My, how time flies. It has been almost one year since the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts officially opened its doors with a grand public ceremony on Sept. 4, 2014.
Two years ago, in August 2013, we originally toured the facility still under construction with newly transplanted president and CEO Michael Fresher. It was a blazing hot day, and a small group of local arts administrators were getting the Cook’s tour. There was a sense of urgency, as opening day was only one short year away. Converting the old, but well-loved Municipal Auditorium into a state-of-the-art performance complex was a challenge, and failure was not on the agenda.
The next time that we found ourselves in the theater was August 2014 as Texas Public Radio members were invited to a special performance by Youth Orchestra of San Antonio (YOSA), "The Science of Sound." The occasion was the sophisticated “tuning” of the space by the high-tech acousticians responsible for making the hall sensitive and responsive, whether you are attending a San Antonio Symphony concert or a lecture by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. This was the first night that I came to love the Tobin, the first night that I discovered and came to love YOSA. This is what it’s all about: Discovery and passion for the performing arts.
This Sunday, Aug. 30, the Tobin Center invites the San Antonio and Bexar County community to join in for “The Culture Fair,” an open house celebrating its first anniversary from 2-5 p.m. This event will feature the 10 resident companies that call Tobin Center home. It is free and open to the public.
In addition to live performances by SOLI Chamber Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio, Opera San Antonio and The Children’s Chorus of San Antonio, there will be appearances by Clifford The Big Red Dog and the cast of Ballet San Antonio’s "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker."
It is highly recommended to take the behind-the-scenes tour, an opportunity to discover what lies beyond the curtain. The San Antonio Symphony Instrument Petting Zoo will allow the young and young at heart to get interactive with members of the symphony. If sets and costumes are your thing, a must-see is the walk-through display featuring designs by resident theatre company, AtticRep.
This is an opportunity to explore The Tobin, especially for those who haven’t been there before. I am still surprised when I learn friends and acquaintances have not been there yet.
In many ways, we are terribly fortunate. When I look back on the year, we have seen this place in almost every format. The intimacy of the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theatre is wonderful. Whether it was an AtticRep performance of “True West” or Opera San Antonio’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” the experience of the performance was spot on for sight lines, acoustics and artistic content.
The H-E-B Performance Hall stands up to the great concert halls of the world, regardless of where your aesthetic boundaries lie. The hall rocked with the “Experience Hendrix Tour” – we all came apart at the seams when Buddy Guy hit the stage. World-renowned soprano, Patricia Racette, held us spellbound in the title role of “Salome” during the Opera San Antonio production. Ballet San Antonio stepped forward in a big way, proving their mettle as never before with their dramatic production of "Romeo & Juliet," the live accompaniment by the San Antonio Symphony always uplifting. Celebrity astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson regaled a rapt audience for nearly four hours with his genius and humor, including a question and answer session.
One of the most unusual performances in such a hall occurred when the Tobin rolled out the flat floor configuration for the first time with the synth-pop duo, Erasure. As a full house danced the night away, Michael Fresher kept a watchful eye while this technical wonder was tested in performance for the first time. Yes, if you haven’t heard, the orchestra level seating folds down to a flat floor in 26 minutes flat. It was a disco on steroids.
These were all unique and commanding experiences. But to be honest, if you spoke with 10 different individuals, you would likely get 10 distinctly different stories. The performance roster is deep and varied with something to tempt and fascinate just about everyone. The Sunday event will present a time to pick up tickets for the coming season. “Huge discounts” are promised on almost all upcoming shows, including season tickets and individual ticket purchases. Also, there will be no service fees on purchases made during the open house.
Michael Fresher described his “ah-ha moment” from the past season – the moment when he knew it was all worth it to make the jump from the East Coast to Texas.
“When we wrapped up the ‘Celebration of Opening Nights’ (27 performances in 31 days) with the Tobin Center’s Inaugural Benefit Concert featuring Paul McCartney," he said. "I was excited for our founders and profoundly appreciative of our board and Chairman Bruce Bugg for all the work that had gone into the conception, development and construction of the Tobin.
“The Center was overwhelmingly embraced by the community. That response, and the continued support of our donors and board members, fuels the Tobin’s mission to pursue and present world-class performing arts and entertainment productions, year after year,” he said.
For those who love a good party, this year’s upcoming benefit concert will feature Lionel Richie on Oct. 22.
However, there are many in the community who feel that the Tobin is not a place for them. Those who don’t have the extra cash in the budget at the end of the month to treat their families to performances like this. The concern is a reality, but it is a challenge that the Tobin and many of the resident companies have taken steps to ameliorate.
For example, Ballet San Antonio has an award-winning program, Learning That Moves You, with the Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio. Not only do they offer classes to hundreds of underprivileged and at-risk children in our city, but they also make tickets available to their performances.
“The Tobin Center offers so many events and performances, utilizing each and every space to the fullest, that it is truly a venue that has something for everyone – every passion, and yes, every budget," according to Tobin Center management.
The Tobin and its resident companies host free performances for local school districts during the school year.
"To date, more than 25,000 children have laughed and learned – all at once. Through the Tobin Center Education Program, we team up with The Children’s Fine Art Series and the San Antonio Symphony and offer shows that nourish creativity, explore different cultures, and hopefully ignite a passion in our community’s future artists and performers," said Tobin management.
There are free family events like the H-E-B “Cinema on the Plaza,” a monthly movie night. The Tobin also offers free simulcasts on the plaza of sold-out acts. A few examples from last season were “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and the girl group, Fifth Harmony. You can also get your "om" on with “Yoga on the Plaza” twice a month. There is more educational information available online and from Tobin Director of Development Leigh Owen.
On another track, young professionals on a budget can get involved in the Ghost Light Society. The mission of this group is to gather, educate and entertain a new generation of patrons for the arts.
According to the Tobin website, “As an extension of The Tobin Center, the Ghost Light Society offers exciting and relevant programming, exclusive opportunities to interact with San Antonio’s professional artists, and the opportunity to forge meaningful relationships with the next generation of San Antonio’s leaders.” There are discounts and freebies that are valued at more than $800 annually with a $10 per month membership.
So, take the opportunity to come out on Sunday and get to know more about this tremendous community asset.
And remember; no party is complete without cupcakes, so The Tobin Staff invites everyone to join in for some sweet treats at 4:30 p.m. Cheers!
*Featured/top image: The sun sets for opening night at the Tobin Center. Photo by Scott Ball.