TIJUANA — Rodolfo Pataky Stark, director general of the Centro Cultural Tijuana, is anxious about the coming performances of mime Marcel Marceau.
The $10,000-a-night fee demanded by Marceau, who will perform in the Centro's 1,000-seat theater Oct. 7, 8 and 9, is the highest in the center's history.
Pataky considers it a coup to bring the internationally acclaimed mime to Tijuana even though tickets will cost $20, an exceedingly high price here.
For the center and for Tijuana, attendance figures will amount to a test of what the city wants from its premier arts center and what it can afford.
The Centro, with its combination of performing arts theater, anthropological museum, galleries and huge Omnimax theater, is unique in Mexico, Pataky said. Known as la bola (the ball), for its shape, or by an abbreviation, Cecut, the 183,600-square-foot federal facility occupies a full city block in the Rio Tijuana district.
It is run on a quasi-commercial basis. Although the salaries of the 150 staff members are paid by the federal government, the performing arts events are expected to pay their own way.
The Omnimax theater is the primary income source, but performances at the Centro's theater are "taking off," Pataky said. "Every month a larger percentage of income comes from theater."
Any profit from a show is used to subsidize other programs. When a show fails to be self-supporting, income from the more popular movie theater is used to make up the difference.
As the center's chief, Pataky balances the three elements of its mission as a repository and exhibitor of Mexican culture, as an educational institution for children and as a "detonator" for the local arts and artists of Tijuana.
"The center is a showcase of all aspects of Mexican culture: the visual arts, handicrafts, popular arts, music and scenic arts," Pataky said. "It's an opportunity to know more of Mexico."
Among its other roles, the center serves as an informal instrument for teachers, who can bring their classes in to gain a better understanding of culture. The center's fall schedule for schoolchildren, which includes brief histories of each art form and some hands-on participation, offers ballet, classical music, folk dance, theater, circus and mime. Children may also attend science films in the movie theater.
The cost for most of the children's events is about 35 cents.
About the center's third role, Pataky said: "We try to detonate, to provoke, so other institutions will work harder to present (the arts)." Although the center does not have a specific plan to assist local artists, Pataky said, "The big challenge is to help them show what they do."
Pataky has come under fire from those who say the center charges too much for most Tijuanans and gives local artists short shrift, instead favoring Mexico City acts.
In response to the criticism--tickets to most major acts range from $5-$10 and other events are considerably less--assistant director Juan Tintos Funcke said the center offers a 50% discount to most events.
"To those who say we are elitist, it's very easy to get a discount here at the center," Tintos said. "Children, teachers, workers' unions including assembly plant workers, workers from supermarkets, taxi drivers, bank workers have a 50% discount to our prices. And with a ticket to the space theater, we give a free admission to the museum."
Local artists generally are showcased on weeknights rather than weekends, and they're often presented in the movie theater instead of the 1,000-seat theater. Filling the large theater is difficult, even for professional actors from Mexico City, Pataky said. The current festival of plays from Mexico City has been drawing audiences of 200 to 300.
"You have to persevere," Pataky said. "What we're trying to do is professionalize them, give them a stable job. The only way is through working with the kids. They're a captive audience."
By employing local artists for the educational programs that may run eight months a year, the center offers them a chance to practice their craft, Pataky said.
Current exhibits at the Centro include the museum exhibition "Mexican Identities"; shows on indigenous popular arts; the illustrator Armando Villagran, and "Tradicion de Ruptura," an exhibit of works by 22 contemporary Mexican artists.