New Mexico theatre companies expand their boundaries

Actors rehearse the opening scene from Quartine’s Phantasmagoria in Albuquerque, NM. (Jamesha Begay, News Port)

By Natalia Ankiewicz and Jamesha Begay / News Port

A long table in the middle of a room. A single chandelier burning. A silhouetted woman moans as a man lurches towards her. In the darkness, the audience watches.

In this opening scene of Phantasmagoria, the audience is enveloped in the performance — literally standing on the stage as the actors work.

The show’s producer and founder of Quarantine Productions, Heather Yeo said the idea is to have the audience feel like they were dropped in the middle of a horror movie. 

“We’re about creating large scale immersive experiences and we’ve traditionally done a lot of not-quite-haunted-house but more so dropping you into horror experiences,” she said. “We’re starting to move away from a haunted house model to a more sort of immersive whole play with a script and everything but keeping some of the horror elements for the Halloween season.”

“We wanted to experiment with what we could do with theatre…”

— Actress Shannon Flynn

Quarantine Productions is changing the nature of theatre in New Mexico as many theatre companies experiment with different styles. These include straying away from traditional staging while inviting more involvement from the audience.

“I feel like here we have more chances for that connection and a really interactive sort of experience,” University of New Mexico theatre instructor and founder of Tricklock Theatre Company Juli Hendren said. “And that’s what theatre does different from film there are real people, you know, you can smell people, you can hear them breathing.”

Actors rehearse the opening scene from Quartine’s Phantasmagoria in Albuquerque, NM. (Jamesha Begay, News Port)

Quarantine focuses on immersive theatre and Phantasmagoria is the first immersive performance to be produced.

“We wanted to experiment with what we could do with theatre with that level of proximity and no line between the audience and the performers,” said playwright and actress Shannon Flynn regarding the performance of Phantasmagoria.

Quarantine promotes partnerships with all theatre companies in Albuquerque. Director Jeff Adnerson said the community is tight knit.

“We collaborated with three or four different theatres around town to help with props and sets and stuff like that,” he said. 

Tricklock Theatre Company is a physical devised theatre, meaning they are an ensemble who tell mainly stories through physical movement such as acrobatics, dance, and immersive theatre. Many of the stories are based on women, culture, and the different sides of humanity, Tricklock founder and coordinator Juli Hendren said. 

“We tend to tell stories and create work that is based a lot in women’s stories and we also tend to look at sort of the darker side of humanity,” she said. 

As a way to involve the Albuquerque community in theatre, Tricklock organizes a three week annual spring festival called Revolutions International Theatre Festival. The festival brings together theatrical cultures, stories, and performances from around the world.

“One of the things that we do around that is we actually tour internationally quite a bit of our original work,” Hendren said.

The Revolutions International Theatre Festival started out as a way to show homage towards the mentors and teachers that inspired the founders of Tricklock. Hendren said the impact was so inspiring the founders decided to make the festival an annual event in Albuquerque.

Actors on the set of Quarantines’s Phantasmagoria. (Jamesha Begay, News Port)

Another Theatre Company in Albuquerque is the Blackout Theatre Company, which gave rise to Quarantine. Quarantine was originally produced by Blackout for Halloween as a horror experience Yeo said. 

As Quarantine’s popularity and artistic perspective grew, Yeo and Flynn who were originally involved in Blackout, decided the leave the Blackout Theatre Company and establish Quarantine Productions. 

Quarantine focuses on immersive experience while the Blackout Theatre Company focuses on the voices and history of people in New Mexico. The organizers consider themselves a more accessible theatre involving improv, sketch comedies, and New Mexico stories such as folklore and traditions. 

“We very much consider the audience when we produce our plays because we want the audience to see themselves and the stories of their people on stage,” Artistic Director and Theatre Director at Central New Mexico Community College Leonard Madrid said.

He said the company was originally made up of seven undergraduate students and began expanding to the public in 2007 with having performances and letting the community be more involved in the theatre. 

Hendren said New Mexico’s theatre scene is going through some interesting changes, many of which are uniquely New Mexican. It’s also a matter of keeping up with some changes throughout the theatre world.

“We’re babies, we have to catch up anyways and then New Mexico has to catch up four times as much because we are further away and isolated,” she said. 

 

Natalia Ankiewicz is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached at nmnewsport@gmail.com.

Jamesha Begay is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Twitter @Mesha_Randomness or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.