More Than Entertainment: FUSION Theatre Company

Behind-the-scenes passions are changing neighborhoods, adding jobs and educating kids….

For 15 years, FUSION Theatre Company has lived in the Warehouse District of Albuquerque, in a small-ish building at the edge of the railroad tracks. Its black-box space, aptly named The Cell, holds New Mexico’s only Actors’ Equity theater company, a tiny reception area with a refreshments bar cadged from a local furniture store, and sold-out shows.

The folks at FUSION have already changed the character of the neighborhood surrounding The Cell, with parking for patrons and a colorful, well-scrubbed front facade to welcome them. It started life as a fruit and vegetable warehouse in 1910, and was vacant for 16 years before FUSION moved in. The company has helped lead the redevelopment of the neighborhood that now boasts Warehouse 508 (the former Ice House strip joint), The Wool Warehouse (operated by Youth Development Inc.), a 70-unit affordable housing complex, and the award-winning Marble Brewery.

FUSION co-founder Dennis Gromelski, working with the Public Art Division of the Cultural Affairs department, also encouraged the city to move the sculpture “Centric Shear” by Rico Eastman to the corner of 1st Street and Lomas, where it serves as a distinctive portal to the Warehouse District. But Dennis dreams big, and today his visions are showing him what further development can look like. He has already started renovations on a building across the parking lot, a twin to The Cell, that will house another black box, a café and offices for creative businesses. Between the buildings, the lot itself will become an outdoor music venue seating 1,000. “These plans will be a game-changer for Downtown,” Dennis says.

Many theater groups have made an impact on their Albuquerque neighborhoods this past year. The Vortex Theatre moved from the University of New Mexico area to the Northeast Heights to take over the former Langell Art Supply building, vacant for two years. A large corner lot with plenty of parking and a large building with plenty of warehouse space became a thriving contemporary gem instead of an eyesore.

The 86-year-old Albuquerque Little Theatre, whose casts are a mix of professional and community actors, is housed in a John Gaw Meem building across from the Country Club and Old Town. Renovations over the years include a period-perfect new lobby, an outdoor café and fixes to a misguided ’70s addition. Their new capital campaign includes plans for restoration of the outside, expansion of public spaces inside and an endowment looking toward the next 86 years.

“Maintaining our large old building, producing seven major productions a year and running an extensive operation puts quite a bit of money back into the community,” says Henry Avery, the theater’s executive and artistic director. “ALT provides employment in the arts for seven full-time employees and several part-time employees, plus [it] provides contract work for many artists and teachers.”

Adobe Theater in the North Valley ran a capital campaign a few years ago to keep their patrons out of the rain and snow. Conceived by set designer Barbara Bock, the new portal and interior lobby suit this beloved theater and showcase its show posters, past and present.

We could go on: The Aux Dog Theatre in Nob Hill created its new X-Space on an admirable shoestring; improv theater The Box Performance Space fills a formerly empty spot in Downtown; Mother Road Theatre Company just moved into the Keshet Center for the Arts, a brand-new development in itself. But what Albuquerque theater companies give back to the community most often are personal growth choices for children.

Theaters give numberless benefits to children

The members of Duke City Repertory Theatre believe that theater has the power to change the world, making it a vital and necessary component of any community. “As far as education goes, studies have shown that theater has a huge and impactful effect on children,” says Lauren Myers, an actress on WGN’s Manhattan TV series and a resident company member at DCRT. “Whether it’s through watching and experiencing a play (which develops our sense of human empathy), or acting in a play (which develops bravery, confidence, and teamwork), theater is important to our community in that it enriches our youth and secures an imaginative and creative future.”

Perhaps you didn’t know that Popejoy Hall, which lures the traveling companies of big Broadway musicals to town, also treats school children to mid-week matinees and produces study guides for classroom discussion of those shows. And FUSION at The Cell sponsors the New Mexico Academy of Rock & Blues: under their aegis, the bi-lingual music academy for ages 7 to 18 can garner more grants and plan a year-round program.

Teen education in particular is a buy-in for the more than 35 members of the Albuquerque Theatre Guild. The Guild recently scored a grant from a local foundation that will double the amount of existing Youth Theatre Scholarships and help them begin a new program, Play-Dates.

“We’ll be bringing junior-high and high-school kids from lower socio-economic areas of the city to free weekend performances by seven ATG theatre companies including ALT, Landmark Musicals, the Vortex’s ‘Shakespeare on the Plaza,’ Elite’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and others,” says Linda Lopes McAlister, a founding member of ATG and owner of Camino Real Productions. “A ‘Play-Date’ will be there when they get to the theater to welcome them, talk to them about what they can expect, answer questions, buy them a snack at intermission, and introduce them to cast members afterwards. We expect that several hundred kids will get to experience live theater, probably for the first time.”

The Albuquerque Theatre Guild has extended the program into the summer and is working with nonprofit Children’s Choice to bring at least 200 kids to the Blackout Theatre Company’s new interactive show in June. “This helps address the ‘learning gap’ that some kids experience from being away from the intellectual stimulation of the classroom during the summer,” Linda says.

Expansive cultural opportunities broaden knowledge and experience

Events beyond the state’s cultural triumvirate abound in part because of Albuquerque’s theaters. At the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Siembra series of original plays allows local audiences access to the multiple flavors of Latin America. Working Classroom is an after-school program that pairs students with professional actors and directors who bring new-to-us plays to life. FUSION, having built a national reputation, has dibs on contemporary plays newly off Broadway, and so stages regional premieres. The company also inaugurated The Seven, an international 10-minute new-play competition; performances of the winning plays are sold out months in advance. June 2016 will mark The Seven’s 11th year.

Undeniably, and perhaps remarkably, Albuquerque theater companies and venues bring us the best the world has to offer. “Theater brings many things to the community,” Lauren of DCRT says. “It prompts reflection, analysis and the ability to view things from another perspective. Theater can be the spark of a revolution.”

And let’s not forget the sheer joy of theater, on stage or off. “Theater is live, 3-D entertainment,” points out Vicki Singer, president of the board for Musical Theatre Southwest. “Most people who go to the theater also make a night of it: dinner before or drinks after.”

Henry Avery of ALT gets to the core of local theater’s contributions. “We provide high-quality entertainment at a reasonable ticket price, expansive education opportunities and professional-level experience opportunities on stage, back stage and in design,” he says. “Plus, it is a lot of fun and adds to the quality of life in our community.”

“Theater brings many things to the community. It prompts reflection, analysis and the ability to view things from another perspective. Theater can be the spark of a revolution.” Lauren Myers

Story by Stephanie Hainsfurther

 

Holiday Shows in the Que

Holiday shows abound in Albuquerque. Nearly every theater company is staging a seasonal splash and you can choose from old favorites, new premieres, British pantomime and more. Whether you’re planning a magical dinner-date night or an afternoon with the kids, there’s a treat in store for you and yours and many theaters offer seniors’ and children’s prices and pay-what-you-will performance dates.

Dec. 3-6, The Farolitos of Christmas
This original play by Rudolf Anaya has become a family tradition.
With the Vortex Theatre at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, 505.724.4771, nhccnm.org

Dec. 3-13, Nutcracker on the Rocks
New dance moves and pop music put a fun twist on the holiday standby.
Keshet Dance Company, 505.224.9808, keshetarts.org

Dec. 3-20, The Nutcracker
A play based on the original story, with darker twists, okay for all ages.
Duke City Repertory Theatre at The Cell Theatre, 505.797.7081, dukecityrep.com

Dec. 4-13, Elf The Musical Jr.
A shorter version of the musical with child actors.
Cardboard Playhouse at South Broadway Cultural Center, 505.510.1389, southbroadwaytickets.com

Dec. 4-20, The Game’s Afoot, or Holmes for the Holidays
A manor-house Christmas mystery.
Adobe Theater, 505.898.9222, adobetheater.org

Dec. 4-20, Cinderella: The E! True Hollywood Story
Fun and games for kids and grown-ups in an interactive British panto play.
The Dolls at National Hispanic Cultural Center, 505.724.4771, nhccnm.org

Dec. 4-20, The Wind in the Willows
With the Aux Dog Kids, adapted from the classic children’s book by Kenneth Grahame.
Aux Dog Theatre, 505.254.7716, auxdog.com

Dec. 4-24, A Christmas Carol
An updated version about a troupe of actors having a lot of fun.
Albuquerque Little Theatre, 505.242.4750, albuquerquelittletheatre.org

Dec. 4-27, All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914
A true story of soldiers making a moment of peace during World War I.
Mother Road Theatre Company and The Vortex Theatre, at The Vortex
505.247.8600, vortexabq.org; 505.243.0596, motherroad.org

Dec. 10-12, Peter Pan
Tinkerbell and company with drama, music and dance.
Elite Dance and Theatre at the African American Performing Arts Center, 505.440.0434, elitenm.net/shows

Dec. 13, Mariachi Christmas
Dec. 14, The Kingston Trio Christmas
Dec. 19, An Irish Christmas
Popejoy Hall, 505.925.5858, popejoypresents.com, unmtickets.com

Dec. 18-19, The Santaland Diaries
A holiday hoot by David Sedaris, who worked as a Christmas elf.
Cardboard Playhouse at South Broadway Cultural Center, 505.510.1389, southbroadwaytickets.com

Dec. 18-Jan. 3, The Little Mermaid
Based on the fairy tale and the Disney film version thereof.
Musical Theatre Southwest at the African American Performing Arts Center, 505.265.9119, musicaltheatresw.org


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