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Santa Fe Fashion Outlets Goes Grottesco

OM: Ten Tiny Epics at an Outlet Mall will be at the Santa Fe Fashion Outlets throughout September 26, from Thursday through Sunday evenings at 7pm.

Storm: A Guided Improvisation by John Flax

Cutting edge at the Outlet Mall? Mais oui, it’s Santa Fe, a City Different, and it’s not the drama of fashion TV, it’s real live performance! Theatre Grottesco may have started in France, but it has been embraced wholeheartedly by the Santa Fe community. Founded in 1983 in Paris, France, by John Flax and Didier Maucort, two former members of Minneapolis’ late, lamented Theatre de la Jeune Lune and both graduates of France’s Ecole Jacques Lecoq, the company evolved with the addition of Elizabeth Wiseman, another Lecoq graduate. From this talented triad, the company eventually expanded into a troupe of 15 artists with a wealth and depth of theatrical expertise. In 1985, the company moved to the United States, basing out of New York and Detroit before settling in Santa Fe in 1996. The survival of any theatre company (to wit, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, see above) is always a drama in and of itself, but somehow, like other tenacious local arts organizations, this tight little troupe has endured – and, we hope, will prosper – in New Mexico, despite the current economic challenges.

Taking as their mission the creation of theatrical expressions that are visually explosive and full of surprises, it is the Ensemble’s intent to rekindle interest in live performance by “juxtaposing classical and modern theatrical styles with a daring, poetic research of culture and imagination, giving voice to the marginal elements of our contemporary society,” and in the process, hopefully imparting emotional wonder and thoughtful reflection to their audience.

The Ballad of Gary and Nicole: From an Idea by Rod Harrison

Since its inception, the company has created 11 full-length plays and over 30 shorter pieces, while performing in 7 countries, 30 states and most major U.S. cities. Pretty impressive stats, as evidenced by two Drama Critic’s awards, a silver medal with Detroit’s Zone V Productions from the Houston Worldfest Film Festival, a Rockefeller MAP Fund Grant, 11 National Endowment for the Arts Professional Theater Awards, and one of 2 MetLife/TCG A-ha Do It grants in the programs inaugural season. Company members have served in the acting ensemble at Sundance, and Flax and Wiseman have served as guest directors and instructors of movement at theaters and university programs across the country, as well as spending 8 years each as NEA artists-in-the-schools. Nice credentials!

Wire Penance: Created and Performed by Kate Kita

Grottesco has become a leader in the Santa Fe performing arts community, with intensive professional training and educational residencies. Promising and upcoming New Mexico artists are challenged  a variety of professional and semi-professional trainings, along with open rehearsals that demonstrate the intricacies of the artistic process. A variety of workshops allows performers to design training with specific goals in mind and can lead to performances with the troupe. The company’s classically-informed consideration of voice, movement and character development are also fertile ground for artists from other disciplines and provide a welcome respite for audiences that value creative exploration and want more than another version of Our Town.

During the month of September, Theatre Grottesco offers theatre lovers OM: Ten Tiny Epics in an Outlet Mall. The genesis of this production is the company’s tri-annual challenge to each member of the ensemble to create a 5-10 minute piece. With no guidelines, anything can happen, any story, any style, any characters. The pieces, however, are required to capture the current passion of the each individual creator, an intimacy uniquely possible in a company of this size. Ensemble members are available to each other for acting, writing or directing duties, and if needed, Artistic Director John Flax spends time with each artist working on the development of the piece. By curtain, the company will have united the short works into a cohesive and exciting production. These shows have proven to be some of the most popular for TG, and the creation of these short pieces allows the ensemble members to develop their own talents and individual visions. The company benefits as a whole, with some small works eventually becoming a laboratory for full-length plays, in turn serving TG’s future audiences with the development of new, fully-realized dramas.

Pod: Written and Performed by Rod Harrison

Spanning 3 to 17 minutes, each of the pieces was staged in the troupe’s rehearsal space at the Fashion Outlets, a surprising and delightful use of empty space in an unusual locale. The simple set consisted of a backdrop of colorful doors and window shapes of varied heights, with a selection of spaces and props above, which were cleverly utilized despite the low ceilings. Musical accompaniment was minimal and was presented only when appropriate. Most of the works were premieres, and the three cast members, John Flax, Kate Kita and Rod Harrison, all performed admirably over a surprisingly quick intermission-less hour or so. Inspiration seemed to come from everywhere, with quirky characters ranging from murderer Gary Gilmore to a pair of hotel housekeepers in my personal favorite, a piece entitled Housekeeping. Both touching and humorous, this piece ran the longest and of course, to a hotel worker like me, seemed the most accessible. In the midst of rapid changes, Ms. Kita gave us delicate dance and mime, Mr. Harrison, bombast, bravado and working-class bravery and mystery cans, and Mr. Flax demonstrated an excellent method of dealing with cell phones during a performance, along with an impressive set of vocal tics!  Taken as a whole, the ambitious intentions of OM were realized in a most entertaining and thoughtful fashion.

OM will be at the Fashion Outlets throughout September, from Thursday through Sunday evenings at 7pm, with an $18 general admission and $8 student tickets. The Fashion Outlets are located just off I-25 and are most easily reached from the Inn by taking the Old Santa Fe Trail all the way out to I-25 south and then zipping down 5 miles or so to exit 278. Dress for an evening out in Santa Fe, which at this time of year can be cool, and if you don’t have a jacket, you can visit the Fashion Outlets earlier and pick one up. After all, why not look dramatically cutting-edge yourself? And do go  - if we want to avoid reading in Playbill about the demise of regional theatre in Santa Fe, it’s up to all of us to keep it alive and kicking here in the City Different!

NB: Red is a theatre lover, but not a theatre critic!

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