The theater scene in Santa Fe, historically eclipsed by a focus on visual arts and touring musical acts, is working on a new image. Witness Ironweed Productions, resurrecting itself with new works by local playwrights in Scenes in a Restaurant, coming up at Second Street Brewery this fall, and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in 2017. The venerable Santa Fe Playhouse is adding newly available plays and musicals like the acclaimed The Last Five Years, its most recent offering. New site theatresantafe.com bills itself as the “first ever single source for event listings and local theatre and production companies,” signaling a forward-looking attitude of cooperation and collaboration within the theater community here.
Two of the newest players—one black-box theater, one theater company—are adding to the scene by bringing don’t-miss productions to town, each in its own way.
Family-run theater settles in at Adobe Rose
Maureen Joyce McKenna wants you to have an authentic experience at Adobe Rose Theatre. “Theater is the antidote to the modern age,” she says in a recent interview inside the theater. “We’re all glued to these little devices and we have this constant communication, but not necessarily with people. Then you come into the theater and you have this visceral, intimate experience with the actors and the writer, and hopefully something shifts. There’s this wonderful thing that happens that is so the opposite of this little screen we hold in our hands.”
The former door factory at 1213 B Parkway Drive is a large space that offers a black-box theater with seating for up to 140. It also offers a small café space for light food and drink before performances. The seats themselves are wider and more comfortable than you might think. “One of my kids is 6-foot-5, so the seats are nicely proportioned,” Maureen says.
Another of her children, Madeleine, is the social media maven who makes things hum. How do you get young people into the theater? Charge anyone under the age of 25 just $5 per performance, and sell 200 extra seats for the run of the show. Then let Madeleine stay in touch with them. “She gets us out into the community; she fills our houses. Madeleine really is just as important to the founding and running of the place as I am. She’s the nuts and bolts, and I’m the dreamer,” Maureen says.
Maureen and her husband, award-winning screenwriter Bruce McKenna, originally capitalized the nonprofit but are now in the grant-writing stage of development. They’ve received donations from theatergoers, despite the lack of a capital campaign, which Maureen ascribes to a “dearth of rentable theater space” in Santa Fe. One of their missions is to fill that gap.
Another is to collaborate with other stakeholders to improve the scene for theatergoers and theatre people alike. “We’re trying to do some community building, working with everybody to make this more of a theater town. There is theater here, there are some very talented actors here. It’s up to all of us to work together to create more of a presence in this town,” she says.
Part of that presence is a surrounding neighborhood that is becoming a popular spot for bars, restaurants and arts attractions: Wise Fool New Mexico is on Siler, Meow Wolf is right around the corner, as is Teatro Paraguas. You can eat and drink at Duel Brewing, Alicia’s Tortilleria and M.A.M.A.’s World Takeout, to name a few of the nosh nooks popping up around Adobe Rose. “Some people are calling it the Rufina Art District, which is rad,” Maureen says.
Adobe Rose is most concerned with paying union wages to all of its actors, and introducing new works. Maureen is partial to plays with socially relevant messages. To that end, they will produce Opus by Michael Hollinger, opening July 14 in a local premiere, featuring Dexter actor Eli Goodman; and Lobby Hero by prolific playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan, in September.
New Mexico Actors Lab offers a summer season
Founder and Artistic Director Robert Benedetti says he’s retired (“ostensibly”) but don’t you believe it. After a career of 50-plus years in acting, directing, teaching, filmmaking and screenwriting, he works seven days a week at New Mexico Actors Lab. In his spare time, Robert teaches camera work and acting at Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Casting is his super power. “I gathered around me the people I thought were the best actors, and there are some former students among them,” Robert says. “It’s really a family of actors I want to work with and who I think are very high quality.”
New Mexico Actors Lab members are: Nicholas Ballas, Walter Dilts (co-producer), Jody Durham, Tone Forrest, Scott Harrison, Suzanne Lederer, Argos MacCullum (technical director), Kyra Murzyn (ASM/board operator), Robert Nott, Geoffrey Pomeroy, Skip Rapaport (lighting designer), Suzanne Cross (stage manager), Jonathan Richards and Tallis Rose.
Arriving here more than six years ago, Robert saw more than a few blanks waiting to be filled in. “I was expecting to find a lot of theater because students of mine—I was dean at the California Institute of the Arts—some of my students had started equity companies here: New Mexico Stages, Santa Fe Repertory, and Santa Fe Shakespeare Festival. Now the only Actors’ Equity company in New Mexico is FUSION [Theatre Company in Albuquerque],” he says.
He was also surprised to find that much of the present scene consisted of community theater. “I’ve been an Equity member for 22 years,” says Robert, who acted in Outside Mullingar for FUSION last season. “Maybe someday we’ll have a core of Equity actors, but there aren’t many here because there is so little Equity work available [in Santa Fe].”
NMAL’s reason for being is choosing plays to showcase its members’ talents. Robert picks plays that will be “great vehicles” for his actors. “I ask, ‘Will it challenge and give him or her a chance to grow?’” he explains. “I really believe in repertory theater that has a relationship to its community, and I wanted to create a theater from Santa Fe, with Santa Fe people, for Santa Fe.”
The audience is never left out of that equation. During the run of Proof, in fact, the play proved so popular that Benedetti found unsolicited donations “flocking in.” Within two weeks, people who had seen the play sent in about $4,000 to the nonprofit. “Ted Danson and Ed Harris, former students of mine, did donate early on to help us get started,” Robert recalls (he taught at Yale Drama School). “But the response of the audience as measured by the fact that people are giving us money without being asked is quite extraordinary.”
NMAL offers a summer season of three plays at Teatro Paraguas to take advantage of a vacancy during those months, to accommodate actors with 9-to-5s, and because Benedetti spends the winters elsewhere. He is happy that the season—Proof, which recently closed, the current Driving Miss Daisy, and the upcoming Art—introduces theatergoers to Teatro Paraguas as a venue. “Other venues like Warehouse 21 and Armory for the Arts—none of them could spare three solid months of just turning the whole facility over to us,” Robert says. “Teatro Paraguas needed the income, and I’m very much in favor of the bilingual and Latino theater they have been doing here.” He welcomes collaboration and feels that Adobe Rose is “exactly the kind of theater that we [in Santa Fe] need.” Maureen at Adobe Rose is also thrilled that NMAL came to town and is happy to cross promote.
Will Santa Fe become more of a theater town, especially now that NMAL and Adobe Rose are established here? “I think it’s possible,” Robert says. “I think there is something like a renaissance occurring. There’s a very much appreciated response from the audience. There was some doubt as to whether Santa Fe really could be a theater town, because of performance-oriented events like the Santa Fe Opera, the dance companies, the Symphony. Are there enough theater-oriented people to support the work of a serious company? I think we’ve pretty well proven the response has been more vigorous than we anticipated.”
Story by Stephanie Hainsfurther, Photo by Lynn Roylance