The Game is Afoot
Opening on August 27 and running through September 26, 2010, at its performance space in the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe, Theater Grottesco (TG) will be presenting its tri-annual program of evolving short theatrical pieces, OM: Ten Tiny Epics in an Outlet Mall (OM). OM is a series of original pieces composed by ensemble members and featuring Rod Harrison, Kate Kita, and John Flax. These works cover a dizzying array of styles and stories in a more intimate presentation than TG’s usual full-scale productions.
OM is the result of a company challenge that occurs every three to five years. Each ensemble member creates a 5-10 minute theater piece with the only caveat that the story must be passionately engaged by the teller. TG Artistic Director John Flax works with each company member as needed and the entire company works to create a cohesive production. From this collection of mini-plays, a few are chosen for further treatment and development as lab works that may lead to full production. Some of TG’s most critically acclaimed works have been the result of this process, including The Angels’ Cradle, This is Life as We Know It…, Bolt Upright, and Grottesco’s 12th Night.
In a telephone conversation with TG’s Managing Director and ensemble member Kate Kita, I inquired about the process of development and selection that led to the works that were included in the company’s upcoming production: “The first step [in developing the ideas presented by the thirteen ensemble members] is discovering who is able to commit time to the process of being fully available to the others. This year only Rod Harrison, John Flax and I were able to commit to the full process, and Elizabeth Wiseman, Kent Kirkpatrick, and Mona Malec contributed on specific pieces.”
The work on OM began shortly after the close of TG’s successful remounting of its full-length production of The Richest Dead Man Alive: “In October , we [TG ensemble members] began working on our assignment of exploring an idea from a personal space. By January we were meeting once a week and doing the physical work during the day. This was very beneficial to the development process because generally we have a higher energy level during the day; rehearsing in the evenings can be exhausting.”
The process of creation of TG’s shorts programs is both varied and collaborative: “The players involved start with table work. Everyone comes with ideas; some like Rod [Harrison] bring texts, others bring characters or concepts or images they would like to explore. Other ensemble members contribute to the process in various ways. For example, Elizabeth Wiseman is working with me on a choreography piece about the elements of earth and water and Kent Kirkpatrick, using a process he employs in film making, has worked with Rod and John [Flax] in creating characters who would then improvise dialogue and scenes. I helped move this piece forward by observing the rehearsals and providing feedback.” This collaborative company process is the essence of TG: “Input is always on the table; the building process is truly democratic.”
Kate also provided a window on the starting point of each short piece and the final ordering of the works: “The structure of the production shows itself in rehearsal as the pieces are being built. Works with similar themes are broken up but the process is [consciously] organic.” However, the starting point of each of the individual pieces is axiomatic with regard to TG’s artistic goal: “Each story is told in the way that complements the themes, yet pushes the possibilities of performance. The goal is constantly to re-invigorate the theater. We want audiences to gather something that perhaps they weren’t expecting, and to have them leave the theater inspired to talk about the performance they have just seen.”
Theater Grottesco sees the production of OM in an Outlet Mall as an experiment with certain inherent risks. “Part of the reason we are producing OM in our company space is because of costs, but we also feel that it may be the best venue to tell this intimate set of stories. We’re also working to build audiences on the south end of town.” Even on the artistic level, OM is an experiment as Kate notes: “We have created a set of approximately thirty recovered antique doors around our physical environment. We have made these doors and the props from gathered materials to demonstrate what one can do with so little.”
As for attending this TG production, Kate sees the attraction as getting “a taste of Theater Grottesco. There is something for everyone with so many styles [presented] and so much to experience. And if you don’t like something it is over in ten minutes.” Finally, OM is designed to be a “gathering every night with films shown after the production on the walls of the Outlet Mall, guest commentators, audience talkbacks, and food and drink available.”
I also had the opportunity to discuss Kate Kita’s theater background and how she found her way to Santa Fe. She began with a self-assessment that seems borne out in the essentials of her life history: “I am one of those people who can’t just do one thing at a time. I need to have a lot of balls in the air.”
A native of Buffalo (NY), Kate Kita is a 2001 graduate of NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts where she attended Playwrights Horizon, a multi-disciplinary conservatory of acting, directing, and design. She focused on all acting in her junior year and all directing in her senior year. Transformative experiences during this period were seeing Simon McBurney (from Ecole Jacques Lecoq) and Theatre Complicite perform at Lincoln Center and then studying movement and gesture with Peter Bass: “I realized that I was inspired by theater that explored movement, image and physicality more than productions that were solely text-based.”
Kate Kita took any job she could in the theater, including being the House Manager of the Classic Stage Company, working with companies such as Theater et al and International WOW, and taking any acting gig to keep body and soul together. (Kate mentioned her low point in such productions was her role as a Hooter’s waitress.): “I was always working and striving to do original work….In 2003, I was part of creating The Engine, a writing group that met in Brooklyn every two weeks and gave each other writing assignments. Eventually, we produced Michael Weller’s Moonchildren because it had great roles for people in their 20’s. We rented a theater in the Village, sold out every night and actually made a small profit.” The Engine expanded into working in film and continues today as a writing group.
Following a personal imperative to “Go West” (Kate recently married western conservationist and forester Trent Botkin and they reside in Santa Fe), she discovered in 2006 that Santa Fe had a company that focused on her ideal notion of theater, phoned John Flax, and the rest is history. She is a member of the TG ensemble and has acted in Wenomadmen, Fortune, Grottesco’s 12th Night, and The Richest Dead Man Alive while also serving as TG’s Managing Director.
In 2009, Kate and TG received a prestigious honor from the Theatre Communications Group. The “New Generations: Future Leaders” award is a fully funded, two-year grant that “seeks to identify exceptionally talented theatre professionals who will impact the field in a positive way” (www.tc.org/grants/newgen/mentor). The mentorship [provided by John Flax] focuses on nurturing and supporting the mentee’s leadership skills and career goals. One of the objectives of the program is to introduce effective future leaders into the field who will inspire new ideas and models.”
In discussing her future plans, Kate Kita mentioned one of those balls in the air that she is always juggling—her work with children: “Since I was twelve and attempting to teach art in my back yard in Buffalo, I have always loved working with children. In New York, I was involved with child-care and taught at Beginning’s School. When I first moved to Santa Fe, I worked at Desert Montessori School and became a certified Montessori teacher through the North American Montessori Center. It’s important to me to work with children while continuing to work in the theater. They are so inspiring and honest and receptive. My work in the theater is about creating art that engages people and inspires a deeper understanding of humanity, and I find that my work with children is some of my best research”
Kate Kita’s immediate goal is to work with Theater Grottesco in creating original and challenging work and to directly engage with the larger Santa Fe community. She also knows that whatever the future may bring, “I will continue to pursue work in the theater on professional and educational levels.”
Theater Grottesco’s OM: Ten Tiny Epics in an Outlet Mall will be presented from August 27-September 26, 2010, on Thursdays through Sundays at 7 P.M. at the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe (8380 Cerrillos Road). There will be an Opening Night Gala on August 27th with a catered champagne reception by Adobo starting at 6 P.M. and continuing after the 7 P.M. show.
For tickets, please phone (505) 474-8400 or at www.theatergrottesco.org.
Tickets are $18 for general admission & $8 for students.
Opening Night Gala tickets are $75.
Performances on August 29 & September 2, 9, 16, and 23 are Pay What You Wish.