Santa Fe Classic Theater and New Mexico Actors Lab plan for in-person theater while the Oasis Theatre Company, Santa Fe Playhouse, Theater Grottesco, and Teatro Paraguas take a hybrid approach.
SANTA FE, NM—Artforms like theater, which thrive on the interaction between artists and a live audience, were particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying lockdown.
Many of Santa Fe’s twenty-five active producing companies found creative ways to connect with their audiences that included live-streaming plays and readings, holding small outdoor productions, and producing video content that remains online today. Theatre Santa Fe, the umbrella organization of all producing companies, placed these videos on the TSF website for a virtual Theatre Walk Santa Fe, replacing their usual annual live event.
Now, with the recently lifted restrictions, local thespians prepare for a return to the stage.
Santa Fe Classic Theater is one of the first to resume with Shakespeare in the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. Board president Kelly Kiernan-Briggs says the need to plan far in advance makes staging a 2021 production a gamble, but As You Like It is scheduled to open July 29. The theater company invites audiences to come early to picnic in the garden and take in its natural beauty. Live music will be the prelude to this multi-sensory experience.
Another company taking a chance is New Mexico Actors Lab, run by Robert Benedetti and Nicolas Ballas. It’s going well so far—the company has pre-sold 200 season tickets ahead of its opening production The Lifespan of a Fact, which will play in its new Lab Theater (1213 Parkway Drive) from August 5 through August 22.
This season marks a slight change for NMAL. The combination of pandemic and political landscapes encouraged Benedetti and Ballas to produce theater that’s relevant and topical as well as engaging and entertaining. Their “What is Truth” theme reflects how the Donald Trump era changed the political landscape.
Benedetti says the pandemic made him appreciate the underlying seriousness of what they do. “There has to be a pressing reason to make a piece of theater,” says Benedetti. “It’s now an essential service… I’ve always been highly motivated, politically, in the shows that I’ve done, but not with the sense of urgency that I feel now.”
NMAL’s second show, The Cradle Will Rock as well as its last two plays, Lungs and Other Desert Cities, are in the vein of 1930s- and ’40s-era theater when the arts recognized the political potential to change hearts and minds. Now that the company owns its theater, audiences can expect expanded seasons and the ability to address an even greater range of issues.
Not all companies have the luxury of a spacious venue. The Oasis Theatre Company acquired its new home in the Baca District at the Santa Fe Railyard just before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Given the intimacy of the space, Oasis will offer streaming options to accommodate safety and health concerns.
Theater Grottesco, a physical ensemble theater company, also experienced significant disruptions. They created pieces that could be viewed online, and will continue to work on the third chapter of one of those pieces, The King Without a Kingdom, or KWAK. Of Grottesco’s four current projects, one is a collection of short works, which may be shown soon in a cabaret setting.
Theater Grottesco artistic director John Flax recognizes that artists are implored to respond to current times, but, “That being said… we continue to believe in metaphor, imagery, ambiguity, and a physicality that reminds us all of our shared humanity,” Flax says.
On the cusp of its 100th season, the Santa Fe Playhouse says that they have the distinction of being “the oldest continuously producing theater west of the Mississippi.” Artistic director Robyn Rikoon says they are excited to be back. “People are hungry for theater with engaging stories and humor,” says Rikoon.
Rikoon explains that the Playhouse is pleased to continue its longstanding tradition, but also looked for plays with smaller casts; works that could be done creatively but on a smaller budget, reflecting the financial hit taken by many non-profit arts organizations during the lockdown. As a pandemic project, they collaborated with Ironweed Productions on many installments of The Confessions of Clayton Younger, which will remain on both companies’ websites.
Teatro Paraguas will begin live productions in October, but artistic director Argos MacCallum reminds us that this virus may be with us for a long time. MacCallum is picking plays that could be presented online if the need arises. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary.
Disclosure: Talia Pura is the board president of Theatre Santa Fe.