By Brance Arnold ’10 MA
For the lucky, a passion can become a profession. For Asia Ciaravino ’98, the new CEO of San Pedro Playhouse, her work and her passion for the theatre are one in the same. A professional actor and accomplished business woman, Ciaravino has devoted her life to the theatre and holds almost 15 years of experience working in the non-profit arena.
Born in Ann Arbor, Mich., Ciaravino lived throughout the Midwest. The daughter of photographer Larry Hales, who worked with renowned photographer Richard Avedon of Vogue and Life fame, she grew up surrounded by the arts. Early in her childhood, she held an inherent and unwavering love for the art and craft of theatre.
“It was something innate in me that drove me to want to perform,” said Ciaravino. “I knew I wanted to write, sing, act and dance. And I think that I was always inspired by the world around me.”
She was so taken by theatre during her childhood that by the age of four she was producing plays in her neighborhood and at school.
“I decided I wanted to produce theatre because it didn’t exist, so I would get my friends together and we would write a play on Monday and by Friday that show would be produced,” said Ciaravino.
After high school, she entered a conservatory program for acting at Lansing Community College in Michigan. Following the program, she visited San Antonio and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
In pursuit of an institution with a reputable theatre program, she found exactly what she was looking for at UIW.
Ciaravino says the theatre program at UIW was thriving and producing many great and exciting shows. Though originally not a theatre major but a minor, she wanted to be a part of the program after working and performing with students and faculty. A seemingly serendipitous occurrence eventually led her to opt for a major in theatre.
“I got looped into the group. One of the women in the production of ‘Latina’ broke her leg two days before the show went up,” said Ciaravino. “I wasn’t even the understudy. They asked me to come in. I said ‘yeah! I’ll do it!’ I came in and did the part and that is when I really started getting into the theatre program.”
During her time at UIW, Ciaravino said she worked with many great actors, such as Ricardo Chavira, Shelly Chance and Jack Lozano to name a few. Many of her peers from her UIW days are still actively working in the industry and they remain a close community of theatre professionals. A number of her former classmates still direct and act in productions at the San Pedro Playhouse.
Ciaravino further cites her training at UIW as key to many of her achievements in the industry and maintains contact with many of the faculty members who she studied under, such as George Burnette and Sr. Germaine Corbin, CCVI.
“The training we had at Incarnate Word was incredible,” said Ciaravino. “These are all people that impacted our lives on a pretty profound level”
After graduating, Ciaravino and her husband, Anthony Ciaravino ’92, whom she met at UIW, moved to Minneapolis to pursue acting opportunities. They eventually returned to San Antonio and in 2008 Ciaravino founded and served as executive director of The Classic Theatre of San Antonio, a theatre company presenting productions of popular classics and master- pieces for residents of and visitors to San Antonio. Now in its 5th season, she said the theatre has increased its patron base by 100 percent every year.
In addition to her work in theatre, Ciaravino holds extensive experience in the non-profit field. In 1998, she began as a temp for Inner-City Games, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s charitable initiative for urban children, and eventually achieved the position of director of public relations and marketing. She also served as director of production solutions at the CE Group, director of Dollars for Scholars, and director of alumni relations at Our Lady of the Lake University.
Since accepting the CEO position at the San Pedro Playhouse on May 1, 2012, she has made many improvements and alterations to the playhouse and looks to set the bar even higher.
“Right off the bat, I rebranded the theatre,” she said. “We changed the name. We redid the logo. We have a new website, a new ticketing system, and everything I am trying to do has a high attention to detail in terms of the consumer. I want people to know that there is true fundamental change here.”
San Pedro Playhouse is the oldest municipally built theatre in the country. The theatre has its roots in a troupe began in 1912 by Sarah Barton Bindley and the facility which stands today opened to audiences in 1930.
Ciaravino prides herself on establishing a work environment that is safe and creative. She wants to make sure that each member of her team knows they hold a voice, have a place and purpose, and are valued. And she believes that the positive energy created by such a working environment will emanate outward and be palpable to theatre audiences.
Along with her efforts to revamp the playhouse, she expanded the theatre’s conservatory program, an education program that immerses children into the milieu of theatre. Basing it on her A.I.M. High program (Apprenticeship, Internship, and Mentor- ship) which she developed at Classic Theatre, the program with 35 students currently enrolled provides kids an experience in all different phases of engagement and interaction with people onstage and backstage.
“That was a big lesson that George Burnette taught me,” she stressed. “To have that immense respect for your technical people and understand what they’re going through. I think my education at Incarnate Word gave me that appreciation for back- stage and design and props and costumes.”
While at UIW, she worked in the costume shop and was the shop foreman for Burnette. She helped build and paint theatrical sets and gained an appreciation for all aspects of theatre production.
“We built upon what they did before which was more performance based,” said Ciaravano. “This program that I designed at the Conservatory is the program I wished I had as a kid. It gives parents a safe place to bring their kids and know that we can help and be a resource. Our doors are always open.”
San Pedro Playhouse has five Conservatory scholarships available to give 50 percent off for the program. The scholarships are based on need and talent. Students are required to write an essay on why they feel they deserve the scholarship and want to be a part of the Conservatory. The program has a beginner elementary school level, intermediate middle school level, and an advanced level with ages ranging from 5 to 18 years old. The theatre is predominantly funded by the Russell Rogers
Foundation and the City of San Antonio, but Ciaravino said the theatre is generating a lot more visibility in the community. The playhouse recently held its Centennial Celebration and received funding from local businesses such as H-E-B and Valero. The theatre also welcomes volunteers to help out no matter the level of commitment. There are opportunities for UIW students, alumni and the community to assist onstage and behind the scenes. Those interested can contact the theatre’s education director.
“Our door is always open to volunteers and we always need them,” she said. “I would love to have fashion students, communications majors for PR, marketing and fundraising development.”
Ciaravino is also the host of the new KLRN program ARTS, a weekly, 30-minute show that features segments set in and around San Antonio, and components produced by 29 other major public-broadcasting markets around the country. The show is set to air Thursday evenings at 8:30 p.m.
Among all her endeavors, Ciaravino is also a devoted mother. Her children include Stella, 7; Sophia, 12; and her stepdaughter Anjel, 19.
Burnette, still at UIW as technical director, has witnessed Ciaravino in her many roles as a professional and a person. He believes she will thrive and make a difference as the new CEO of San Pedro Playhouse.
“I have worked with her at the Classic Theatre of San Antonio, and I have seen her operate as a wife and mother,” said Burnette. “She is a remarkable, energetic, positive and effective person. She is definitely going to make a positive impact at the Playhouse.”
“So much of our lives we focus on success,” she said. “What I tell my team and the kids in the program is to not be afraid to fail. If you fail, you are going to learn a lot from that experience and you can become even better.”
To learn more about the theatre and the season schedule of productions, please visit www.theplayhousesa.org or call (210) 733-7258.