Increasingly over the last two years, one name has appeared with notable frequency in theater programs all over town: Talia Pura.
The actor-writer-director-educator-costumer-producer-dancer (and much more, but we have a word count here) moved to Santa Fe from Winnipeg, Manitoba, about two years ago, and wasted no time making herself invaluable. Pura is a jane of all trades and a master of all, it seems—and she's only just getting started.
Her latest endeavor is taking over management of the black box theater at Studio Center (formerly Warehouse 21). There's been much apprehension about the future of the transitioning teen arts center; with this announcement we can rest assured that the theater, at least, is in great hands. Her first project in her new role is a one-day festival of readings of work by local female playwrights. But more on all this later; first, every superhero needs an origin story.
In talking with Pura (which is an easy thing to do; "a quick interview" lasted two hours), you discern almost immediately that her homeland of Canada values artists significantly more than does the US. (Shocking.) She and her husband, noted artist and composer Bill Pura, moved to Santa Fe from a pretty cushy situation in Winnipeg; "There was nothing wrong with my life," she says. Talia had been teaching theater at the university level, producing plays and films, receiving prestigious assignments from arts-based organizations, conducting workshops all over the world and writing prolifically. They had visited Santa Fe on vacation and, as often happens, just fell in love and decided they had to live here.
“When I researched it and saw all the theaters between here and Albuquerque, I wasn’t worried; I thought I’d have as many or more opportunities,” Pura says. “But I come from a city that’s the size of Albuquerque and has seven Equity houses.” What she hadn’t realized: There are no Equity houses in Santa Fe. Albuquerque has one. For the uninitiated, that means that there are no venues guaranteed to work under Actor’s Equity Association, ie union, rules (in Canada it’s PACT; the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres). Bluntly, among other things, this means that money can be tight for theater folk. (Also shocking.)
While this is a change from Winnipeg, Pura doesn’t consider it a hindrance. She just has to hustle in a different way. She set to work immediately, making friends and connections at as many companies and venues as she could. She became a board member of Theatre Santa Fe. She started her own theater company, Blue Raven Theatre. And, perhaps most impressive in the theater scene: I’ve never heard a negative word spoken about Pura. That’s a feat, even in a town as affable as ours (everyone “plays together in the same sandbox nicely,” as Pura says).
For her new ventures, she's looking forward to partnering with as many organizations as she can, and her first undertaking at Studio Center is the Women's Voices Theater Festival. In association with the festival of the same name that started in 2015 in Washington, DC, it's a one-day amalgam of readings of new, unproduced work from local female playwrights. She has a few women signed on already, but is eager for more—particularly students, as she wants to get young people more involved in Santa Fe theater. (Schools seem notoriously hard to "get into" for some theater professionals in town; schools have become fortresses of security, and establishing contact in order to reach out to students for classes, workshops and casting has proven no easy thing.)
"There's a lack of parity in theater, not only in acting—because so many classical plays are written for male actors—but for female playwrights," Pura points out. Indeed, while women stereotypically (and actually) vastly outnumber men in arts fields, it still comes as no surprise that the fairer sex is underrepresented. As explored by the New York Times last year, taking Broadway in New York as an example, 67 percent of audience members are female; yet only two of 10 new plays debuted in 2017 were by women. Both of those women, Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel, are Pulitzer winners, while none of the men had even comparable resumes. It could be said that this gap exists in Santa Fe as well, though laudably to a lesser degree: In a representative sample of 24 shows this columnist saw in Santa Fe in 2017, 15 were written by men, and seven were penned by women (one of which was Pura's own Metamorphosis). There were also two ensemble-written shows by groups that included women.
A planning meeting for the festival is happening this week, and it will all have to be whipped into shape pretty quickly—the festival falls on the one-year anniversary of the Women's March (Jan. 21). It will run about six hours; "We'll see what happens," Pura says. "If we don't need a lottery and we just have enough plays to fill the time we want, then that's what it'll be; if we get more than six hours' worth of programming, we'll have a lottery. And people can come and go."
It seems like a tight timeline. I ask Pura if she's apprehensive.
"No," she answers, without hesitation. "It doesn't feel daunting, because I've organized so many things, it's second nature." She's done this kind of thing before. And, as Santa Fe has seen, she'll continue to do it again and again.
Women's Voices Theater Festival Planning Meeting
5:30 pm Thursday Jan. 4. Free.
Women's Voices Theater Festival
2 pm Sunday Jan. 21; staggered schedule to be announced. $5-$10.
Studio Center (formerly Warehouse 21), 1614 Paseo de Peralta, 989-4423