Hook ‘em While They’re Young

Santafe.com - October 26, 2011

" To see a real hands-on learning experience in Santa Fe is uplifting enough, but this program is so much more"

I auditioned for my first real play when I was 14. It wasn’t a school show, I didn’t know any of the actors or directors, and it was my first time auditioning in a true equity theater. A single spot of light, stage center, lit the room. The rest of the theater lay dark. Around me, 20 other actors filled the house. Their soft murmurs all reading the same audition sides in whispered silence. They were a choir of uncertainty praying in a temple to the arts. My name called, I slowly approached the stage left stairs. My hands clasped tight behind my back. My heart pounding. My arms beginning to shake. I walked into the light and suddenly the dull silhouettes of the other actors vanished. I stood, utterly unnerved. The whole of reality seemed to melt away, the whole of my world in that pool of light. Jilted by nerves, I did the only thing that seemed remotely reasonable at the time and, eyes sealed, took a deep long breath. The air was cold and full of dust. It tasted like old clothes and fresh paint. It was the smell of a theater when it's empty and waiting to be filled.

That breath was a crystalizing moment for me and one I often revisit when I’m alone and in need of comfort. It was not just the first time I auditioned professionally or a conquering moment of fear. It was the first moment I experienced a theater for what it was. A vast, empty space full of memory and possibility. A monument to the idea that art can be whatever we work to fabricate. It was a moment that changed my life. So when I heard that a local theater company, Santa Fe Performing Arts, was trying out a new program to offer kids and teens in Santa Fe a true theater experience, I had to check it out firsthand.

The project is spearheaded by one of Santa Fe Performing Arts directors and Meow-Wolfer Meg Burns. The program seeks to offer its students a complete and hands on apprenticeship to the theater process. From roundtable scriptwriting to lighting design, the program seeks to offer its students a more rounded theater education and experience. Where so many local curriculums only offer acting training, the idea of a program designed to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the theater as a whole seems a welcome addition.

Elated by children's reactions to Meow Wolf’s recent installation, "The Due Return," Meg Burns sought to turn the same creative process used to fabricate the art house galleon into a collaborative theater piece with students. While fabricating a child’s imagination can be challenging, Ms. Burns put her philosophy well in saying “The decision all comes down to justification. If we can justify the moment being in the play, we’ll fight to make the most ludicrous moments real.”

Most impressive is the program's balancing of age groups. With students ranging from 7 to 17, it can be hard to create a constructive collaborative process. Intelligently broken into separate pre-production groups, the younger students work on the broader strokes of the scripts and concepts, while the teens work on the finer point of detail and design. The classes' curriculum is based around the nature of the age groups. Younger children are action-based and teens are emotion-based, allowing the children to create wonderful show moments and the teens to craft empathetic characters. Later in the rehearsal process, teens act as mentors to younger students, giving the younger students a hands-on peer education and the teens a valuable life experience in the responsibility of a role model.

As for the script itself, it’s still in pre-production and I’ve been asked not to share too many details. What i can say is that it draws from the dystopian themes of George Orwell’s 1984 and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It plays on the archetypal schoolyard characters like jocks and outcasts. Asks the hard questions of what a society teaches to its youths, what is the power of the next generation, and how a simple question can rock the foundations of established norms. It's a challenging and evocative piece that would be impressive from any voice, but is made all the more powerful when coming from the mouths of the young.

To see a real hands-on learning experience in Santa Fe is uplifting enough, but this program is so much more. It is an outlet to unrestricted creativity for our youth. It is an empowering apprenticeship to all departments of the theater world. It is a mouthpiece to the disenfranchised student. Most importantly, it is a pilot to an active educational arts experience that should be much more commonplace. If you are interested in future enrollment or would like to support this phenomenal program, you can contact Santa Fe Performing Arts at the number and website listed below. In late November I will follow up with an in-depth review of classes for an upcoming December production.

Santa Fe Performing Arts: 505-982-7992