Nestled in the mountains of New Mexico, the Santa Fe Opera theater has captivated visitors for years with its brilliant architecture, state of the art productions, and an unrivaled natural backdrop.
Photo Cred: Ken Howard
This vibrant cultural institution is an integral part of any visit dedicated to understanding the local arts scene, and the history of the structure itself provides a fascinating context for the thousands that visit the Opera theater today.
One cannot even imagine the Santa Fe Opera theater without thinking of John Crosby, a young New York composer who was the Opera’s founder and the General Director for 33 years. John Crosby erected the Sante Fe Opera theater in 1956, and laid the foundations of present day Santa Fe to become one of the premier artistic centers of the world.
With the help of John Crosby’s Manhattan-based parents, he purchased the San Juan Ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe to pursue his dream of an outdoor summer opera company that could employ the many Metropolitan Opera performers during their summer off-season.
With the help of an acoustician, he meticulously walked the beautiful ranch, firing gunshots until they located a perfect acoustical bowl for the construction of the first opera theater, which opened in July 1957.
This modest theater consisted of a compact open-air stage with simple wood benches to accommodate an audience of less than 500. Although the structure was petite, Mr. Crosby unveiled the new venue with a grand performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly – a tradition he continued with the grand openings of two subsequent theaters. As the 50’s passed into the 60’s and beyond, many generous opera patrons provided the funding for the theater’s continual growth.
Photo Cred: Ken Howard
The Santa Fe Opera grew in worldwide recognition, and both the demand for greater capacity and protection from the summer monsoons made it clear that a larger, more structurally sound theater was necessary for the orchestra, performers and patrons.
John McHugh, a student of John Gaw Meem, designed an arching theater roof that would hover over an auditorium that tripled the seating capacity. Tragically, the theater burned to the ground mid-season of 1967, with the performances subsequently moving to a downtown Santa Fe high school gymnasium for the remainder of the season, and the sets and costumes borrowed from around the country. With the fundraising help of Mr. Crosby’s close friend, Igor Stravinsky, the theater re-opened for the 1968 season.
Finally, almost 30 years later, to meet ADA requirements and to complete the covering of the open-air roof from the elements, Polshek and Associates designed the present magnificent Crosby Theatre, which seats 2,234.
What a fascinating history – one that has touched thousands of visitors and locals alike.
It is always a lifetime memory to come to Santa Fe for the summer opera season, and truly, there is no better place to stay than at the Inn on the Alameda, situated on Alameda Street across from the beautiful cottonwood shaded Santa Fe River, which meanders through the historic downtown.
The Inn on the Alameda is the closest hotel to both the river and to Canyon Road, our world-renown arts and crafts district. Stay with us and enjoy the short walk from our central location to exquisite shopping, and visit the many galleries and museums peppered throughout town. Then in the early evening, take a “box lunch” prepared in advance by our chef at Agoyo Lounge to picnic on the stunning opera grounds before the evening’s performance. Or join many other operagoers for the traditional (and always entertaining) pre-performance “tail gate” party in the parking lot of the Santa Fe Opera theater. Better yet, join us on the outdoor Agoyo Lounge patio for an early evening dinner and cocktails before heading out for the opera.
We at the Inn will always help in any way to make your stay with us the best possible experience, opera season or not.
Photo Cred: Ken Howard
Santa Fe Sunsets are Sublime
As the days grow longer, the brilliant blue skies are laced with clouds, and the sunsets grow more dramatic. This means summer is here, and there’s more to do in the City Different! We know that one of the things visitors enjoy most about our unique little city is the relaxed pace of life, the feeling that whatever does not get accomplished today can always wait until manana. Santa Fe embodies a lifestyle that allows one to thrill to glowing skyscapes and enjoy morning strolls in the cool morning weather…..but as summer arrives, so does the diverse musical scene for which the city is known. Here are a few ideas of how to create a aurally awesome vacation!
The Santa Fe Opera
Renowned for good reason, this outdoor theater brings great music and theater to life in Santa Fe from July 1 through August 27 this year. A mixture of classics and premieres guarantees that there will be something from the opera repertoire for everyone to enjoy at the beautiful Crosby Theatre. Chief conductor Fredric Chaslin opens the Santa Fe Opera season on July 1, with a new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, and Giacomo Puccini’s perennially popular La Boheme opens on July 2. Renowned director Peter Sellars comes back to Santa Fe to direct the first American staging of Antonio Vivaldi’s Griselda, and audiences will be entertained with a new production of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s grand opera buffa The Last Savage. Completing the schedule will be Alban Berg’s Wozzeck,returning to the Santa Fe Opera stage for the first time since 2001. For guests without a vehicle, the Opera shuttle will pick guests up at the Inn and return them after the performance (reservations required with a credit card). The Opera Guild hosts a buffet dinner before the performances (again, reservations are required), with an entertaining lecture to prepare for the ensuing performance, and those who prefer the casual nature of tailgating can reserve a picnic to pick up right at the Opera grounds. Daily backstage tours take place Monday through Saturday (a mere $5 Monday-Friday and free on Saturday) until August 27 and depart from the Box Office at 9 a.m. And when the Opera brings down its curtain at the end of August, the stage belongs to the one and only Willie Nelson, appearing there in concert for one night only, September 17.
Tailgating at the Opera
The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival
Now in its 38th season, the Santa Fe Chamber Music presents a roster rich with concerts of depth and intimacy each week from July through August. These are performed in the Lensic Performing Arts Center and the St. Francis Auditorium. The inspired artistic leadership of composer/pianist Marc Neikrug brings both distinguished musicians and emerging young talents to the City Different during the 6-week Santa Fe season. The Composer-in-Residence program, inaugurated in 1976, encourages a free flow of communication among composers, musicians, and audiences through premieres of commissioned works and concert performances of a composer’s other works. In 2010, the Festival also inaugurated an exciting new Artist-in-Residence program to showcase the special talents of specific artists, and this year’s honored guest artist is the fantastic soprano, Dawn Upshaw, a familiar voice from her Santa Fe Opera performances in the past. By offering open rehersals, the Festival provides a wonderful opportunity to see how a particular performance takes shape before it is presented to the concert-going public. Many performers return year after year, and local favorites like the Orion String Quartet and pianist Ceclie Licad will be on the stage again this summer. That Santa Fe music fans truly value the Festival is evidenced by the many committed volunteers who spend their evenings ushering, pouring coffee or handing out tickets.
People + Plaza + Performers = Pleasure!
Summerscene on the Plaza
If a more casual musical scene is appealing, the ever-popular Santa Fe Bandstand concerts offer free mid-day and evening performances from early July through the middle of August, right downtown on the historic Santa Fe Plaza. Concerts take place Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 6pm, and on Monday and Wednesday afternoons at noon. Local and national performers run the gamut of musical genres from Native American to world music, and you might even see some swing dancers strutting their stuff. You can bring a lawn chair or a blanket, with your own picnic or with food from vendors on and around the Plaza area. Music-loving locals will be out in force, and this is a great time to see the range of residents, young and old, all drawn to the City Different for different reasons.
Music on the Hill at St. John’s College
Yet another popular outdoor musical experience is the St. John’s College Wednesday evening music series, running from early June into July, with a 6pm concert time. Experience suggests an early arrival since parking is minimal, although Santa Fe Rapid Transit will run shuttles from Museum Hill every 15 minutes from 5-9pm. Walter Burke Catering will be selling food, but you can also just bring your own picnic!
The Lensic: One of Santa Fe’s Real Gems!
The Lensic Performing Arts Center
And let’s not forget the Lensic! As if we could…Santa Fe is so grateful for the panoply of events that take place in our beautifully restored Performing Arts Center. In between chamber music concerts and readings, individual performers and groups will hold sway throughout the summer, with the New Mexico Jazz Festival and the Santa Fe Desert Chorale appearing in July and the Santa Fe Concert Association celebrating its 75th anniversary season with a gala concert in August.
Music lovers love Santa Fe, and we love to have them enjoy with us the many melodies made here! Feel free to call us here at the Inn for more information about events this summer; it’s our pleasure to help you make sweet music out of a Santa Fe vacation!
The Lensic Performing Arts Center at 211 West San Francisco Street celebrates a 10th Anniversary Gala on April 16, 2011
The Lensic We Love
The admiring glances seen every time we attend a performance event at the Lensic Performing Arts Center are a reminder that this jewel in the heart of town is not only still alive and active but is also celebrating its tenth anniversary this year! So often, great local gems slip quietly and inexorably into disrepair before we realize what is being lost. What good fortune for the city of Santa Fe that a dedicated group of local folk put their minds, money and muscle to ensuring a future for this architectural and historical treasure. And as the renovation was about to begin, one of the excellent decisions that ensued was the hiring of Robert Martin as the Director of the Lensic.
Bob Martin, Executive Director of the Lensic Performing Arts Center
With this gala year and the upcoming celebration, we asked Bob Martin for a bit of his time to help our guests become acquainted with all that the Lensic brings to the City Different. Despite the many demands involved in creating this anniversary party, Bob graciously complied with the questions we posed.
- How long have you been with the Lensic, and how did you find your way there?
I have been at the Lensic 11 years. I came two months before the renovation begin in April 2000. Sue Weil, who I knew in Los Angeles, connected me up with Merrill Brockway who was helping Nancy Zeckendorf find a director.
For those who need more history on the contributions of Ms. Zeckendorf et al, there’s more about the history of the Lensic in this earlier post https://www.innonthealameda.com/the-authentic-guide-to-santa-fe/2011/01/santa-fe-lucky-to-have-the-lensic/
- In lieu of the usual “Top Ten” list, can you please name some favorite events performed at the Lensic on your watch?
The Los Alamos Project reading; The Laramie Project:10 Years Later; Sonny Rollins at the New Mexico Jazz Festival; Terry Allen, David Byrne and Emmylou Harris in a benefit concert for Landmine Free World; Eddie Izzard; and Children of Uganda.
For a city of less than 100K residents, this is an impressive and varied list of visiting artists, which should prove enticing for those who have not yet enjoyed a concert, reading or dance performance at the Lensic!
Eddie Izzard, Works in Progress
- Can you name a community outreach event at the Lensic that has been personally meaningful for you?
That’s hard to pick. I really believe in the importance of all of them.
Guess that this question was akin to asking a parent to name a favorite child; sorry, Bob!
- What one performer have you always wanted to see at the Lensic, but who has eluded you?
Mr. Martin should not feel alone; the movie that tells a similar elusive tale is entitled I’m Not There http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0368794/
- What performer, living or deceased, would you like to meet and why?
Zero Mostel and Bert Lahr, because I just thought of them.
Zero Mostel as The Fiddler on the Roof
The One and Only Bert Lahr
- Is there a staff member at the Lensic whose job you secretly envy?
Job satisfaction is a great quality in a community leader!
- What would you like to see happen for the Lensic over the next ten years?
To maintain excellence in programming, to continue taking chances and commitment to community. To be recognized nationally as a model for performing arts centers.
Under Bob Martin’s stewardship, the Lensic is definitely on its way towards these goals, especially with the launch of its $3 Million Fund the Future Campaign to ensure the legacy of performance, education and community events for generations to come.
- As befits all New Mexicans, the state question, red or green? And where?
Green at Tia Sophias.
Everyone has a Favorite Place – and Color – for Chile!
The 10th Anniversary Gala Celebration commemorating the creation of the nonprofit Lensic Performing Arts Center, along with the 80th birthday of the historic Lensic Theater itself, begins on Saturday, April 16 at 5pm. A champagne reception taking place in the Lensic Lobby will precede the performance. This memorable occasion will also honor Santa Feans Nancy and Bill Zeckendorf, who spearheaded the effort to create the performing arts center that has become so integral to the arts community of Santa Fe. Performances by members of the Santa Fe Concert Association, Santa Fe Pro Musica and Santa Fe Symphony will be enhanced when the directors of each group conduct pieces played by this specially organized “Lensic Ensemble.” The Gala will also feature students from the Santa Fe Indian School and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and a film retrospective of the Lensic and its history will be screened.
We extend our sincere thanks to Bob Martin, for sharing some of his time and thoughts with us and for his energy and devotion to ensuring that the Lensic Performing Arts Center endures as a vital part of the cultural life of our city!
If you would like to be part of this important Santa Fe celebration, please call the Lensic Box Office at 505-988-1234 or visit their website at http://www.lensic.org/content/lensic_anniversary.
Lensic Center photos courtesy of the Lensic; all rights reserved.
The Lensic Performing Arts Center
211 West San Francisco Street in Santa Fe, NM
Phone: 505.988.7050 Box Office: 505.988.1234
E-News at http://www.lensic.org/content/lensic_enews
The Distinctive Lensic Performing Arts Center
Total opera fan that I am, the time between summer seasons of the Santa Fe Opera seems particularly long right about now. That’s why the live HD simlucasts from the Metropolitan Opera are so welcome. Santa Fe screenings are held on the appointed Saturdays at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, so I headed there last Saturday for my opera fix, in this case La Fanciulla del West by Puccini, whose La Boheme comes back to Santa Fe this summer. As we settled into our seats for a few hours of glorious music, I was struck yet again at the glories of this landmark theatre and all the wonderful things it has made possible in Santa Fe.
A versatile performing arts center located right off the Santa Fe Plaza, the Lensic originated as a movie and vaudeville theater, with a 69-year run before closing, a passing that was deeply mourned by Santa Fesinos for whom memories of a movie and dinner downtown live on in their minds as the perfect date. The Lensic was built by Nathan Salmon, an immigrant from Syria, who chose to make Santa Fe his home in the late 1800’s, after being stranded here by a snowstorm. An enterprising individual with an immigrant’s belief in the real value of property, Mr. Salmon bought land parcels throughout the Santa Fe and Albuquerque area. In 1930, despite the devastating pressures of the Great Depression, Mr. Salmon and his son-in-law, E. John Greer, made plans to build what they called a ‘Spanish style’ theater, with up-to-date projection and sound equipment that could offer both live performances and the new ‘talking’ pictures to the then-11,000 residents of Santa Fe.
A ‘Spanish Style’ Theater for Santa Fe
The Salmon-Greer partnership broke ground for the theatre in September 1930, and its uniquely memorable name originated when Mr. Salmon sponsored a competition, including a $25 prize, to name the new theater, using either a Spanish title or an amalgam of his grandchildren’s initials. Mrs. P.J. Smithwick claimed the prize (a tidy sum in Depression years) by creating an acronym using the required initials (for Lila, Elias John, Nathan, Sara, Mary Irene and Charles), while at the same time cleverly implying the “lens” of a movie projector. Built swiftly, the Lensic Theater had its grand opening in June of 1931 and soon became the center of Santa Fe social life, since movies served as a respite from the sorrows of the Depression and the war years that ensued.
As Santa Fe grew, the Lensic thrived. Over the years, other options for entertainment in Santa Fe became available, and the Lensic’s technical facilities began to lag behind the demands of modern performance. As this mismatch of requirements expanded, the theater stopped hosting live events and by 1999, it had closed its doors altogether. Fortunately for Santa Fe, the next act was about to begin!
London Assurance Simulcast in HD
Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, recognized as real estate royalty in New York City, arrived in Santa Fe in the 1980s and quickly grasped the Lensic’s potential as a performing arts showcase. Determined to save this classic venue, they pursued Mr. Salmon’s original vision of a dramatic showplace for the city, a destination historically imbued with talent galore. Working with a panoply of performing arts groups, city officials, interested individuals and committed business leaders, they recruited a hard-working board of directors (including the Inn’s owner, Joe Schepps), incorporated the theater as a nonprofit, and embarked on a twelve month rehabilitation. Funded through a $9M capital campaign raised by a coterie of Santa Fe’s movers and shakers, the Lensic rose again like the mythical phoenix and was unveiled as a non-profit performing arts venue in April 2001. To the delight of locals and visitors alike, the thoughtful and restrained renovation restored the theater’s decoratively stylized architecture, and improvements to the technical capabilities made it possible to bring an eclectic variety of performances to the City Different. Thanks to the dedication and insight of all involved, the 821-seat theater has become an integral part of the city’s reputation as a mecca for the arts. An ideal example of how community collaboration and commitment can create a whole greater than the sum of the parts, the Lensic is now a vibrant cultural resource for the city of Santa Fe, as well as the state and surrounding region. As its mission statement says, “The nonprofit Lensic Performing Arts Center enriches lives by bringing diverse art and people together in the historic Lensic Theater, a cornerstone of downtown Santa Fe since 1931.” How true!
Perfomers of All Sizes
What can one see at the Lensic? Well, just about anything! From the HD simulcasts of the Met to traveling circuses, from chamber ensembles to Native American roots music, Polish folk dancers to classical ballet, bluesmen to children’s mariachi groups, writers’ readings to memorable big-screen classics (yes, you CAN still see a movie at the theater!), the Lensic welcomes all who have something to share with the arts-loving denizens of the City Different. The Lensic was recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as an official project of Save America’s Treasures in 2000. And 2011 is indeed a gala year, with the Lensic Performing Arts Center celebrating its 10th anniversary, and the original Lensic Theater turning 80 in April 2011.
The Whole World is Welcome at the Lensic
When our guests come to the Front Desk at any time of year to ask what there is to do in Santa Fe, it is always a pleasure to respond by saying, “Let’s see what’s at the Lensic!”
All images are courtesy of the Lensic, and all rights are reserved.
The short answer would be LOTS! With the onset of the holiday season, Santa Fe, like so many other wonderful destinations, comes alive! The wind is crisp, the scent of pinon is on the air, and holiday lights are lit. While the most obvious choice is to be here for the Christmas holiday, especially since the Inn is such an ideal location for touring the Canyon Road and Plaza farolitos, there are definitely many local events in which to participate before the full-bore holiday week.
The month opens with the annual Rumi Concert, a Storydancer project encompassing music, poetry, dance and song presented by local and national talents. Although the esteemed Robert Bly is no longer a visitor, the poetry slot will be filled by Coleman Barks, poet and translator of the 13th century mystical poet, Rumi. Grammy-award winning cellist, David Darling, and Glen Velez, world percussionist, bring harmony and rhythm, and Zuleikha, of the Storydancer Project, contributes both dance and humor. This is always an evening collaboration that lingers in the mind!
Friday, December 3rd, offers first Friday gallery openings throughout the city. This will be an excellent night on which you can combine both galleries and museum-going, since the New Mexico Museum of Art is offering “Vintage Music and Homemade Cookies,” from 5:00 to 8:00PM, with holiday music spun on vintage LPs by the museum’s own DJ Prairie Dog and cookies baked by museum staff! And since it’s the first Friday of the month, that means the O’Keeffe Museum is free too!
Holiday season also means children’s theatre, and the Eldorado Children’s Theatre and Teen Players always put on an entertaining show. This year, the troupe presents the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic , The King and I. Performances takes place at the James A. Little Theatre on Friday, December 3 and Friday, December 10 at 7:00 PM, and at 2:00PM on Saturday, December 4, Sunday December 5, Saturday, December 11, and Sunday, December 12. Tickets can be reserved on line at www.eldoradochildrenstheatre.org, or by calling 466-4656. Great theatre always has to start somewhere, and talent can be found everywhere!
Adult theatre can be found in From Broadway with Love at the Lensic at 7:30PM on Saturday, December 4th. Kaye Ballard, Liliane Montevecchi, and Donna McKechnie will reunite to star in a one-night-only gala performance to benefit Animal Protection of New Mexico, a non-profit organization that has been challenging historic and widespread animal cruelty in New Mexico for more than 30 years.
Worldy theatre aficionados will thrill to know that there will be an HD simulcast of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as part of the second season of National Theatre Live (NT LIVE), a successful new initiative to broadcast live performances from the National’s stages to cinemas worldwide. The broadcast takes place at the Lensic Center on Friday, December 17 at 7:00PM.
Of course, there will be music and song aplenty! The Santa Fe Men’s Camerata and Zia Singers Holiday Concert takes place at the wonderful Scottish Rite Temple, a landmark in itself, on Saturday, December 4 at 8:00PM and Sunday, December 5 at 4:00PM. The Camerata and the Zia, both directed by Kenneth Knight will join forces for a concert of holiday music, including works from Mendelssohn and Grieg. The combined chorus, about 55 voices strong, will also perform “The Christmas Story According to St. Luke,” a medley of seven well-known Christmas carols arranged by Roger Wagner. The Santa Fe Concert Association brings The King’s Singers for a performance on Wednesday, December 8 at 7:30PM in the St. Francis Cathedral, the perfect spot for holiday chorale.
Not to be outdone by the men, the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble celebrates the holiday withtheir 30th consecutive Christmas Offering Concert. The Ensemble will sing seasonal music and a world premiere by internationally known composer Stephen Paulus, who will be present for the opening concert on Saturday, December 11th. There are several opportunities to attend with concerts on Saturday, December 11; Sunday, December 12; Friday, December 17;and Satueday, December 18, all in Loretto Chapel at 7:30PM.
Music made by the youthful talents of Santa Fe will be on parade at the Mozart y Mariachi Concert, taking place at the St. Francis Auditorium on Friday, December 10 at 6:30PM. This will be some fine mariachi music, performed with spirit and passion, regardless of the performers’ ages and early bedtimes! Classically-inclined youth musicians get their chance to shine on stage on Sunday, December 12 with a performance by the Youth Philharmonia and Youth Symphony Orchestra in concert at 1:00PM also in the St. Francis auditorium.
Could the holidays be complete without the Nutcracker? Aspen Santa Fe Ballet does the honors with four performances of Tchaikovsky’s holiday treat, two on Saturday, December 11 at 2:00PM and 7:30 PM and two on Sunday, at 1:00PM and 5:00PM. This dance company gets better every year, and Santa Fe is very grateful to have them in our midst to sprinkle snowflakes and sugarplums!
The visual arts will not be neglected as fabulous holiday gifts handcrafted by more than 100 traditional and acclaimed Hispanic artists can be found at the Winter Spanish Market taking place Saturday and Sunday, December 4 and 5 from 10:00AM to 5:00PM at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. And Museum Hill gets into the act on Sunday, December 5th from 10:00AM to 5:00PM with a Winter Festival to celebrate the season, with fun for all ages! There will be hands-on art making in the Atrium, a performance by the Sangre de Christo Chorale, Creative Writings and Readings from the Santa Fe Community College Creative Writing Program, and a Doña Adelina puppet performance by Los Titiriteros. Now that’s a roster! The 4th Annual Holiday Market at Institute of American Indian Arts takes place on Sunday, December 12 from 9:00AM TO 3:00PM at the Institute, with fun and fantastic creations by IAIA faculty, staff, students, alumni, student clubs and other Native American artists. The school itself is a marvel, surrounded by the glorious New Mexico landscape, where it offers a refuge for young Native artists to discover their roots and culture.
Talk about art is always on tap in Santa Fe, and the Santa Fe Art Institute brings art critic Lucy Lippard as the final lecturer in their program, Elemental: Earth Air Fire Water – Art and Environment. Lippard is the author of over 20 books on contemporary art and has written art criticism for Art in America and The Village Voice. She has also curated over 50 exhibitions, participated in guerrilla theater, and edited a number of independent publications, including “La Puente de Galisteo” in her home community of Galisteo, New Mexico. The lecture takes place on Thursday, December 9 at 6:00Pm at the Santa Fe Art Institute.
If you won’t be here for Christmas, you can still capture the unique flavor of New Mexico with Las Posadas, an annual re-enactment of the Nativity search for shelter. You can join this tradition on the beautiful Santa Fe Plaza at 5:30PM on Saturday, December 11, as this annual candle-lit procession wends it way around the Plaza, concluding in the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors’ courtyard with carols, cookies and refreshments.
All this and holiday shopping of the unique brand found in our special destination; the flavor of Christmas and the flavor of Santa Fe combine to make pre-holiday travel a joy, regardless of the weather!
Please feel free to contact our friendly staff to find out more about events that interest you or to make reservations for any Santa Fe December happenings!
OM: Ten Tiny Epics at an Outlet Mall will be at the Santa Fe Fashion Outlets throughout September 26, from Thursday through Sunday evenings at 7pm.
Storm: A Guided Improvisation by John Flax
Cutting edge at the Outlet Mall? Mais oui, it’s Santa Fe, a City Different, and it’s not the drama of fashion TV, it’s real live performance! Theatre Grottesco may have started in France, but it has been embraced wholeheartedly by the Santa Fe community. Founded in 1983 in Paris, France, by John Flax and Didier Maucort, two former members of Minneapolis’ late, lamented Theatre de la Jeune Lune and both graduates of France’s Ecole Jacques Lecoq, the company evolved with the addition of Elizabeth Wiseman, another Lecoq graduate. From this talented triad, the company eventually expanded into a troupe of 15 artists with a wealth and depth of theatrical expertise. In 1985, the company moved to the United States, basing out of New York and Detroit before settling in Santa Fe in 1996. The survival of any theatre company (to wit, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, see above) is always a drama in and of itself, but somehow, like other tenacious local arts organizations, this tight little troupe has endured – and, we hope, will prosper – in New Mexico, despite the current economic challenges.
Taking as their mission the creation of theatrical expressions that are visually explosive and full of surprises, it is the Ensemble’s intent to rekindle interest in live performance by “juxtaposing classical and modern theatrical styles with a daring, poetic research of culture and imagination, giving voice to the marginal elements of our contemporary society,” and in the process, hopefully imparting emotional wonder and thoughtful reflection to their audience.
The Ballad of Gary and Nicole: From an Idea by Rod Harrison
Since its inception, the company has created 11 full-length plays and over 30 shorter pieces, while performing in 7 countries, 30 states and most major U.S. cities. Pretty impressive stats, as evidenced by two Drama Critic’s awards, a silver medal with Detroit’s Zone V Productions from the Houston Worldfest Film Festival, a Rockefeller MAP Fund Grant, 11 National Endowment for the Arts Professional Theater Awards, and one of 2 MetLife/TCG A-ha Do It grants in the programs inaugural season. Company members have served in the acting ensemble at Sundance, and Flax and Wiseman have served as guest directors and instructors of movement at theaters and university programs across the country, as well as spending 8 years each as NEA artists-in-the-schools. Nice credentials!
Wire Penance: Created and Performed by Kate Kita
Grottesco has become a leader in the Santa Fe performing arts community, with intensive professional training and educational residencies. Promising and upcoming New Mexico artists are challenged a variety of professional and semi-professional trainings, along with open rehearsals that demonstrate the intricacies of the artistic process. A variety of workshops allows performers to design training with specific goals in mind and can lead to performances with the troupe. The company’s classically-informed consideration of voice, movement and character development are also fertile ground for artists from other disciplines and provide a welcome respite for audiences that value creative exploration and want more than another version of Our Town.
During the month of September, Theatre Grottesco offers theatre lovers OM: Ten Tiny Epics in an Outlet Mall. The genesis of this production is the company’s tri-annual challenge to each member of the ensemble to create a 5-10 minute piece. With no guidelines, anything can happen, any story, any style, any characters. The pieces, however, are required to capture the current passion of the each individual creator, an intimacy uniquely possible in a company of this size. Ensemble members are available to each other for acting, writing or directing duties, and if needed, Artistic Director John Flax spends time with each artist working on the development of the piece. By curtain, the company will have united the short works into a cohesive and exciting production. These shows have proven to be some of the most popular for TG, and the creation of these short pieces allows the ensemble members to develop their own talents and individual visions. The company benefits as a whole, with some small works eventually becoming a laboratory for full-length plays, in turn serving TG’s future audiences with the development of new, fully-realized dramas.
Pod: Written and Performed by Rod Harrison
Spanning 3 to 17 minutes, each of the pieces was staged in the troupe’s rehearsal space at the Fashion Outlets, a surprising and delightful use of empty space in an unusual locale. The simple set consisted of a backdrop of colorful doors and window shapes of varied heights, with a selection of spaces and props above, which were cleverly utilized despite the low ceilings. Musical accompaniment was minimal and was presented only when appropriate. Most of the works were premieres, and the three cast members, John Flax, Kate Kita and Rod Harrison, all performed admirably over a surprisingly quick intermission-less hour or so. Inspiration seemed to come from everywhere, with quirky characters ranging from murderer Gary Gilmore to a pair of hotel housekeepers in my personal favorite, a piece entitled Housekeeping. Both touching and humorous, this piece ran the longest and of course, to a hotel worker like me, seemed the most accessible. In the midst of rapid changes, Ms. Kita gave us delicate dance and mime, Mr. Harrison, bombast, bravado and working-class bravery and mystery cans, and Mr. Flax demonstrated an excellent method of dealing with cell phones during a performance, along with an impressive set of vocal tics! Taken as a whole, the ambitious intentions of OM were realized in a most entertaining and thoughtful fashion.
OM will be at the Fashion Outlets throughout September, from Thursday through Sunday evenings at 7pm, with an $18 general admission and $8 student tickets. The Fashion Outlets are located just off I-25 and are most easily reached from the Inn by taking the Old Santa Fe Trail all the way out to I-25 south and then zipping down 5 miles or so to exit 278. Dress for an evening out in Santa Fe, which at this time of year can be cool, and if you don’t have a jacket, you can visit the Fashion Outlets earlier and pick one up. After all, why not look dramatically cutting-edge yourself? And do go – if we want to avoid reading in Playbill about the demise of regional theatre in Santa Fe, it’s up to all of us to keep it alive and kicking here in the City Different!
NB: Red is a theatre lover, but not a theatre critic!