TEXARKANA, Texas — With the Texas-side City Council having approved a contract between the city and Texarkana Symphony Orchestra for management of the Perot Theatre, the transition period for the TSO has begun.
The three-year contact with three one-year renewal options for $272,207 will see the TSO manage the historic, downtown jewel, taking over the job from the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council, which has managed the venue for decades. The City Council unanimously approved the contract this past Monday.
The TSO will work with the city and TRAHC to prepare for the job starting Oct. 1. TSO Executive Director Andrew Clark and TSO Musical Director and Conductor Philip Mann say transition work has already begun.
"It triggers a series of transition things, which really is a partnership between us and the city and the current managers, Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council, as we begin the turnover," Clark said.
Much of it happens this summer, involving aspects like equipment, intellectual property on computers and the calendar, such as dates for events TRAHC has already planned for the Perot.
"So that we can make sure that those contracts are in place and that we know what we know what we need to do as the new managers for any of those dates that might fall after Oct. 1," Clark said.
The city works as an intermediary between the two organizations. Decisions about rentals on the calendar now are still up to TRAHC, such as scheduling shows that were postponed because of the pandemic, Clark said.
"The other piece of the transition that's already underway — it's actually been underway for a while — is TSO's assessment of a lot of different needs, maintenance-wise and otherwise. There will be some walk-throughs done at the theater during the month of June by both the city and TSO to establish a baseline of where things are, where things might need to be changed and improved, what will be some of our targets and goals over the next couple of years," Clark said. "And also staffing. TSO made some commitments to maintain some of the staff that's at the theater. We've now worked our way through that process."
Clark said some familiar faces at the Perot will remain there, but some additional faces will join.
"We're very happy about that. We always sought for those that were there that wanted to continue and come to work for the TSO we wanted to make that opportunity available," Clark said.
Clark reiterated that they want to ensure that other organizations that want to offer series in the theater can do so, including TRAHC's annual Perot series and its Theatre for Young Audiences series run through its ArtsSmart program.
"Once we understand where that lies then yes, we will work to put together a series of events at the Perot that's outside the TSO," Clark said, adding they're committed to all forms of art at the Perot and welcoming community organizations.
"I think the first and largest thing you'll see that we will push for is not so much rebranding but reimagining the marketing and PR program of the theater as something that can be used by the whole community," Clark said.
The theater can be used in many ways besides a play, show or symphony concert, he said, calling more theater use a positive.
"We'll be making a big push right off the bat to get people exposed to the theater in some unique and diverse ways outside of a show," Clark said, noting this is good to do because some of the things they want to do this first year will be difficult because we're coming out of COVID-19.
They'll also push for more rentals, he said. "It had picked up for the theater quite a bit prior to COVID, and we hope to maintain that momentum," Clark said.
They have ambitious goals to fill the Perot calendar with activity.
"As TSO committed in our RFP, we expect and want and desire that by the end of our three-year contract that there is something happening in at least two out of every four weekends in the theater, as well as stuff during the week," Clark said.
After this weekend's holiday and the walk-throughs, he said, they will work on programming outside of the TSO concerts. They'll have a summit with the TSO's transition committee members, who will reach out to the community, and Mann will be here for a week to work on the transition.
"I anticipate that we would be announcing something by August," Clark said.
Added Mann, "As part of that process of us reaching out into the community from our transition team members, that we're going to very purposefully try to engage with constituencies from all across Texarkana to find out what is in demand, what would excite people, what people would like to see on the stage of the Perot."
They aim to have the programming reflect broad interests in the city, Mann said.
TRAHC Executive Director Brian Goesl said they began talking with the city soon after the decision about the management contract was announced.
"We have inventory there, things that TRAHC has paid for that don't belong to the city," Goesl said. In this list of items, some of them they don't need so they would be willing to donate or sell such items to the city, things that would help the TSO just as they've helped TRAHC, he explained.
They'll continue running Theatre for Young Audiences, plus a Perot series of shows and specials, he said. "A lot of people will not really even notice the difference," said Goesl, "as far as that is concerned."
He anticipates two virtual Theatre for Young Audiences shows in the fall, plus three live, in-person shows for students after the new year starts with a spring semester.
Most of the organizations they deal with are re-booking what they canceled last year, Goesl said, so it's limited at this point with what's available. He said groups are still anxious about putting a cast on the road.
"We anticipate probably that the majority of producers and tour companies, and this is what we're hearing, is they'll begin really after January, or Jan. 1 is when they'll start, when they really feel they are capable of putting a group out," Goesl said.
On Friday, Goesl said he'd talked that day with the "Potted Potter" producer about rescheduling that show, one of the productions that canceled last year.
"It's a big puzzle in trying to get everything rescheduled for everybody, but that's what we'll be working on right now," he said.
They plan to again bring The Muses, an opera and arts troupe from Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Texarkana, but that show will be in the Regional Arts Center.
As to a Perot series, he doesn't have an announcement date yet but he thinks they'll bring three to five shows to the Perot.
"I'm very hopeful that by the middle of this next month or the end of next month, we should have a schedule established," Goesl said.
Goesl said as of June 1 they'll be back up to full capacity at the Perot, too, with no required mask wearing, although most of the personnel continue to wear masks, he said, also noting that their Women for the Arts Party with Picassos event went virtual this year and raised about $55,000.
"WFA has been a real trooper for us always," Goesl said, "and the last two years actually have been extremely difficult for them because of COVID."