Friday , November 19 2021
Photo by Siggi Ragnar

San Antonio Theater Dances Back After Pandemic

The pandemic was pretty brutal to San Antonio theater. We lost some venues (including the Roxie and the Sheldon Vexler), but other companies found innovative ways to stay active. The Classic Theatre of San Antonio launched a season entitled “Theatre in the Rough,” during which the company performed shows al fresco at such attractive locations as the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. The Public Theater of San Antonio converted to streaming and also offered its facilities to Teatro Audaz, which definitely helped to keep both companies going.

Now that the Alamo City’s theater scene is finally waking back up after what seems like an eternity, we checked in with a few of the local talents to see how they kept their creative spirit alive during that trying time – and what they may have learned along the way.

THE DIRECTOR: JADE ESTEBAN ESTRADA

Jade Esteban Estrada

Jade is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. He began his acting career at the Guadalupe Theatre, appearing in Ma’ii the Coyote (1986), Roosters (1988) and Lydia Mendoza: La Gloria de Tejas (1991). He is the former choreographer and lead dancer for Latina TV star Charo. In New York, he choreographed Tropical! at Teatro LaTea and La Muela del Rey Farfan at Queens Theatre in the Park. His New York directorial credits include Boys and Girls Together at the Milagro Theatre and Tortilla Heaven (by his sister, Celeste Angela Estrada) at the Pantheon Theatre.

Back in San Antonio at the Overtime Theater, he wrote, directed and choreographed Sinderella and the Glass Zipper, How Burlesque Saved Christmas and Madame X: A Burlesque Fantasy. As an educator, Jade has taught acting and dance technique workshops throughout the United States, Europe and Australia. In 2009, he founded the Acting Masterclass Series, where he continues to teach virtual and in-person classes.

How did you keep going during the shutdown?

I was fortunate enough to continue teaching my acting classes virtually. That certainly helped me keep my head in the game. I also wrote another solo play, Miles, Texas, a follow-up to my previous one-person show A Sign from the Taco Gods, which I performed at the Overtime Theater in 2019.

Did the pandemic make you look at ways of doing theater in a different light?

Oh, absolutely. It became clear almost immediately that the theater experience as we knew it was going to dramatically change and diversify. For example, this year I returned to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but this time, as part of their online programming. The show was produced in St. Petersburg, Russia and included performers from various countries. I think live and virtual performances will now be permanent options for more theatrical venues across the globe. 

What else did you do?

I performed for an online fundraising event for the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. On the opposite side of the pandemic-era spectrum, I performed my stand-up comedy show at the “8 x 8 Cabaret Du Jump” event, which was held outdoors at San Pedro Park. There was no amplification and the stage, an 8′ x 8′ box, was about 30 feet from the first row. Performing outdoors has become another option for theaters that want to remain safe amid the great outdoors.

How does it feel to be getting back onstage?

My return to live performances continues on the comedy club stage. It felt incredible to hear humans laugh again! Since early 2020, Zoom comedy events were how many comics/writers were able to stay in touch with the craft. The advantage was performing on the Zoom screen in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America on a regular basis, networking and building relationships with other international artists over the course of over a year that would have taken literally a decade to build before the Zoom boom.

Nothing, I admit, beats performing for a live audience. Zoom comedy shows will continue. The world of comedy has also changed for good. And I think that is a very good thing. I believe an increase in audiences is there for the asking.

What are you looking forward to the most this year?

I’m looking forward to premiering my new solo show “I See No Roaches Before Me” at fringe festivals in 2022.

THE ACTOR: DANICA McKINNEY

Hailing from Seguin, Texas, Danica has performed in many productions since 2014, her latest being Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, in which she played one of the three Divas. After taking a break to graduate from law school and study for the bar, Danica was gearing up to perform again when the pandemic threw a wrench in everyone’s plans.

Danica McKinney

She is thankful for the opportunity to get back to performing. She most recently assisted local R&B artist J-Darius, singing background vocals during his live concert at Carver Center. Since July, Danica has served as dresser for the Woodlawn Theatre’s On Your Feet! and Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

How did you pass the time during the pandemic?

Danica McKinney: To pass the time, I read what I did not “have time” to read before, did a bunch of yard work, and, once I was able to, I worked – a lot.

Honestly, seeing that the theater is “waking up” again makes me feel hopeful. You do not realize how much a working actor’s (i.e. one whose sole income is from being a performer) livelihood depends on having access to the very venue they can perform in until it is no longer an option. Most of us who have a love for theater feel most alive onstage. So the lack of accessibility was a wake-up call of its importance and getting back to the stage is an awakening of a part of our soul.

I took the bar at the end of February and was awaiting results when the shutdown happened. I took an entire month off to study, so I wasn’t prepared to be sent home from work mid-March. For three weeks, I’m trying to figure out how I can get a job working at Starbucks (this a dream of mine in case you are wondering)…still awaiting bar results. As stated, I kept myself busy doing yard work, reading books, ordering things off Amazon I didn’t need. Then when I was able to return to work and found out I passed the bar exam, I kept busy working and job searching.

Did the pandemic make you look at ways of doing theater in a different light?

It did! We saw many take to the net to entertain and the reach, of course, was far more than what you would have from an isolated performance. But making live theater virtual is a paradox I don’t want to have as my only option.

I do think the opportunity to find ways to reach your audience during such a trying time has also created a space for virtual performances to continue being a part of the conversation. But again, I would prefer it be an option not my only choice.

How did it feel being able to walk into a theater again or attend a rehearsal?

The first rehearsal I attended was in preparation for a concert I did with local artist J-Darius in May. I remember feeling timid to be there and interact, but not wanting to offend anyone so it probably wasn’t noticeable. Over time it became easier to attend rehearsals and interact (and trust) people outside those I had been interacting with. So much so that when I walked into Woodlawn Theatre to rehearse for the Divas Through the Decades performance, I was less timid and more overwhelmed with emotion, seeing familiar faces and bodies I could hug.

Then, I had the opportunity to work backstage for On Your Feet! at Woodlawn. That show…goodness. The musical, in my opinion, is very well-written. Every scene and every number fit so perfectly and told the story so beautifully. And to be “coming out of the dark” that was the pandemic and experiencing such great loss in a short amount of time – the message of the show was on time. It was moving to witness performers – who once thought this show would never happen – spill their passion on the stage as a living example of strength, resilience and perseverance. Now, I feel like I’m bursting at the seams, ready to do something and inspire somebody through the arts!

What do you look most forward to now that we’re getting back to business?

PERFORMING! I was in school from 2016-2020 and was ready to have more time to perform. THEN – the world went dark. Like, COME ON! Lol…

But really, I’m looking forward to seeing more opportunities. I feel like people got creative during quarantine and I hope to see some of what was created come to the stage. I also pray to see more opportunities to act, in general. Being without so long has me ready to explore and challenge myself

Hector Serna

THE MUSICIAN: HECTOR SERNA

Hector Serna began playing ‘cello at age 11 and soon began playing violin, viola, and any other instruments he could get his hands on. His passion for historically-informed performance was ignited when at age 12 he checked out a recording by The Academy Of Ancient Music of Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni from his local library.

He is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Sonido Barroco, which gave its first performance in August 2017. He is also very active in the theater community in San Antonio, where he has served as Music Director and keyboardist for over 30 productions, including Miss Saigon, Rent, The Rocky Horror Show and Jesus Christ Superstar, among many others. His number one goal is to make live performances of Baroque and Classical music more accessible to people of every socioeconomic status, and to encourage young people to listen to and develop a love of Baroque music.

How did you pass the time during the pandemic?

I watched a lot of TV, Netflix etc. Spent lots of time talking with friends. We did video chats, etc.

Did the pandemic make you look at ways of doing theater in a different light (i.e. virtual performances)?

It did. Virtual performances are okay, but they’ll never be a satisfying replacement for live performances.

How did you keep your musical “chops” during the shutdown?

You’d think I would practice like crazy, but the reality is that the stress of everything made it almost impossible for me to practice. I didn’t touch any instrument for almost a year. Now that I’m vaccinated and life is coming back, I’m practicing again.

What does everyone look most forward to now that we’re getting back to business?

PEOPLE. The hardest thing about this past year was not being able to see friends, I’m very social and I have missed my friends so much.

What production are you looking forward to performing most this season?

These days I’m not scheduled for any theater productions just yet, but my other passion is Baroque music. Sonido Barocco is currently planning concerts for the 2021-2022 season, and this is such a beacon of hope for me.

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and inbound marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.

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