There’s a new theater coming to town, and it’s unlike any other showplace in San Antonio.
Jonathan Pennington, formerly of the Cameo and Woodlawn theatres, is getting ready to open the Roxie Theatre, which will provide a “360-degree theatrical experience,” on the city’s near Northwest side on Saturday, Oct. 1.
The theater is housed in a remodeled nightclub which still retains the trappings of its previous life, but has been greatly enhanced for theatrical effect. It’s a uniquely different performance space for San Antonio, and Pennington’s hope is that it will blossom into a destination for people to come not only for the theater but also to meet up with friends, have a drink, and enjoy some live music.
In the midst of round-the-clock construction at the Roxie’s location near the intersection of Fredericksburg and Callaghan roads, Pennington spoke to the Rivard Report about his journeys in the theater world – both here and New York – the birth of the Roxie, and his aspirations for the continued growth of the arts community in San Antonio.
Rivard Report: You were with the Cameo until it closed in January, correct?
Jonathan Pennington: Yes, the last show we did at the Cameo was The Buddy Holly Story.
RR: Tell us about your journey between the Cameo and the new Roxie Theatre.
JP: I had the opportunity to move to New York and got involved in some new productions there. The actor and teacher Patrick Page also took me in as one of his students for the summer. He originated the role of Scar in first national tour of The Lion King and he played the Green Goblin in Spider Man: Turn off the Dark. He became a mentor for me. All in all, it was an enriching experience.
RR: How did the formation of the Roxie come about?
JP: I ran the Cameo for three-and-a-half years, and the reason for the move is that the owner sold the space to City Church, and they told me that they didn’t want to have sets built in there anymore. They wanted to use the space for services.
In searching for a new home, I looked at the space now occupied by the Roxie, but I wasn’t really sure about it at first. It felt too much like a theater for the modern age, and I didn’t know if I was ready for that kind of leap yet. I went to New York, and I was there five months when my grandmother passed away, so I came back and spent a week with the family. While I was here, I was invited to look at the space again. By this time, I had seen about 60 shows in Manhattan, and they really inspired me to literally think outside the box.
I saw a show, for example, where you didn’t sit down at all – you followed the actors around. Then I saw a show with a thrust stage and seating all around it. In Vegas, I saw a production that also had circular seating around the stage, and people just raved. They loved the interaction it provided, so when I looked at the space here again, I thought, “Well, maybe this will work.” Having visited all these venues with their unorthodox but successful arrangements, I was really ready to introduce San Antonio to something more modern.
The Roxie has a rectangular thrust stage with seating all around. There are two bars, one on the main floor and one upstairs. It’s a really great arrangement. You can purchase a seat at the bar and watch the show, you can sit in stadium seating on the floor, or you can sit in the balcony. Basically, we wanted to create a theater environment that was interactive, one that the audience could really be a part of. The actors who have to come audition for Rocky Horror and Evil Dead: the Musical, the Roxie’s first two shows, are thrilled by the concept.
There’s another room under the main floor that we’re converting into an intimate cabaret space. We also plan to put tables outside so that people can come relax and get a refreshment or coffee during the day.
RR: It’s certainly a completely new idea for San Antonio.
JP: Yes, I’ve been working on the concept for three years. Once I came back and decided that this was the space, I sketched out ideas for about three months, and we’ve been working nonstop for 31 days to make it happen.
RR: It’s coming down to crunch time isn’t it?
JP: It’s been really crazy. We have an all new, state-of-the-art lighting and sound system and neon lighting around the building. Even the new signage was designed and put up in such a short time.
In terms of programming, I thought there was no better way to launch the theater than with Rocky Horror and Evil Dead: the Musical. This town is very Halloween-oriented, after all. I’m also thinking more of the physical space for future productions. Take, for example, the musical Rock of Ages, which takes place in a bar – it would be perfect here. Any shows that are really interactive and in-your-face will be really cool in this spot.
RR: And it’s a great layout for bands to perform there, too.
JP: It’s a perfect setup for bands. My brother-in-law, who’s a musician, looked at the space and was stoked at the potential for intimate concerts.
RR: What’s your opinion of San Antonio theater in general?
JP: I see San Antonio evolving in wonderful ways, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come back. I see great potential here. There’s a rise in quality and talent all across the board.
At the same time, it’s also become really competitive. Everyone seems to compete for the same ticket sales, but I think we should all work together as a team. We’re seeing that San Antonio audiences want to go to the theater, and not just one theater. If we all support each other, that would help to keep the community vibrant – working together will help bring audiences to all the theaters.
And ticket prices in San Antonio are extremely reasonable, compared to New York, Chicago, or even Austin. For example, I saw a community theater show in Austin that cost $44, but at the Roxie our tickets are priced at $23.
RR: What about the future?
JP: When the smaller theaters around town flourish, the arts grow. Actors and artists are able to do what they love. In a nutshell, I really want to see everyone support each other as much as possible and create a positive force for arts in the city. I truly believe the whole city will flourish because of the arts. It’s certainly my hope.
The Roxie Theatre is located at 7460 Callaghan Rd., Suite 333. Tickets for The Rocky Horror Show (opening Oct. 1) and Evil Dead: the Musical (opening Oct. 7) can be purchased here.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Roxie’s “far Northeast side location” is “at the corner of Fredericksburg and Callaghan roads.” This is incorrect and has been updated.
Top image: The Roxie’s main stage. Photo courtesy of the Roxie Theatre.