The University of New Mexico theater program kicked off their spring performance lineup with this semester’s Linnell Festival of New Plays in which three original plays, created by students in the Masters of Fine Arts dramatic writing program, were performed by undergraduate students at the X – Experimental Theatre from Feb. 9-13.
Every single performance at the festival sold out even with expanded capacity being secured for both nights of “The Eccentrics.”
“When you work on a play with the same group of people for a length of time, it’s easy to focus on everything that needs to be improved, and so by the time you get it in front of an audience and they’re seeing it with fresh eyes, you kind of rediscover it with them,” Amy Yourd, writer of “Remain in Light” said.
“Remain in Light” is a Talking Heads-infused sci-fi dramedy about five aliens who party aboard a dodgy spaceship while working on a mission for a space exploration project led by the mysterious “management.” Yourd used the play to explore dynamics between young people united by the struggles of capitalism.
“I just discovered so much about how these characters existed when they were being embodied by actors,” Yourd said. “It really transformed so much about the play and I got to learn so much by watching them go through that process.”
“The Eccentrics,” written by Steve Blacksmith, is a musical that takes place in 1999 about three young neurodivergent people in a band called Jane’s Conviction. The band performs Christianized versions of popular rock songs to try and secure their place as their church’s house band amid fears of the rapture coming with the new millenium.
Growing up in the evangelical community in the '90s, it was important for Blacksmith to represent neurodiversity within a community which often did not accept them at the time.
UNM film student Curtis Madden performed in Penelope Hawkins’ “The Blood Vessel,” an absurdist satire of the rich that follows Madame Cart Blanc and her servant Libby as Madame invites a host of other wealthy, treacherous characters aboard a ship for a dinner party turned deadly.
Madden did not find out about auditions until the day of but was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to perform after a year-long break from performing for theater due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was just so ready to get back into performing and I would’ve done anything, because being out there in front of people is where I like to be, and I wanted to be there again,” Madden said.
Hawkins said the experience of seeing her text interpreted and brought to life by the group was “like magic.” She is especially grateful for director Juli Hendren in her ability to direct distinct, stylized movement which brought an entirely new layer of meaning to the text.
“The movement and the words — everything was in motion. You feel like you’re at sea with it, and it was powerful. I was really impressed with how the actors … were just flipping around and hanging off things, and I just couldn’t believe she was able to provide a safe space for them to do that,” Hawkins said.
Yourd was very involved in the rehearsal process, attending every rehearsal and reshaping the play in response to the actors and director Leonard Madrid’s interpretations of her character. Aside from a couple of meetings with actors about appropriate representation, Blacksmith only saw one rehearsal of the show before opening night.
“The director Ray Rey Griego said he really likes to play, he really likes to just get the actors out there and see where they go with their characters … and let them make creative choices,” Michael Madrigal, UNM film student and actor in “The Eccentrics,” said.
According to Madden, the rehearsal process was quite tight, even more so because he got COVID-19 during the process and had to miss two weeks of the one-month rehearsal.
“It was the shortest rehearsal process I’ve ever been a part of by a margin of months … and yet, it still came together and I found myself feeling ready by the time we opened, and the level of trust the director put in all of us really was something I had never experienced before,” Madden said.
Overall, participants in the festival were pleased with audience reception. Madrigal, whose character heavily interacts with the audience in the play, said finally performing in front of a large audience made the show more “fluid” to their engagement.
“The actors were having a great time, and there was this really great feeling of give-and-take between the audience — giving them the laughter and them giving us the thing to laugh at, and that’s what a live theater experience is supposed to be about in my opinion,” Hawkins said.
Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle