The grande finale of “Mr. Goldstone, I Love You” from Gypsy. Photo by Siggi Ragnar.
The grande finale of “Mr. Goldstone, I Love You” from Gypsy. Photo by Siggi Ragnar.

Since its founding in 1912, The Playhouse San Antonio has been a cultural gem for the City of San Antonio, surviving two World Wars and the Great Depression. It has stood strong thanks to the tireless dedication and passion of theatre-lovers in our city. That passion can still be seen at The Playhouse today. From shows to education programs to outreach, The Playhouse is continuing to grow at an amazing rate. When Asia Ciaravino took over in 2012, she wanted to make the theater a place that was, “really accessible to everyone. (She) wanted anyone in San Antonio to be able to walk through the doors and feel like they’re at home.”

This welcoming vision is one of the major reasons The Playhouse has chosen to participate in The Big Give SA again this year. “We are getting ready to unveil some big changes here at The Playhouse, and more than ever before, every dollar counts. We have three construction projects happening right now and more on the way,” Ciaravino said.

The money from this year’s Big Give is also being matched – up to $25,000 – by the Genevieve and Ward Orsinger Foundation, and the dollars raised will go to support The Playhouse’s education programs, as well as its many construction projects. Each of these projects will benefit the theater’s rapidly growing base of patrons and students.

“We are bursting at the seams and our programs are really outgrowing our space,” Ciaravino said. “Our building has been here since 1930; no one expected, when it was built, that our programs would end up being so huge. Our growth is, literally, into the hundreds of percents at this point. We’ve been able to do a lot of work at our partner locations like Haven for Hope and Clarity Child Guidance Center, but it’s past time for our building to grow. We need to be the place where our community comes for theatre.”

Thanks to a grant from Impact San Antonio, The Playhouse is in the process of renovating its Dance Studio into ADA-compliant bathrooms, something that the Cellar Theater has been lacking for years, as well as repairing its ceiling (which collapsed during the flooding in 2012), and restoring its Russell Hill Rogers Theater and Lobby back to their original colors.

“We had the historical commission come in and take paint samples, and there’s practically no color these walls haven’t been at one point or another,” Ciaravino said. “We really wanted to choose something that was both traditional and modern and would make the space feel less vast. We want patrons to come in and feel like they’re really a part of something special.”

Senior students rehearse a scene during class. Photo by Andrea Medina.
Senior students rehearse a scene during class. Photo by Andrea Medina.

Believing that theatre really is something special is why Ciaravino has grown The Playhouse’s outreach program so much in recent years.

“I have seen, first-hand, how theater changes peoples’ lives. There is something so transformative about watching someone blossom onstage for the first time. Theater touches something intrinsic in the human soul. We all need that kind of creative expression in our lives, and it’s really heartbreaking to meet someone who has never had that opportunity,” she said.

There are many populations in San Antonio who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in the arts, a gap The Playhouse is working hard to fill.

In just the past two years, The Playhouse has launched two completely new education programs: Senior Theatre and ArtSpace. Senior Theatre has now served more than 60 seniors, giving them the opportunity to perform on stage and build relationships with their peers.

“You know, it’s brought some fun back to my world … now that our kids and grandkids have gone in their own world, our adventures aren’t so exciting anymore,” says program participant Linda Manson.

The seniors participating in the program culminate every class session with a showcase performance for friends, family, and Playhouse patrons. Many of the seniors are new to theatre, but for some, this program is a chance to relive their glory days on the stage.

Students practice their improvisation skills with Miss Courtnie. Photo by Andrea Medina.
Students practice their improvisation skills with Miss Courtnie. Photo by Andrea Medina.

The Playhouse’s ArtSpace program offers arts classes for students living with struggles like homelessness, poverty, and mental health problems. The classes are taught by local artists from The Playhouse and Trilogy Dance Center, with plans in the works to add more teaching partners, especially in the visual and media arts. So far, the program has been quite successful, with a total of four branches already open at Haven for Hope, Clarity Child Guidance Center, the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, and SAMMinistries; and two more are set to open in 2015-2016 at the Children’s Bereavement Center and Morgan’s Wonderland. Each branch of the program serves approximately 30 students each week.

“We have set a goal for $10,000 this year for our Big Give campaign,” Ciaravino said. “We had such a great turnout doing a midnight event last year, and this year we’re planning something a little different. We can’t reveal our secrets yet, but keep an eye on our social media to see all the great stuff we’re rolling out.”

To support The Playhouse’s shows and education programs this year, you can make your donation on May 5 between midnight and 11:59 p.m. To learn more about The Playhouse and the difference it makes in our community, visit them at here.

*Featured/top image: The grande finale of “Mr. Goldstone, I Love You” from Gypsy. Photo by Siggi Ragnar.

Related Stories:

The Big Give SA: More Than an Annual Fundraiser

More Than $2 Million Raised for Big Give SA

The Big Give SA: Crowdsourcing Philanthropy For You and Me

The Big Give SA: There Are No Small Gifts

Avatar photo

Casey Weed

Casey Weed is the Development Manager at The Playhouse San Antonio, San Antonio's oldest continually-operating arts organization. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of the...