To Tobin Center CEO Mike Fresher, The Search for Life Beyond Earth seems like an appropriate title for the times. The next installment in the popular National Geographic Live series, focused on the emergent field of astrobiology, is scheduled for Aug. 16.

“I think it’s an interesting title given what’s going on on this planet,” Fresher said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic that has thrown society – and performance scheduling – into chaos.

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts reopened June 12, with sparse programming, socially distanced seating arrangements, and safety protocols in place, including Tobin Center-branded masks for all staff.

While the recent spike in coronavirus cases has caused a brief pause in programming, Fresher said he’s confident recently announced events will take place.

The Search for Life Beyond Earth was originally scheduled for April 5, then rescheduled to June 14, and has now found its hopeful home in August. Tickets for either of the prior dates are still valid, and the Tobin Center’s new ticketing policy ensures that refunds will be given in the event of cancellations and that tickets will remain valid for rescheduled shows.

The policy is a necessary assurance for audiences, Fresher said. Purchased tickets help his staff plan “for the future of entertainment in San Antonio,” as the most recent schedule announcement states.

Other upcoming events foretell more of the British Invasion era than a coronavirus invasion, with Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone set for “a socially distanced general admission concert” on Sept. 19, and The Monkees featuring original members Mike Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz on April 1, 2021.

Such baby boomer-oriented programming is the result of a nationwide survey conducted by 32 performing arts centers “to better understand and track patron’s attitudes and willingness to attend live events,” said Christopher Novosod, Tobin Center vice president of marketing.

The biweekly survey is well-suited to respond to the pandemic environment, Fresher said, and offered surprising results. While Fresher and Aaron Zimmerman, vice president for programming and marketing, might have assumed millennials would be most ready to go out for live entertainment, the age group most responsive to attending live performance turned out to be older adults, predominantly between ages 35 to 50.

Thus the aging rockers and Garrison Keillor, who is scheduled to visit Sept. 10. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, visits Oct. 24 and actor David Payne holds the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theatre for three nights, Sept. 17-20, with An Evening with C.S. Lewis.

Skewing slightly younger are comedian Andrew Schulz on Sept. 20, Total Cat Mojo Live with Jason Galaxy on Nov. 13, podcasters Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat of Crime Junkie have already proved popular enough that a second show has been added on Nov. 22, with tickets on sale for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. performances.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson returns to San Antonio on Dec. 7, Black Violin Impossible makes its first local appearance Feb. 3, and trumpeter Chris Botti is scheduled to perform March 27.

The focus on one-person and small ensemble shows is a safer bet should the pandemic extend into 2021, and future events will depend on who is willing to go out on the road to tour and perform, Fresher said. Referring to Zimmerman, Fresher said “our VP of programming is constantly looking to fill in dates.”

The need for a second Crime Junkie show is partly due to the Tobin’s capacity restrictions, currently at 20 percent, or about 350 patrons. Fresher said plans call for increasing capacity to 50 percent by fall if pandemic conditions allow.

That’s a big “if,” Fresher said, with the situation changing seemingly daily. While reopening and adapting have proven to be much more work than simply shutting down, he remains confident the Tobin Center will continue operations.

“When I talk with staff and talk with board members, I always say, ‘As of 12:19 [p.m.] July 8, it looks like we’re gonna be able to do this in the next 10 weeks, but call me tomorrow.’ And I may have something else,” he said of keeping his colleagues informed.

As Fresher spoke to the Rivard Report by phone, he refreshed the time reference to 12:20 p.m., demonstrating the need to be responsive.

Ticketing and further event schedule information are available on the Tobin Center website.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...