Since its inception, Texas Light Opera (TLO) has endeavored to bring bigger and better productions to the South/Central Texas region. Its mission is to provide a foundation for artists to perform in both classical operas and contemporary musicals, bringing in audiences from San Antonio and the surrounding communities.
It was this vision that inspired TLO Executive Director Nicole Erwin to pursue a new and risky idea: a small tour in Central and South Texas.
Starting this month, the company is embarking on a three-theater tour of Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last 5 Years. It will be performed in Seguin, San Antonio, and Wimberley.
Ms. Erwin and Joseph Urick, board member of TLO and co-star of The Last 5 Years, were kind enough to answer some questions about this tour and the state of local theater as a whole.
What was the impetus behind the founding of TLO?
NICOLE ERWIN: I got the idea from Bernard Taylor. I was working with him at the time at the Overtime Theatre. He said, “We should organize a nonprofit organization. We can educate people, we can produce shows. We can give classical music, chamber music and other styles that are lesser-known more of a voice in San Antonio and beyond.” I thought that sounded like a great mission statement, so we formed the nonprofit.
JOSEPH URICK: While the company has always focused on more classical pieces, it is our hope with this tour to establish some ground in contemporary performance as well.
What makes this an appropriate piece to tour with?
JU: It’s an ideal show to tour because of its size. With such a minimal cast, as well as our technical requirements being so limited, it makes travel between spaces extremely simple and cost-effective for our purposes. The show is truly self-reliant, as the costumes are mostly personal, the audio portable, and the lighting equipment being used in-house at each venue. It was our hope to make the production as unobtrusive as possible.
NE: I like to put on shows that are more intimate in nature. I like working with artists hands-on to bring out the best in them for each particular piece. Joseph and Ginger are artists I really respect and admire, and I enjoyed working with them to make these characters come to life. The concept of the show is fascinating, too. One character is going forward, one’s going backward. I’ve always been a geek that way; I’ve always liked time-travel stuff.
We’re black-boxing it with a few stage props, so it’s the perfect show to take on the road. You don’t have to have a big van to pack it all up. It gets theater out to people who may not have the opportunity to see it otherwise. It’s cathartic to our actors. It’s very personal to them, and I think it’s going to be personal to some audience members as well.
What challenges do you face staging it in three different theaters?
JU: The greatest challenge, for the actors and our director, is the three vastly different theater structures. The Texas, in Seguin, is traditional proscenium, the Roxie in San Antonio is a modified thrust, and the EmilyAnn in Wimberley is a true in-the-round venue. Each space has its benefits as well as challenges. What works in one is completely negated in the others. It has been a wonderful experience to shift focuses for each style, while still staying true to the story we wish to tell.
What’s on the horizon for TLO?
NE: Definitely more tours. We want to work with these theaters again as well as others. The idea situation is to be able to tell these theaters, “We’re plug and play. You don’t have to do anything. We do the marketing and promotion and give you the graphics. It’s a no-brainer.” It benefits the theaters; it benefits us and creates exposure for the artists.
How do you see the San Antonio theater community evolving?
NE: I think we’re getting closer to each other. The community aspect is getting stronger and stronger. I’m thankful to [the Public Theater of San Antonio’s] George Green for the strides he’s helped make. He really wants to be all-inclusive. He and I are really on the same page when it comes to why we do this.
The Theater Network that I established on Facebook now has almost 1,500 members. We have a common goal — to work together to bring quality theater to the city. Now, through the Performing Arts Collective that Mark Richter has set up, we’re getting all of the theater people together — the artistic directors and executive directors — to see how we can all help each other. We’re all here for the same purpose — to bring arts to the community, and to try to make a difference in someone’s life.
JU: It is my hope that TLO can continue to work alongside all these theaters in the city as well as outside our community. The connections we have made in Seguin and Wimberley could provide a wonderful stepping stone towards more connections in the future.
What other communities do you see making strides in local theater?
JU: Seguin and Wimberley obviously have been able to showcase the talent in their communities with their incredible productions. I have had the privilege to be part of both theaters in their past productions, and I would love to do shows at either theater in the future. I see San Antonio expanding as well. We now have an Equity house, and the chance for AEA to be showcased in this city is very exciting. I see theater continuing to thrive as an art form in this city, and I think TLO can add to San Antonio’s reputation with projects like this one.
In terms of South and Central Texas, what impact do you hope tours like this will have for their regions?
NE: I had been down to McAllen, Texas. I did an opera with South Texas Opera there many years ago, and I thought, “This is such a great place! I’d love to bring something down here.” Those people crave theater, and they don’t have a lot of things coming through there. I’m hoping we can go to their theater and other small regional theaters and present works that will appeal to them.
JU: The impact of a tour is significant on many levels. It showcases the talent of one community to an entirely new area, it creates collaborative efforts with other theaters, and it gives those artists involved a wider audience to showcase their talents to. People in Seguin who have never heard of us may now have an interest to come to San Antonio for our next show, while those of us here in town who have not heard of Austin artists might be willing to trek up 35 to see their next piece. It brings our theatrical communities that much closer together.