It was back to business for the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts this weekend – but it was anything other than business as usual.

The performing arts center reopened its doors with several free events on Friday and Saturday, inviting the public back into its freshly cleaned halls and theater. Having implemented several new coronavirus protocols, staff and volunteers said they were excited to welcome guests back into the building.

The first event, which took place Friday evening, was a screening of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Hanks was nominated for a 2020 Academy Award for best-supporting actor for the role. About 25 people came out for the event.

Staff and volunteers took the temperature of each visitor before he or she was permitted to come into the Tobin Center and provided single-use face masks to anyone not wearing one.

Hand sanitizer stations were set up outside the H-E-B Performance Hall. Plexiglass separated concessionaires and customers purchasing drinks or snacks, with volunteers decked out in matching white shirts, black pants, purple lanyards, and Tobin Center face masks. 

Employees at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts operate the bar behind plexiglass as a precaution against coronavirus. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Inside the H-E-B Performance Hall, every other row of seats had been tucked away, giving the theater an open feeling. Groups were asked to sit at least two seats apart from each other, and individuals were asked to wear masks when not in their seats.

“We’re excited to be open and to have work to do again,” said Christopher Novosad, vice president of marketing for the Tobin Center. 

This weekend was a “test-run” for bigger events to come at the Tobin Center, said Michael Fresher, president and CEO of the Tobin Center. Fresher told the Rivard Report on Friday that he and the staff were excited to be practicing the new protocols.

“We know the governor said we can open up to 50 percent, but we’re starting at 20 percent for the rest of the month,” Fresher said. “We know with the recent spikes some people might be nervous to come out, so we wanted to go above and beyond on what guidelines we actually follow.”

The Tobin Center is aiming to follow all CDC guidelines along with City and State recommendations, Fresher said.

“We did training on the new protocols and the Tobin Center has changed quite a few things,” said Isidro Cerda Jr., a Tobin volunteer. “We feel comfortable being back here with all the new precautions.”

Cynthia De Leon, a movie attendee, said she was a little worried about coming to the but that, having been cooped up during the first wave of the pandemic, it was nice to be in public again. 

Natalie Gernsbacher said she saw that the Tobin was reopening online and was very excited to see the film, since her own son grew up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

“I have a lot of really happy memories of the show,” she said. “We’re ready to get life going again.”

The Tobin Center’s second free event was a community yoga class Saturday morning on the center’s Will Naylor Smith River Walk Plaza. Put on by Mobile Om, the class had about 65 attendees who brought their own yoga mats.

The Tobin Center rotates among three yoga instructors on Saturday mornings throughout the summer months.

Hannah Whistler, facility sales and services manager at the Tobin Center, told the Rivard Report Saturday morning that it’s good to be out and to see people being social outdoors together. 

“We’re still doing temperature checks before anyone joins the class on the plaza,” Whistler said, indicating a volunteer with a digital scanning thermometer. “And since it’s outside people have the opportunity to spread out.”

Temperature checks are taken of all patrons before entering the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Mobile Om founder, owner, and instructor Cassandra Fauss said she was happy when the Tobin Center reached out to ask her to resume the summer yoga sessions.

“I’ve been mostly doing online instruction throughout the pandemic,” Fauss said. “It’s been a good response here today.”

Mari Hernandez said while it was her first time attending the free yoga event, she felt really safe with the event being outdoors and in the open.

“I enjoy coming out to the Tobin and I was glad to see they were putting on various free events,” Hernandez said.

The weekend’s headline event was a concert performance by San Antonio chamber quartet Agarita. Seating was limited to 350 and was assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. About 250 people attended the 7:30 p.m. show. 

The Tobin Center touted the nonprofit music group’s “A Community Celebration with Agarita: Reinventing the Concert Experience” as one of the first U.S. concerts to be held in a major performing arts venue with a live audience since the coronavirus pandemic began. 

Fresher told the Rivard Report Saturday that the theater had been thoroughly cleaned after the previous evening’s movie screening.

Juan Gutierrez said he heard about Saturday’s event on TV and was eager to return to the Tobin Center. Gutierrez said he attends Tobin events about four or five times per year, with live musical performances being his favorite type of event.

“I was glad to be able to support the local arts again,” Gutierrez said. 

Event attendee Rosie Vyarra-Salcido said she was excited to be out of the house, but she was still a little apprehensive about being out in the community again. Wearing her mask even in her seat, Vyarra-Salcido said she and her husband realized this is the new normal and were glad to be back at the Tobin.

“We really appreciate the protocols they’ve installed,” she said. “We’ve been so cooped up, we were like, let’s do this.”

To find out more information about upcoming events at the Tobin Center, click here

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.