Arts & Culture
San Antonio's Theater Scene is Long on Space, Short on Productions
Published: May 22, 2013
Though his proposals are focused more on marketing rather than theatrical content, Wofford insists that new tactics are needed to attract an audience. “San Antonio is in dire need of a theater company that transforms the experience of interacting with theater,” he said “That is Convergent’s staple. That is why I call myself the chief experience officer.”
Though his chances of success may seem as vague as Lifshutz’s endeavor to renovate a theater space, Wofford has captured the imagination of leadership at the Tobin.
David Green, interim managing director of the Tobin Center, and former general manager of the San Antonio Symphony, says, “Anthony came and gave me his vision, and it resonated with me. I don’t know if he will be successful, or to what extent. But I don’t want to tell this kid he can’t do it — he might be able to, so let’s let him try.” The take-away if Convergent succeeds is the Holy Grail of theater, which has been increasingly doomed to a graying audience. “If they are successful, it will really help activate that space for young people,” Green claimed.
The aging, and hence dwindling, theater audience is a problem also faced by dance and classical music, both in San Antonio and throughout the country. But in SA, other factors besides audience demographics and the lack of a central district may hinder theater’s health. One factor might be the way theater companies often respond to the financial support offered to the arts by the City’s Department of Culture and Creative Development, which awards grants ranging up to a third of an arts nonprofit’s annual operating budget. Monitored by DCCD on a monthly basis, the grants derived from the City’s Hotel Occupancy Tax must be met with matching funds. This is a factor leading theaters that own or manage their own spaces to book other companies on their stages in order to gain rental income. But this tactic, though it may have the benefit of increasing artistic diversity in a theater, has a down side, too.
Faced with the need to ensure a calendar filled with adequate rental space, theater managers schedule a number of short runs, usually three weekends, of their own productions. Faced with having to pay a booking fee, companies renting do the same. The result is that shows have little time for the public to learn of them. And if, by some chance, they do sell out, there are usually no opportunities to lengthen the run. Even with luck and hard work, there are few chances to expand audience in this system.
Coupled with the obligation to find matching funds for DCCD grants, the demands to serve their communities with a staggering variety of services ranging from visual arts education to dance instruction leaves little theater appearing on the stages of large City-owned arts facilities. The Carver Community Cultural Center, a historical bastion of the East Side, was awarded $327,000 a year in the last fiscal cycle by DCCD, although they do not produce their own work, but rather schedule a season of touring and local productions. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (GCAC) located on the West Side, receiving $332,000 annually, concentrates on self-produced events like CineFestival and the recent Tejano Conjunto Festival, partially held at the historic Guadalupe Theater. A center of teatro in the 1980s, the Guadalupe Theater is now without a resident company, and no longer features TeatroFest, a contemporary Chicano theater festival.
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