A “black box” style configuration that is, again, infinitely customizable to fit the needs of those utilizing the space. And then, of course, the real jewel, the H-E-B Performance Hall, soaring to four levels.

The scaffolding that existed back in the summer is replaced by the coming together of seating, acoustical, and decorative elements that will make the space the best destination for seeing live performance in this part of the world. I am reminded of Fresher’s statement from August 2013, “It will be the best in the country on the day we open… the day after, I can’t speak for.”

This was said in jest at the time, but actually, this guy isn’t kidding.

Backstage rigging climbs into the lofty heights of the stagehouse at The Tobin Center. Photo by Page Graham.

Backstage rigging climbs into the lofty heights of the stagehouse at The Tobin Center. Photo by Page Graham.

Bringing all this technical bravura to bear takes a world-class talent, which we will have in Stefan De Wilde, in the role of Technical Director. His previous engagements have included Cirque du Soleil, The New World Symphony, and Disney. He will have his work cut out for him on this ambitious new outing, but it seems we are in good hands. So far, it all sounds pitch perfect.

The citizens of Bexar County and beyond should look forward to the public roll-out, with a sense of accomplishment and excitement. The Tobin’s “Opening Nights Celebration” will run from September 4 – 22, 2014, in honor of the milestone event,  with the grand opening to follow on September 24.

You’ll want to be there.

*Featured/top image: Construction continues at a relentless pace at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Page Graham.

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4 thoughts on “Constructing Success: Tobin Center Announces Inaugural Season

  1. The first time I met Robert Tobin was around 1968, when my parents were protocol Hemisfair souls transforming our city. He supported the First Repertory Company in San Antonio and threw several fundraiser parties for the soul of arts and the guts of radical ‘gay’ truth in a time when most of San Antonio was in the closet. Everyone loved Robert Tobin and many of us have private stories to tell about his intelligence and his wise use of money he inherited. Let’s all of us tell the truth about Robert, and not slide into the ‘moneyed’ sanitized stories that even in their ambiguity piss off Republicans who always have to be ‘pressed’ into acknowledging the power of the arts and their freedoms. Robert Tobin was a radical Texan. What say you, Monsieur Rivard?

  2. As for “professional space,” San Antonio has been waiting for nearly a century for a professional Actors Equity theatre company, but supposedly the Tobin has no rehearsal space????

  3. The Tobin will have tons of rehearsal space. It will house 10 (and counting) resident groups for performance and rehearsals. It’s a step in the right direction for San Antonio, but it is just that…a step. Hopefully it will inspire the continued creation of space and support for the arts in this huge city.

  4. I sang two seasons in the old auditorium in 1962-63 and 63-64 with the mastersingers . I did two solo roles, one in Lohengrin and one in Madama Butterfly. I still have a contract I signed with the Met, paying me $25.00!
    The conductor at that time was Victor Allesandro and I remember him telling me how my voice carried all over the auditorium. (no mikes were used back then). Hopefully the acoustics will be as good or better in the new Tobin. I’m so excited about the opening even though I’m now 82!! Ginger Turner-McKay

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