When its 10th season opens with a production of the Kaufman and Hart comedy You Can’t Take it With You on Friday, Sept. 8, The Classic Theatre will celebrate a renewed commitment to propelling San Antonio’s theater community forward by providing high-quality entertainment for theatergoers of all ages and backgrounds.

“I’m thrilled for the Classic to hit 10 seasons, especially as I look at all the other exciting things going on in San Antonio,” said Executive Director Kelly Hilliard Roush. “We’ve made a footprint and we just keep growing. People are really getting to know us.”

The Classic continues to work toward professional status, as is another theater in town. “We’ve been transitioning for the past three years from being founder-driven to a board and staff-driven model,” Roush said. “As we hit 10, we’ve also taken a leap in terms of infrastructure.

“We have paid all the artists a stipend from the beginning. We are working to increase these stipends as we move toward professional salaries and increase our use of equity actors, hopefully two to four per season.”

Production also has increased. Last season, the theater added a fifth main stage show. This season, it is employing more artists, having selected pieces that require larger casts.

Roush and her team will be collaborating with executives from other theaters, including The Playhouse SA’s CEO and Artistic Director George Green and the Magik Theatre’s Managing Artistic Director Frances Limoncelli, to build a stronger theater community in San Antonio.

“We’re the seventh largest city in terms of population and the only one in the Top 10 that doesn’t have a professional theater, but we’re all moving steadily in that direction,” Roush said. “I love that George is taking initiative with the Playhouse, given its longer history and larger resources.”

Both Green and Limoncelli agree that theaters collaborating will lead to better outcomes for the local industry as a whole.

“We are really beginning to gel as a theater community – We’re all rooting for each other,” Limoncelli said. “I rely on Kelly and George when I want to suss out a new idea or get a recommendation. We are always sharing information and resources to help each other raise the bar for our productions. We want audiences to take pride in San Antonio’s theaters.”

To develop new programming, Roush solicited feedback from season ticket holders through a survey. “So much of what we heard was [that people like] the intimacy, excellence, and variety,” she said. “We really take that into account.”

“The Classic Theatre serves a much-needed niche in our city,” Green said. “While challenging our area with relevant and timely discussions, it presents art with a nostalgic flair, combined with sincerity. I’m eager to see how the organization grows and evolves, and I’m hopeful it can be in alignment with a shared vision for a culturally vibrant city that is energized by true professional theater.”

This season, the Classic will produce plays that focus on the theme of “home:” a madcap comedy (You Can’t Take it With You); a tragedy (A Doll’s House); a drama (Bless Me, Ultima); and a tragicomedy (The Cherry Orchard).

Making classical works more relevant to today’s audiences is a cornerstone of the Classic’s mission. “As we select plays and approach them artistically, we ask, ‘Why here? Why now? Why in this community?” Roush explained.

(From left) The Classic Theatre of San Antonio Executive Director Kelly Hilliard Roush peeks into a room backstage.
(From left) The Classic Theatre of San Antonio Executive Director Kelly Hilliard Roush peeks into a room backstage. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

While continuing to provide loyal theatergoers with the plays they expect and want, the Classic is also making concerted efforts to expand its audience. “We made an intentional choice last fall with The House on Mango Street, based on the book by Sandra Cisneros. It was a great success. We sold out two runs, and we really noticed a difference in the audience make-up in terms of age, ethnicity, traditional and nontraditional theater patrons. It made us wonder, ‘What other ways can we continue to diversify our audiences?’”

The clear choice was to reach out to a wider representation of the community by way of programming. “We wanted to make sure we were programming material that is considered classic by diverse communities.”

In addition to its main stage shows, the Classic offers a Second Series, with pieces such as this past summer’s Nine Circles and Burning Patience, that don’t necessarily fit the Classic mold.

“It helps us pull in more folks,” Roush said. “We’re doing more gutsy pieces, and we’re getting to do more Spanish-language pieces.”

“We’ve also been able to host Jaston Williams, whom many people know from Greater Tuna, to perform the new pieces he’s been working on. He’s a classic Texas performer, and such a draw. That’s something else that brings in people from other parts of our community. We hope that once they’ve gotten a taste of the Classic experience they’ll keep coming back.”

The theater’s educational program is another point of focus. One of its goals is to bring artists into classrooms to introduce students to classic literature.

“We … furnish study guides [for] teachers … and [introduce] arts-based learning strategies. Just being able to get students to the theater to experience how intimate and universal the productions really are is our goal,” said Kacey Roye, the Classic’s education director.

Thanks to the addition of more staff, the Classic has also increased its electronic communication, social media presence, and community outreach.

“We’re all working together to reach into the different demographics in San Antonio, and we all want to serve as connectors,” Roush said. ” There’s theater in this town for everyone.”

The Classic Theatre’s 10th season begins next week with You Can’t Take it With You (Sept. 8-Oct. 1), followed by A Doll’s House (Nov. 3-26), Bless Me, Ultima (Feb. 16-March 11, 2018) and The Cherry Orchard (May 4-27, 2018). The theater is located at 1924 Fredericksburg Road. For tickets, click here or call (210) 589-8450.

Kurt Gardner is a cultural critic and digital marketing professional. He reviews film, theater, and music for Blogcritics, ArtBeatLA and ArtSceneSA.