I was lucky enough to see “Fun Home,” the currently running production at The Public Theater of San Antonio this season. This production — deftly directed by Molly Cox — was my introduction to the show, and the musical grabbed hold of me from its first moments.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home” is a gem of a musical that explores Bechdel’s experiences growing up, coming out as a lesbian and her relationship with her father. The original Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015.

Trinity University’s Collaborative for Learning and Teaching, in co-sponsorship with PRIDE at Trinity, has been able to offer students a limited number of free tickets to select performance dates for the production this fall. I was one of the fortunate Trinity students to get a chance see Fun Home on the first performance date offered by this program, and I was blown away by the show.

The Public Theater staged its production in the small-scale venue of the Cellar Theatre, allowing the audience to experience an intense, close proximity to the stage and actors during the show. I was immediately impressed by the set design, which — in a nod to Bechdel’s graphic novel — featured large-scale illustrated works as well as screens installed to project cartoons and captions which complemented the play’s action.

The honest performances struck me, and the actors’ portrayals of Allison at different stages of her life especially engaged me. Olivia Barron brought a moving performance to mid-sized Allison, who was shown in her years as a young adult, while Shani Hadjian as older Allison was truly endearing as she narrated and commented on the events of the play. These performers were sincerely able to convey Allison’s growth as a character while accompanying the orchestrations with heart-wrenching vocal performances. These musical performances were especially noticeable in the musical’s finale, “Flying Away.”

“I just felt like I got punched in the stomach. Something about it being so intimate. It was really shockingly visceral, the experience of it, that I needed to sit in my car afterwards in the parking lot of the theater and be like, ‘Whoa. That was intense.’ It was really surprisingly intense, being so close to the action and so involved. I thought that it was very strong; you don’t get that experience very often,” said Nathan Stith, professor in the Department of Human Communication and Theatre.

Allison St. John, a junior who attended a recent performance, emphasized the importance of being able to see Bechdel’s story brought to life.

“I really like [seeing] media and theater representation of LGBT stories, particularly because Alison Bechdel is really influential in the real world. So I liked seeing the story of a real LGBT person that was worked on by her and with her as well. [It was] really a genuine story,” St. John said.

The opportunity for free tickets issued by Trinity’s Collaborative for Teaching and Learning comes as part of Hola! San Antonio, their recent program to provide students and faculty with access to artistic performances and events around the city. Paola Gutierrez, fellow for Collaborative Programs, gave some insight into the goals for the program.

“It’s a really valuable experience to be able to just leave campus and go see a musical or artistic performance that you might not otherwise get to see and to boost Trinity students’ involvement with the San Antonio community in general through promotion of the arts,” Gutierrez said.

If measured by these expectations, it looks like the Hola! San Antonio program has found success: members of the Trinity community who have been able to catch a performance attest to the production’s effect on them as audience members.

“It’s really, really powerful and I was talking to some people after watching [the show] … who hadn’t seen it before, and I forgot how powerful it was,” St. John said.

The Public Theater will continue with performances of “Fun Home” through Nov. 18. The performances are Thurs. – Sat at 7:30 p.m. and Sun. at 2 p.m. For more information on performance dates and tickets, visit thepublicsa.org. For more information on the Collaborative for Learning and Teaching, you can contact collaborative@trinity.edu.

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