The Santa Fe Theater Alliance

Listening to One’s Stories and Finding Ways of Cooperation

Date September 23, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Performing Arts

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The Santa Fe Theater Alliance (SFTA) is an organization comprised of representatives of eight Santa Fe theater companies and individual playwrights, actors, and drama educators who meet monthly to seek avenues of more effective coordination, cooperation, and collaboration among the group’s members.  Argos MacCallum (Teatro Paraguas artistic director, poet, and actor) referred to SFTA as a “funny bird” that is attempting to move from the ideal to the practical and concrete.  At an early September meeting this year, a number of SFTA participants at a retreat at the McCune Foundation Building that was led Facilitator Piper Leigh who was “inspired by the passion and commitment of the group” experienced a significant step forward in tackling the organization’s overarching goal(s).

I

In a telephone interview with Craig Barnes (author, professional mediator, and Red Thread Collective Board member) on September 14, 2010, I inquired about the history of the group and its inception:  “In late spring of 2008, with no immediate prospect of an upcoming production, the timing seemed right for Tone Forest (Artistic Director and actor) and I to turn to a major objective of Red Thread Collective ‘to encourage collaboration and cooperation’ among local theater companies.

“The entire Santa Fe theater community was invited to come and engage in ongoing conversation to see what would eventuate.  Any goals established would be defined by the participants themselves.”  It soon became evident to the group that “more cooperation [among the theater community] was possible and we [members] ought to try for it.”

SFTA began to meet monthly. There was some early skepticism and opposition that might be summed up as “This could all be a waste of time”:  “[At the beginning], it was a fairly common feeling that the theaters were vying with one another and that each company had to maintain quality in its own way.”  (In the early 1990s there was a similar attempt at cooperation among groups such as Santa Fe Actors Theater, Santa Fe Playwrights Lab, the New Mexico Repertory Theatre, Black Sheep Ensemble, and the Santa Fe Playhouse among others, that splintered and fell short of a consensus for cooperation and survival.)

However, Craig Barnes is very optimistic about the present situation after a two year “period of shaking out”:  “The climate has changed a great deal with people willing to go with the process of collaboration.  The question has changed from ‘Who’s up to what?’ to “Who can do what?’

The late September retreat seems to have been a pivotal event in the growth of the SFTA,  serving for many participants as an epiphany for awareness and possible action.  Craig Barnes mentioned specific proposals that are being considered for further study, all of which “would have seemed too far-fetched two years ago”:  “We demonstrated a willingness to publicize each other’s productions, create a monthly calendar of events, consider collaborative efforts for training and feed-back, and study the possibility for a joint theater festival with the potential for mutual fundraising.”  Equally important, Craig discovered something new occurred at the retreat:  “There was expressed a personal sense of caring about each others’ work.  [Participants] listened to each other’s life stories of perseverance, failure, and rebirth, the exquisite agony of what constitutes a theater person’s life.  These personal stories of what theater means to one were openly discussed, and there was genuine hope that people would succeed.”

II

Both David Olson (Artistic Director of Theaterwork) and Scott Harrison (Artistic Director of Ironweed Productions and actor) are enthusiastic about the potential for both  practical and personal benefits from participation in SFTA.  David wants to “encourage dialogue at every level” while Scott mentions the support the group provides:  “The Alliance has been a great source of support in very tangible ways, in terms of sharing resources, insights and lessons learned.  But it has also been reassuring and rejuvenating to be a part of a group of artists who have similar goals and aspirations, and who also share the same challenges and struggles.”

Mona Malec (actor) has been a resident for over seventeen years and has seen companies and many fine actors come and go because of the lack of cohesion and the resultant fractures in the theater community.  Mona has a specific direction that she’d like the SFTA to take in order to make local theater as critical to Santa Fe as “the Opera, Canyon Road, IAIA and the Lannan Foundation”:  “It is our [Santa Fe theater artists] job to work together to help the larger community experience theater.  We also are very aware of the transforming nature of the work we do and are hungry to work together.  Each company and each individual who creates theater in this town craves the highest possible standard.  Each company and each artist also has their strengths and weaknesses.  If we as an alliance can come together in honest discussion of our work, of our art, we can help raise artistic standards.”  Finally, she marks the recent SFTA retreat as a turning point in attaining her professional goals:  “As we opened ourselves to each other, it became clear the we [SFTA members] are poised to help Santa Fe embrace [the grand traditions of] theater.”

Leslie Harrell Dillen (author and actor) is a relative newcomer to Santa Fe having moved here two years ago after living here in the 1990s.  Having attended the organization’s meetings for the last year as a representative of the board of directors of the Santa Fe Playhouse, Leslie has found the SFTA beneficial in personal and practical matters:  “The Alliance meetings have been good for me to learn about the theater community, to feel connected to it, and to find out what’s going on with the various theater groups.”  As with many of her theater colleagues, Leslie sees that the SFTA has the potential for increased influence:  “Lately, I’m aware of how much dedication and passion unite these [local theater] groups and how everyone wants to reach the community with their stories but has a hard time doing so for a number of reasons.  At the present, the Alliance isn’t really set up to help with this challenge but is more of a support group.  However, I believe the Alliance has the potential to bring more awareness of theater activities to the public and to help strengthen the individual theaters.”

Alaina Zachary (actor and educator) waxes lyrically about her experience at the recent SFTA retreat:  “A word that kept popping into my head at the excursion [SFTA retreat] was temenos (sacred space).  It is what we [retreat participants] had that day and what is created when theatre happens.  The day was surprising, personal, collective, consensual, and energizing.   [The retreat] opened the door very widely to spread the truth that Santa Fe theatre is a growing force to be reckoned with.”  The retreat also reinforced a seminal belief about theater for Alaina:  “The sharing of our stories verged on the transcendent… [I understood, again,] that we [actors] tell the stories.  We tell ours and we tell yours, and it is the Greek experience of catharsis that’s at the heart of it all.  If I do it well, you [the audience] are changed, relieved, and perhaps healed.”  Furthermore, Alaina discovered that she is fully committed to “helping other folks achieve their performance goals”:  “I learned that my passion isn’t as personal as I thought; I have plenty to share.”  This notion of the generosity of theater (and the arts in general) is summed up in an observation that Pulitzer-prize winner Frank Loesser once told her:  “Talent is a gift to be given away.”

III

Craig Barnes provides an eloquent and impassioned defense of the nature and function of theater and a lofty objective for the SFTA:  “Theater is the most intimate medium that exists.  Interactive by nature, theater is a two-way medium that provides emotional impact and a higher level of engagement than television or the movies.

“Theater has survived for 2,600 years because anyone can join it and because it challenges doctrine and the existing status quo.  In an age when seven media conglomerates control news and entertainment, theater survives by a welling up out of dissent….Theater has insight, spirit, and life.  When it is good, it outshines any other entertainment option.”

Craig’s view of the future of the influence of the SFTA is summarized as follows:  “[SFTA] can gradually grow into providing the basis of a self-confident theater that is every bit of a draw as any other marvelous [art] activity Santa Fe can offer.”

IV

With SFTA providing the talent and dedication and willingness to cooperate and collaborate, what Santa Fe also needs to sustain a thriving, vibrant theater scene is more practical and perhaps more immediately achievable.  Along with such long-term residents as David Olson and Mona Malec and native Santa Fean Argos MacCallum, Bronwen Denton-Davis (playwright, actor, and former artistic director) has the perspective to take the long view on the needs of the theater community:  “I’ve been saying for nineteen years, and I absolutely believe, that the struggles that theater faces here [Santa Fe] are primarily due to the lack of a solid, well-constructed, fixed location for all of Santa Fe’s theater artists…[a place in which] to be able to rehearse, present, and thrive….one decent location that would embrace a fair calendar for theater, new and classic, to be created in a secure, supportive place…It is not a question of whether or not theater is relevant,  Its relevancy would become crystal clear if there were a home for it to survive.”

In her classic essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), Virginia Woolf argued that for a women to become a successful artist she needed two things:  financial independence (time) and a private space in which she could create her art (space).  An analogy to the current situation in the Santa Fe theater community may be instructive at this point.  With the SFTA providing the committed artists, a combination of private and public monies for the development of such a multi-purpose, flexible theater space could provide the physical locus for continued theater growth and improvement in the City Different.  Then we theater enthusiasts can purchase our tickets and provide whatever support we can as we get ready for the ride of our lives.

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