While COVID-19 sent Southwestern theatres scrambling toward the end of the season about when to close and when to stay open in the interest of the public health crisis, theatres continued their in-depth work on behalf of new plays. This included, often, selecting their seasons of new works and/or readings, and beginning conditional conversations with playwrights about what options they may be pursuing together should theatres not be able to return in person at the opening of the season. This “return to work” conversation, which began a tad past halfway through the theatre season became somewhat of a beacon of light/mirage in the distance, that once it became closer, it seemed to get further away and seemed more illusionary than true, making new play production that much more elusive. This sent many companies into not a fallow period of inaction but an active one of thinking through our collective future. Indeed, our vast region continues to participate in the national trouble shooting of how theatre will persist, despite this moment, in often moving ways. It has spurred companies to pare down, often, to skeleton crews, and marked the furloughing and laying off of long-term employees. Conversations with AEA and DG continue as we all sort out this moment, which begs the question about the role of community and non-equity theatre in our field’s future. Without the input of unions, how will these companies manage or not manage the crisis at hand? The marriage of heartbreak and resilience speaks to our collective future in the American theatre as it finds itself centered here in the Southwest. We sadly lost the Theatre Communications Group annual conference which was to be in Phoenix.
Shining the light on our New Mexico region, this season saw the December 2019 world premiere of TENCHA AVILA’s No Number Home, which looks at Mexican farmworker immigrants and their American children, at the Santa Fe Playhouse, directed by Vaughn Irving. Another recent world premiere includes DALE DUNN’s The Big Heartless, centered on the controversial Wolf Reintroduction Project, at Warehouse 21, Santa Fe, directed by Lyn Goodwin, produced by Just Say It Theater and the New Mexico School for the Arts. This joins the world premieres of TALIA PURA’s Perfect Love, also at Warehouse 21, which uses formal experimentation as it focuses on the imperfection of relationships, and Santa Fe Playhouse’s production of MARGUERITE LOUISE SCOTT’s Flight Plan, addressing mental health.
The Arizona Theatre Company, where I work as playwright-in-residence (in honor of full disclosure), has centered its development of new works in the Phoenix area, ultimately picking up two of the plays workshopped earlier this season for their upcoming world premieres, Pru Payne by Steven Drukman and How to Make an American Son by CHRISTOPHER OSCAR PEÑA. The theatre had just formed twelve national and regional partnerships when COVID-19 hit, all with an eye on centering the state as a leading location for new play and musical development. A highlight for the theatre was an online reading of Sean Daniels’ The White Chip, with its off-Broadway cast, which happened in May. #KeepYourEyeOnThisSpace.
Another valley highlight includes the world premiere of the musical ¡Americano! at Phoenix Theatre Company, co-written by Michael Barnard and JONATHAN ROSENBERG with music by Carrie Rodriguez. This timely musical centers on DREAMers living in Phoenix. Some highlights from the area include Brelby Theatre Company’s production of Alice’s Canvas by BRIAN MATICIC, SHELBY MATICIC, and LUKE GOMEZ, a production of The Canterbury Tarot by ASHLEY NAFTULE at Aside Theatre Company; Brian Maticic’s Luna & Solis and Shelby Maticic’s Marie’s Reverie, both at Brelby Theatre Company; GRACE JASMINE’s The Carnival (Laughing Pig Theatre/East Valley Overnight Theatre), LARISSA BREWINGTON’s When Douglass Met Lincoln with Grey Matters Productions at the Herberger Theater Center, and a production of Hannah’s Heart by MELANIE EWBANK at Ruth Street Theater in Prescott, AZ. Workshop productions included workshop of KIRT SHINEMAN’s Pluck the Day at Now & Then Creative Company, ANGELICA HOWLAND’s The Relief Society (Phoenix Theatre Company/Festival of New American Theatre, and Indian School by ESTHER ALMAZÁN as part of Arizona State University.
Some readings that excited members include A Gleeful Christmas by Dan Arends; Made in America by RICHARD WARREN; The Macbethest Christmas Pageant Spectaculathon…Ever! by JOHN PEROVICH; Fair Game: Or The Importance of Being Honest by ANDREA MARKOWITZ; Pineapple and Other Options by JEANMARIE SIMPSON; The Mysterious Disappearance, The Jewish Question also by Jeanmarie Simpson; and the online radio play production of Radio Free Europa by Ashley Naftule.
Tucson sported some exciting new work, including the Invisible Theatre’s production of MONICA BAUER’s Southwestern premiere of Vivian’s Music 1969, that though has already hit the international circuit finally found its home here. It has to do with the shooting of a black girl by a white police officer and the ensuing race riot that ignites. Borderlands Theater’s production of Virginia Grise’s new adaptation of Helen Maria Viramontes’ Their Dogs Came with Them, which Kendra Ware directed under an underpass. Their next iteration of Barrio Stories was postponed and the company followed up with a literary lounge, Lunada!, featuring DG member MILTA ORTIZ and hosted by Prescott College. Scoundrel & Scamp saw the postponements of Wolfe Bowart’s Letter’s End and the production of local Holly Griffith’s adaptation of The Little Prince. The always stunning Winding Road Theatre Ensemble took last year’s new play festival online in June, featuring Eight 10’s Tucson Online. They’ve leaned into readings of works by Reed McColm (The Wrong People Have Money) and Monica Bauer (Christmas Break). In fact, Tucson continues to grow the use of readings both as a fundraiser and a way to increase visibility of regional playwrights. DG member E.M. LEWIS saw her play, The Gun Show (Can we Talk about This?) presented by the Invisible Theatre, in conjunction with Good Works Production, presented to raise money for Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence, the congresswoman who survived a gun shooting in Tucson.
And there are so many more national and international productions, workshops, and readings by our playwrights, but this is what we note today as we bask in the glory of regional artists who have their ears attuned to the ground, waiting to hear what’s coming next.