Arts & Culture
San Antonio's Theater Scene is Long on Space, Short on Productions
Published: May 22, 2013
If you think there is little to no serious theater in San Antonio, you’re not alone. Even business travelers dining at Bohanan’s must notice that the marquees of the venerable Majestic and Empire theaters most often announce comedy or music shows. If a play is listed, it’s likely a touring musical, such as The Addams Family, which appeared this month at the Majestic. Nearby, the opulent Aztec Theatre is shuttered; a sign on the door advertises it is available for event rentals.
If drama — other than the political sort at City Hall — ever graced downtown stages, there’s little record of it. The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre was built in 1916 as a vaudeville house, and then became a movie theater. The Majestic Theatre arrived in 1929, courtesy of the Interstate Theatres film chain. Eventually, both theaters were shuttered and since renovations brought them back to life in 1989, a variety of performances, including the San Antonio Symphony’s season at the Majestic, have been offered. But precious little serious theater, of the artistic quality demanded off Broadway, has been seen.
Bereft of a central theater district, San Antonio is instead home to more than two dozen small companies spread almost invisibly about the city — the majority would most appropriately be described as community theater. Though our city is yet to found an Actors Equity house guaranteeing professional level performances and actors’ pay, some companies, like the Classic Theatre of San Antonio and AtticRep muster remarkable performances, many recognized by The Alamo Theater Arts Council’s annual awards.
In the past, a favored destination for those seeking innovative, experimental work was the Blue Star Arts Complex where productions at the Overtime Theater and the Sterling Houston Theater at Jump-Start have attracted devoted, if small audiences. But, a little over a year ago the Overtime left Southtown, a casualty of new construction at the complex, and last month the arts community was shocked to hear that Jump-Start’s lease would not be renewed.
Though the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, being built within the gutted façade of the old Municipal Auditorium, promises a resurgence of artistic endeavor based on a few lucky tenants when it opens in fall of 2014, San Antonio’s theater community now seems under duress. But is theater being incrementally whittled away before it can mature to a professional level, or are changes in our local economy offering the possibility for a renaissance?
As the Current went to press on Monday, April 15, for our April 17 issue, we barely had time to insert news we confirmed that day: Jump-Start’s lease would not be renewed at the Blue Star Arts Complex. Since then, James Lifshutz, principal of the company that owns the property, signed papers with Jump-Start that allow them to stay through January, 2014, past the end of their lease in September. Even with the extra time, the transition won’t be easy for the theater company, one of the first tenants of the nearly 30-year-old arts complex. At present, neither Jump-Start, Classic Theatre, nor Celebration Circle — the third nonprofit sharing the space — know where they ultimately will land.
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