Reefer Madness Hits City Different!

2010 Fiesta Melodrama Opens Santa Fe Playhouse’s 89th Season

Date August 19, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Author Jeffrey Laing

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Performing Arts

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Beginning on August 26, 2010, The Santa Fe Playhouse, the oldest continuously running community theater west of the Mississippi, will present Fiesta Melodrama 2010: Reefer Melodrama! for a three-week run.  (For the complete set of alliterative subtitles, go to www.santafeplayhouse.org.)  After a one-year hiatus, the Fiesta melodrama returns on the City Different’s 400th anniversary to skewer all the sacred cows and persecuted prairie dogs in Santa Fe’s home-grown menagerie.

I

On August 11, 2010, I spoke with Theater Director Rebecca Morgan to discuss the upcoming 89th season of the Santa Fe Playhouse.  The schedule includes an edgy English drama (Empty Bed Blues, part of a mini-D.H. Lawrence Festival), a funny, touching, holiday relationship play (Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks), two co-productions of original works (Leslie Harrell Dillen’s Two Wives in India & Bill Svanoe’s Call Back, starring Joan Darling and Jonathan Richards), the ever-popular Bench Warmers 10 series of fifteen-minute works by local playwrights, and a full-blown musical (Cole).  To top off the season, dancer/choreographer Julie Brette Adams will appear for the sixth year with a series of new pieces.

Rebecca believes that the continued longevity of SFP is due in large part to the community focus of the company.  Unlike most local theater groups that are an extension of the vision of an artistic director, SFP celebrates a wide variety of perspectives:  “Each production is the culmination of an individual director who acts as his/her artistic director….[I think this multiplicity of views] is what has kept SFP alive and viable for 89 seasons.”

The process for getting a play accepted for presentation by SFP is equally democratic.  The SFP Board of Directors entertains and solicits proposals from January to March for productions of previously performed works, co-productions of original drama(s), and rentals.  The Board members then engage in a spirited “free-for-all” from which that season’s schedule is established.  This year an added and helpful step was introduced: Six directors were invited to pitch their proposals to the SFP Board in person and discuss their wants and needs within the financial and physical constraints of the theater.

Rebecca Morgan also clarified certain questions I had about the SFP staff and funding.  Along with the many valued volunteers, Rebecca praised the responsiveness to the directors and the community of Technical Director Jeff Tarnoff, House Manager Jojo Tarnoff, and Box Office Manager Kim Roman.  In the spirit of its community focus, SFP has been a 501 C3 non-profit organization since 1922 with its funding the result of state and city grants; foundation awards; personal donations, including a Christmas fund-raising letter; and box office receipts.  Finally, Rebecca clarified her use of the term “sweat equity” in discussing how SFP work is evaluated:  “Very few people get paid at the SFP.  The work of the Board and all the actors and directors is all a labor of love.  I keep logs of the hours people donate and encourage them to consider taking a charitable deduction [on their taxes].” 

The cancellation of last year’s melodrama was shrouded in mystery for many Santa Fe theater enthusiasts, but the reason for doing so was less than byzantine:  “Last year, there was a little drama about the melodrama.  The anonymous writing committee fell apart due to a series of unrelated family emergencies.  So, in June of 2009, there was still no script.  The McGiffins stepped up and did their production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever.  This year we [SFP] began early and had a completed script by March.”

Rebecca revealed a few nuggets about this year’s melodrama:  “The Kiwanis Club was thrilled to be asked and readily gave permission to use the image of Zozobra in the play….The subtitle “Reefer Melodrama” not only pays homage to that just-say-no anti-dope classic “Reefer Madness” but acts as a PG-13 warning to any adults who don’t want to have their children exposed to even the mention of drugs.”

As for the return of the Fiesta melodrama, Rebecca is ecstatic about this year’s production:  “[SFP] is starting off its 89th season with a dynamic show with half the cast under twenty-five [years of age].  Under the guidance of Co-Directors Eliot Fisher and Matt Sanford the energetic, passionate, vibrant cast is having a blast in creating a joyous melodrama that reminds me of the Santa Fe melodramas of the 70’s and 80’s.”   

II

On August 11, 2010, I spoke by telephone with Mewlodrama Co-Directors Eliot Gray Fisher and Matt Sanford who are remarkably similar in age, background, attitudes toward theater, approaches to directing, and even personal philosophy.  Both embrace the dramatic aesthetic of striving never to compromise one’s core beliefs:  “(Matt) In Santa Fe, there are many artists who sacrifice quality for audience appeal.  Once you realize what you want you [go for it].”  Eliot is pleased at how this co-artistic relationship has been evolving: “We’ve had little negotiating to do.”  Matt “finds that having a co-artistic director whom he can trust is sheer joy.”  Both agree that it is “helpful to have two sets of eyes on everything.”

Both Co-Directors have as their goal to increase youth attendance at this year’s melodrama:  “(Eliot) I see a resurgence of interest in theater by tweens and teens.  There is a developing generation of theater geeks inspired, in part, by the success of shows like Glee.”  (Matt) “Growing up and loving the Marx Brothers, campy horror films, and the Three Stooges, I auditioned for a show with Robert Nott at 19 and wound up co-writing and co-directing [with the noted local actor and journalist] last year’s Warehouse 21 [youthful send-up of such low comedy styles in] Dead Men’s Jest.

Matt believes that the Melodrama poster—a comic book—underscores the dominant tone and style of this year’s melodrama: “[I believe] there is a healthy [and traditional] balance between the jokes in the dialogue and the goofy actions on the stage.”  

In response to my pontifical dictum that the melodrama, despite arguments to the contrary, has always been a bit mean-spirited, Eliot provided a defense, sort of:  “Everyone needs a poke in the eye sometimes.  We [Matt and I] want to wake the audience up and we promise all that they will suffer no permanent damage.”

2010 has been a difficult year for many in the Land of Enchantment.  I suggest we all head down to the Playhouse to experience some not-quite-squeaky-clean fun and corrective satire.  It’s a fitting (and this year a quite literal) complement to the yearly destruction of that gloomy puppet whose demise lightens our load.

III

Fiesta Melodrama 2010:  Reefer Melodrama!  will be performed on Thursdays (8/26 & 9/2), Fridays (8/27, 9/3 & 9/10), and Saturdays (8/28, 9/4 & 9/11) at 8 P.M.

FM will also be performed on Saturdays (8/28 & 9/4) and Sundays (8/29, 9/5 & 9/12) at 2 P.M.

Reservations can be made online or by calling 988-4262.

Ticket Prices are $20 GENERAL ADMISSION & $15 for STUDENTS, TEACHERS & SENIORS.

FIRST THURSDAY (8/26) = OPENING NIGHT GALA with $25 tickets.  Refreshments, Music, and Meet the Fiesta Council and Court.  Gala at 7 P.M. with FM at 8 P.M.

SECOND THURSDAY (9/2) = $10 tickets.

NO SHOW ZOZOBRA NIGHT:  Old Man Gloom is otherwise engaged on 9/9.

Seating is open, and season or flex passes may be used (except for GALA nights).

The LOBBY opens at 7 P.M. and the Theater opens at 7:30 P.M. (except for GALAS when the theater opens at 7 P.M.).

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