Not only is the Lobero the longest running theatre in California (founded in 1873), but it is relentless, with over 200 nights of performances a year serving more than 70,000 people.
For Executive Director David Asbell, whose 23-year tenure seems short given the Lobero’s history, the job is all about serving Santa Barbara and its vibrant performing arts scene.
“The staff and board, we look at our role really as stewards of this great building and tradition,” Asbell says. “The most important thing we can be doing, job number one, is all about our community. The collaborations we are most proud of are with local arts organizations and local artists.”
The Lobero has four pillars of performance: classical music, jazz, dance, and theatre. While the theatre has been – and is regularly – graced by world-class performers, the Lobero’s staff is heavily focused on giving local artists and youth a platform to thrive and grow into their craft.
“We are not going to make the music, but we will make sure that a local musician or dance company has the best opportunity at succeeding,” Asbell says. “The most important goal for us is to complement and support the local arts scene.”
To accomplish this, the theatre heavily subsidizes or gifts the space whether for the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, a nonprofit youth service provider like AHA!, or the Santa Barbara Vocal Jazz Foundation’s “Journey Through Jazz” residency. Journey Through Jazz is a seven-week in-classroom program during which local grade schoolers learn about jazz music and history, which culminates in a performance at the Lobero.
Jim Dougherty is the Lobero’s Director of Planned Giving. For him, the Journey Through Jazz performances have their own “special magic” because of the audience that comes through the doors.
“These are not your typical theatre-goers,” Dougherty says. “You have whole families. The best is watching a sibling watch their siblings up on stage. I just love to see the families’ reactions. It’s absolutely sweet.”
That is what he misses the most about the theatre being closed for such a long stretch of 2020.
For Asbell, Dougherty, and the entire Lobero team, it is moments like those that the theatre was built for: community.