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SEASON PREVIEW: The Public’s 2023-24 plays at a glance

A roster of five shows will be performed at the north San Antonio venue amid ongoing challenges and a focus on sustainability.

SAN ANTONIO — The Public Theater of San Antonio is streamlining its season schedule next year in hopes it will put the century-old organization in a stronger position to perform for another 100 years.

Public theater leaders Tuesday night announced the five 2023-’24 shows to be performed on the venue’s main stage on the north side. That’s fewer than eight in the current season, which concludes with Merily We Roll Along in August.

It’s intentional, Executive Artistic Director Claudia de Vasco told KENS 5, and a necessary step as theaters across the country struggle to return to pre-COVID success, though not because infections are putting the shows on hold.

“The energy is back, the desire to be back is there. We all want to produce like we did before,” said de Vasco. “But unfortunately, people aren’t returning to the theater like they were before the pandemic.”

She also says the theater is struggling with a drop in seasonal subscriptions, which is important for early preparation and planning.

De Vasco and her team at The Public attribute the developments to the years-long moment of transition that the pandemic has forced on performing arts groups and view the situation with a half-open curtain. She says the smaller number of shows will prevent crews from being overwhelmed and instead gives them the flexibility and time to make each show the best it can be.

Another positive side effect, says de Vasco, is that the public’s two currently resident theater groups – Teatro Audaz and Miscast – can use the venue’s main stage instead of the smaller Cellar performance space. There will also be more time for one-off special events between shows on the main stage, organized under the seasonal theme of Heroes, Journeys and Dreams.

“We’re still remodeling,” she added. “There have been a lot of leadership changes. That inevitably means changes in programming, in mission, in style, in quality.”

De Vasco, which came public in the summer of 2021, has spent the early years of her tenure prioritizing inclusive storytelling and classics told through modern lenses. After audiences’ current season kicked off with the first production by a Latino playwright performed at the venue, next year’s chalkboard will bring a jazzy New Orleans twist to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

Dates for the show are yet to be determined, this version has never been performed in Texas. It is also the first Shakespeare play to be performed by the public since 2008 and the first time Twelfth Night has been performed by the theatre.

“It’s a really wonderful result,” said de Vasco. “It still uses Shakespeare’s language – it’s rearranged a bit – and it still gives our audience the musical aspect they crave.”

The season continues with a Christmas production of “A Xmas Cuento Remix”. Featuring bilingual songs and Chicano characters, it’s a contemporary take on a Christmas story that audiences are likely to be familiar with: “A Christmas Carol.” De Vasco says the public received strong feedback for his series of American Mariachi, which proved the city has a hunger for multicultural stories.

“It’s the same story, same energy, same story, same theme — it just happens to be set in a context that maybe other San Antonians can relate to a little bit more.”

Next, in early 2024, audiences will perform a punk rock version of the 1891 German play “Frühlingserwaken,” which chronicles the teenage years of several young friends. The contemporary version debuted on Broadway in 2006 before winning multiple Tonys and touring the country.

The season’s penultimate show, “Intimate Apparel,” will turn the music down and present the public’s first “straightforward play,” as de Vasco puts it, on the theater’s main stage in a decade.

Written by playwright Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It focuses on a black woman’s journey to becoming an independent seamstress in the early 1900s. The selection also represents an attempt to bring stories about non-white characters — shows that have historically been relegated to smaller venues — to prominence on the public’s main stage.

“The cool thing about this play is that the original story is based on Lynn Nottage’s mother. It touches on this idea that sometimes these stories that we tell come from our own history,” de Vasco said.

“Of Heroes, Voyages and Dreams” will culminate with another modern day retelling of a decades-old tale. Once Upon a Mattress is a contemporary interpretation of the 1835 fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. It is touted by de Vasco as an accessible and comedic show that has historically been a musical theater favorite.

The goal of these shows, says de Vasco, boils down to the universal aspirations of theater and the timeless ubiquity of our best-known stories.

“When we talk about diversity, the focus is always on the difference,” she said. “Now we ask ourselves, ‘What are these stories that we believe will stand the test of time because they unite us?’

Follow the Public Theater of San Antonio on their social media platforms for information on dates and ticket prices.

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