Like the entire world, Southwestern playwrights and theatre artists find themselves pivoting so much that they’re beginning to feel like pandemic ballerinas. And, also, like the rest of the world, we’ve already grown tired of even the word “pivot” itself. All this talk makes one feel like they’ve sprained an ankle as they keep their gazes at eye level, wondering how they might be the first to catch on with what’s next. And new works find themselves an integral part of this virus-driven ballet. One might cynically say that a theatre can take a risk without taking much of a risk at all.
Our Southwestern companies have taken full advantage of what the pandemic has had to bring in terms of scheduling digital programs and striving to strike that ever-elusive balance of local vs. national as our very pivots bring new ethical demands. How do we hang onto our regional values as artists while we also partake in a feast of national talent? If this pandemic has brought nothing else to the national forefront, it has been our collective vulnerability as artists. We’ve witnessed how that vulnerability belies greater social inequities in the companies where we find ourselves as rotating foster children—the big houses—our temporary homes. And for playwrights, the tenuous nature of our work might seem more tenuous or less so, depending on what on your computer might feel easily adaptable to Zoom.
Arizona Theatre Company partnered with the 24-Hour Plays producing 24-Hour Plays, Viral Monologues on-line. The project used local writers and actors and many of our Dramatists Guild members from Arizona. The actual filming was up to the individual actor. Word has it that our artists were so generous at tagging one another that we remain one of the most watched 24-Hour Play events ever. This gave our Arizona-based playwrights (ESTHER ALMAZÁN, MONICA BAUER, SUSANNA VELARDE COVARRUBIAS, Sean Daniels, MARVIN GONZÁLEZ DE LEÓN, ANGELICA HOWLAND, SHELBY MATICIC, BRIAN MATICIC, MILTA ORTIZ, JOHN PEROVICH, CHRISTOPHER OSCAR PEÑA, Jasmine Roth, Mark Schultz, Maybe Stewart, Paul Michael Thompson, and me) a national platform through a well-established organization known for its Broadway collaboration. The organizations relied on local organizations to nominate artists to locate talent. Arizona Theatre Company has taken this pandemic-moment to workshop a slew of new works online with a lot of ancillary programming to highlight the deeper content of each work. Digital programming here at home has been keeping an exhausting pace.
A noteworthy Tucson World Premiere of TONI PRESS-COFFMAN’s Consolation, with Winding Road Theatre Ensemble, marked a regional world premiere happening on an on-line platform. The local cast alone, sported an embarrassment of riches as directed by China Young. A timely play that felt stronger happening in advance of the election, I can only imagine the conversations about taking this World Premiere online. In this case, that pirouette was an excellent call. StoryWorks Theater, which fuses theatre and journalism and joined together with an impressive number of partners, to premiere Cycles by Milta Ortiz also online. Both works generated enthusiasm and support, and the fresh inhale one feels when one stands in the wake of living art.
In New Mexico, Teatro Paraguas produced Volver, Volver, Volver, by LEONARD MADRID to kick-off their El Día de los Muertos community celebration. On November 20, DG Ambassador TALIA PURA also sported three shorts for 3x3 with Blue Raven Theatre and Teatro Paraguas. As reported by American Theatre magazine, after 27 years, Tricklock Company in Albuquerque has closed its doors due to COVID-19. It remains another sad reminder of the constant shuffling and reshuffling caused by this unorchestrated pandemic ballet. Wear a mask, wash your hands, socially-distance, and write your plays. May you and your words be well.