The Public Theater of San Antonio (The Public) is San Antonio’s largest producing theater, currently celebrating its 109th consecutive year of production. Its mission is to produce professional live theater that inspires, educates, and connects communities. The Public presents high-quality theatrical productions year-round and is an important artistic leader in the City of San Antonio’s cultural landscape. Its stated goal is to be a ‘Theater for All,’ where residents of San Antonio can all feel welcome in the space and comfortable engaging with the artists and the art. The Public’s direction moving forward is to maintain and improve upon its role as San Antonio’s flagship theater while creating a stronger collaborative and supportive culture, both internally and with the San Antonio community.
The Public’s history traces back to 1912 when Sara Barton Bindley, a resident of San Antonio, established the San Antonio Dramatic Club. The early years of the twentieth century saw the emergence of the little theater movement in the United States. As the movement flourished across the nation, civic leaders of San Antonio formally incorporated as the Little Theater Production Company of San Antonio in 1927, updated legally to the San Antonio Little Theatre, Inc. in 1962. During the early years under the direction of Carl Glick, the productions were held across the city in places like the Menger Hotel and Beethoven Hall. The organization’s leadership eventually petitioned the City for a permanent location and on January 22, 1930, the San Pedro Playhouse opened as the first city-built, city-funded theater in the United States. Located since then in the same building on the grounds of San Antonio’s oldest park, San Pedro Springs Park, the theater company was renamed San Pedro Playhouse in 1997, The Playhouse San Antonio in 2012, and The Public Theater of San Antonio in 2018 to align the organization’s new vision to the needs of the region.
The Russell Hill Rogers Theater, seating 350 patrons, is home to larger plays and musicals while the Cellar Theater, seating 60 patrons, houses a variety of dramas, comedies, and experimental works. Both stages host original works by local playwrights as well as classic and recent Broadway hits. The Public contracts hundreds of local artists, showcasing some of San Antonio’s greatest talent and bringing artists to San Antonio from around the country. In July 2017, The Public entered into a contractual agreement with Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) to become San Antonio’s first and only regional AEA Small Professional Theater, after more than a century operating in the non-union community theater model.
The Public has been exploring a potential new building and has secured properties at 725 and 741 West Ashby Place, just north of the San Pedro Playhouse parking lot at the corner of North Flores and West Ashby. Plans for a capital campaign for building funds are prepared and ready for further discussion in 2022 following the leadership transition and pandemic period.
Announced in January 2020, The Public’s 2020-2021 season was to feature 12 productions across the two spaces. These included the comedy Something Rotten, co-produced with Ballet San Antonio; the new musical La Casa Azul, inspired in the life of artist Frida Kahlo; and the Fresh Ink New Works Fest, a two-week festival of local, regional, and national debuts. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this planned season was replaced in July 2020 by the 2020-202ONE season, which featured eight one-person shows highlighting personal stories by people from a variety of backgrounds and identities, all produced and streamed from performers’ homes. This season will conclude in July 2021 with Holland Taylor’s Ann, a favorite play inspired by the legendary Texas Governor Ann Richards. The Public has a long history of engaging educational programs for local residents and artists of all ages, which were put on hold in recent years during organizational restructuring and have not yet been fully relaunched due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The audience base for The Public has been growing substantially, increasing from approximately 250 subscribers in FY17 to more than 1,600 in FY19, with total attendance rising in the same period from 19,000 to 34,000. In pursuit of the ‘Theater for All’ vision, The Public’s board established an Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access (EDIA) Committee in fiscal year 2019 and has made clear commitments around economic support, leadership, advocacy and representation, and partnerships.
The Public has a 15-member board of trustees, led by Chairman Dennis Karbach, and currently operates with a reduced core staff of seven employees, which is expected to expand when live production resumes. For the fiscal year ending August 31, 2020, The Public reported revenues of $1.8 million, with $1.1 million from contributions and grants and the balance from earned revenue. Total expenses were $1.6 million.