The itinerant playhouse

Like many an actor before — and after — them, Asia and Tony Ciaravino once left San Antonio to pursue full-time stage work in another major metropolitan area. The couple aspired to support their family (the Ciaravinos have two children) on their respective stage wages, and simply felt that San Antonio’s performing-arts scene wasn’t conducive to achieving professional self-sufficiency.

Nearly a decade later, having relocated back to the Alamo City from Minneapolis and worked a stint at the Magik Theatre, the Ciaravinos contend that San Antonio’s stage community is ready to support real full-timers. `They’re not alone; see “Company of one,” June 11, 2008.` Asia and Tony along with five other area stage pros and enthusiasts recently founded the Classic Theatre, a nonprofit entity dedicated to performing the works of classic playwrights.

The troupe will make its San Antonio debut with Rancho Pancho, scheduled for September 6-7 at Jump-Start Performance Co. The production, penned by San Antonio’s own Gregg Barrios `an occasional Current contributor`, explores the relationship between acclaimed writer Tennessee Williams and the little-known Pancho Rodriguez.

“We found that with classic `productions` in San Antonio, they’re still very much on the fringe,” says Asia Ciaravino, the Classic Theatre’s Executive Director. “There are some great contemporary venues and a lot of musicals, but there is no theater committed to classic texts.”

Aside from relaying its arrival in San Antonio to the theater-going masses, the Classic Theatre faces one more obstacle in establishing and sustaining a loyal fanbase: the theater is currently homeless.

Rancho Pancho will take its two-night run to Jump-Start in September, followed by a performance at the Provincetown `Massachusetts` Tennessee Williams Theater Festival later that month, and the troupe will take over Say Sí beginning the first weekend in October for Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and Rancho Pancho. The Classic Theatre also has planned a January reading at the McNay Art Museum, and hopes to be a part of next March’s Luminaria event.

Outside of those performances, the Classic Theatre has no productions — or venues — booked beyond early 2009. Its founding members are working as unpaid volunteers — performers and designers will be paid through admission fees and concessions — until the troupe becomes more established.

“We don’t have a home, and that is our biggest issue right now,” says Diane Malone, who claimed several local stage awards during her brief tenure with the now-defunct Church Street Theatre & Bistro. Malone, one of the Classic Theatre’s three artistic directors, will be directing Rancho Pancho. “We have to find a new place for each show. Finding a rehearsal space is difficult, but we hope to have our own home soon. But the first season, for sure, we’ll be kind of moving around.”

That nomadic approach won’t likely be limited to the troupe’s inaugural campaign. Rather, Asia Ciaravino says the Classic Theatre is on a “five-year plan,” and with a little luck might be able to land a permanent home within the next three years. Classic Theatre founders recently attempted to lease a performance space, but simply couldn’t find a home that made sense financially and as a location. The troupe has secured 501(c)3 nonprofit status, which enables them to solicit and accept donations within the community.

“In feeling it out, we’d love to be in an area that doesn’t have a lot of theater right now, that isn’t super-saturated,” Aisa Ciaravino says. “It really depends on where we can reach out to and be a part of, but we’d love to be located in a part of the city that is experiencing some sort of revitalization, where they’re trying to infuse energy with love and light. I don’t know where that space will be ... but I want us to have a space that we can leave to San Antonio and to the community.”

In the meantime, the Classic Theatre troupe is focused on making Rancho Pancho a success. Barrios’s script is inspired by Williams’ relationship — a romantic one, many reports suggest — with Rodriguez, a Mexico native with whom the author and playwright lived for a spell in the 1940s, and who allegedly inspired the Stanley Kowalski character in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Since Jump-Start Performance Co. had no productions scheduled for August, securing the facility for Rancho Pancho was a relatively seamless event, Malone says. And the Classic Theatre, she adds, hopes for joint ventures with other area arts facilities in the future.

“We’re kind of collaborating. It’s collective, and we like that,” Malone says. “We love the idea of collaborating with other organizations and just sharing the wealth.” •


Rancho Pancho
8pm, Sep 6-7
Jump-Start Performance Co.
108 Blue Star
(210) 227-5867

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