Beyond the glitter and excitement of the newly opened Tobin Center, the three people leading San Antonio's main resident performing arts organizations are exploring new ways to collaborate on and off the stage.
Executives with the San Antonio Symphony, Opera San Antonio and Ballet San Antonio sat down with the Rivard Report on Tuesday to discuss their growing efforts to share staff and resources, expand education outreach programs in local schools and the community, and make productions more accessible to the whole city.
All three performing arts groups shared the Tobin stage in the H-E-B Performance Hall on opening night last week. Off stage, the groups are sharing grant-writing staff, coordinating marketing efforts, and leaving ticket sales and fulfillment to the Tobin staff. The groups also are trying to budget performance expenses so more tickets can be set aside for music students, faculty and their families.
One example of that outreach will be seen later this month with Opera San Antonio's staging of Fantastic Mister Fox, an opera in three acts composed by Artistic Director Tobias Picker to a libretto by Donald Sturrock and based on Roald Dahl's children's novel Fantastic Mr Fox. The opera will be performed Sept. 23-27 in the intimate Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater, which seats 250, but the Saturday evening performance will be simulcast on the 30-foot high video wall at the Tobin Center's outdoor River Walk Plaza where 600 people will view the performance for free.
"People can come to the River Walk in their shorts and t-shirts and enjoy great opera, the same fully staged production," said Mel Weingart, Opera San Antonio's chairman. For patrons inside, Weingart said, "The ticket prices in San Antonio are very affordable, lower than what people pay in Austin, Dallas or Houston.
"When you walk into the Tobin Center for the first time you think you are in another city, it's pretty impressive," Weingart said. "One can travel coast-to-coast and be hard-pressed to find anything more impressive, yet we're doing what we are doing with far less money than is being raised and spent in other cities."
Simulcasting at the Tobin Center represents a significant added production cost, but all three groups hope benefactors will be attracted to the opportunity to sponsor broadcasts to the River Walk Plaza where large audiences can gather in an informal setting and view performances for free.
Operational economies and shared administrative overhead will appeal to donors and funders, but public access to affordable performances and outreach programs that demonstrate measurable results are likely to resonate even more in the broader community.
"The symphony performances on the Tobin stage are really just the tip of the iceberg," said David Gross, symphony president. "There are all these programs and activities occurring under the surface that are so important to the community and, in fact, literally change lives."
Gross said there will be 20 Young People's Concerts at the Tobin Center in 2015, all free for public school, private, charter and home school students, teachers and chaperones. Two Family Concerts at Trinity University's Laurie Auditorium also will be free to the public. The partnership between the San Antonio Symphony and the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio includes an annual side-by-side concert, guest soloist performances of YOSA musicians with the symphony orchestra, and extensive teacher-student mentor relationships.
"We are so deeply engaged in using music and music education to change lives in this city, but we're not very good at telling that story about all our musicians do off stage," said Gross.
Last year the Rivard Report published stories with videos produced by San Antonio-based Key Ideas that profiled two symphony musicians and their music education efforts, especially with inner city students who became the first in their families to attend college.
Learning That Moves You, Ballet San Antonio's community outreach program launched with the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio in 2012, introduces thousands of young, inner city children to dance. The company also performs for free throughout the year at various community venues.
"When David Gross was hired (in 2013), one of the first things he did was reach out to meet with me and ask how the Symphony could help the Ballet be more successful. It was so refreshing, " said Courtney Mauro Barker, president and executive director of Ballet San Antonio. "That's the attitude we share toward one another and our organizations. We want everyone here to be successful, and we want the Tobin to be successful, and we will continue to look at new ways to work together as organizations. This works to our benefit, the Tobin Center's benefit and it moves the needle for the whole community."
Many are familiar with the annual two-week holiday season performance of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker by Ballet San Antonio with the San Antonio Symphony, but the company will perform Dracula Oct. 16-19, choreographed by Artistic Director Gabriel Zertuche, a perfectly chilling Gothic horror to put people of all ages in the mood for Halloween y Día de los Muertos. That's the definition of accessibility.
*Featured/top image: Rania Charalambidou, Corps de Ballet member, on a downtown rooftop. Still Life Photography by Alexander Devora.