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Anson Stevens-Bollen

Accessible Interpretations

May 3, 2017, 12:00 am

Spread Out, Lemurs!

Pandemonium Productions is aptly named. At rehearsal, barefoot, blue-haired, fedora-wearing, chatty, stompy, hyper kids are everywhere. Onstage, a few dozen ensemble members mill around behind four or five taller teenagers who are playing the main roles. Everyone is bouncing off the walls.

It’s nearing the end of the rehearsal, and a woman I know sits down next to me. Her son is in this production of Madagascar, which tells the story of escaped zoo animals trying to get from New York City to Africa, and she sees my overwhelmed expression.

“Have you ever seen one of their plays before?” she asks. I shake my head. “You should come. You’ll never believe what they can pull off. It looks crazy now, but it all comes together. Chris is some kind of genius.”

She’s referring to Chris Leslie, longtime local theater veteran and founder of Pandemonium Productions. He somehow controls 54 kids between the ages of 7 and 16, and makes a musical out of their boundless enthusiasm.

As the onstage actors practice the dance to “I Like to Move It,” Leslie crouches next to me. “If you have a seizure disorder you might want to skip this number,” he says with a smile. “We’re going to have a lot of black lights, confetti and special effects for the lemurs.”

Growing up, Leslie was involved in theater through school, and eventually adopted it as a vocation. He fell into nonprofit kids’ theater because he saw such a need in New Mexico. He started teaching after getting a master’s degree in arts education, and just didn’t stop. “It’s magical,” he says. “They inspire me. They have so much energy and it just rubs off.”

Now, 17 years later, Pandemonium shows no signs of slowing, and Madagascar is a fresh story featuring heavily syncopated pop songs to keep everyone engaged (traditional show tunes can be a snooze). Professional musicians and choreographers put together the musical numbers. The performances will feature a live pit band. Leslie won’t go into too much detail about the promised special effects, though, because he wants viewers to be surprised.

A preview at the rehearsal, however, was exciting. Leslie sends kids scattering with a called command: “Spread out, lemurs! Remember?” Unique interpretations of scenery get every last kid involved. When a couple young men stepped up to croon solos from “What A Wonderful World,” I almost dropped my pen in surprise at how beautiful their voices were.

It will be “a sight to behold,” Leslie says, and we’re inclined to believe the miracle worker.



Pandemonium Productions: Madagascar
7 pm Fridays May 5 and 12;
2 pm Saturdays and Sundays May 6-14. $6-$10.
James A Little Theatre,
1060 Cerrillos Road,
982-3327

Puck (with the horns), that ever-spritely pain in the ass, enchants and entertains in William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged).
Teresa Wood

 

A Beer with Bill

Shakespeare might be a little overrated. Of course, his work is vital, foundational, eternally relevant and necessary reading for every thinking human in the world … But gosh, his plays can be long. The language is tough to break into. In performance, if not communicated perfectly by seasoned actors, meaning is often lost. And seriously, whose mind hasn’t wandered during Macbeth?

So, if his sometimes-inaccessible genius is so necessary to intellectual survival, what’s a mere mortal to do? Check out the Reduced Shakespeare Company, naturally.

Acting as live CliffsNotes for every single one of Shakespeare’s plays, infused with hearty humor and at least one puppet, the California-based, internationally touring RSC has been condensing culture since 1981. RSC writers Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor have presented brief histories of comedy, humanity, Hollywood, sports, America and Christmas, and now bring William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) to Santa Fe, fresh off a UK tour.

The show, with a cast of three men (including Martin), is a shortened version of young Shakespeare’s very first manuscript (purportedly 100 hours long and found in a parking lot in England—RSC is “totally not completely making this up”). It pulls moments and characters from Billy’s 39 plays into one 90-minute production and, according to Martin, is fun enough to be accessible to newcomers but peppered with plenty of Easter eggs for Shakespearian scholars. The whole thing also happens to be written in iambic pentameter, but that’s not as important as how truly watchable it is.

“Our intent is to entertain people,” Martin tells SFR. “It’s like how classic Looney Tunes play for an audience. Like ‘What’s Opera, Doc?’: As a kid, it’s wacky and silly. But then if you know a little bit about Wagner and you watch it again 20 or 30 years later, you go, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s all this other stuff going on that I didn’t even know was there!’—but you didn’t need to.”

In a perfect world, folks would see RSC shows and then go home and actually pick up that huge Collected Works gathering dust. But does it actually happen? According to Martin, it does. “We have a lot of students and teachers who come up to us after every single show and say, ‘I saw your show and it turned me on to Shakespeare, and I wanted to go see the real thing.’ So we’re kind of a gateway drug.”

While their immediate goal is to entertain, Martin and his fellow writers and actors really do know and love the mysterious dude from Stratford-upon-Avon. He says there’s a hidden authenticity to RSC’s work. “I think we perform Shakespeare the way it was at the time—at the time, he was popular culture,” he explains. “High-brow and low-brow folks liked it. We have guys playing girls—that’s Shakespearian. We interact with the audience, and that’s Shakespearian as well. ... I think if Shakespeare were alive today, he would approve, and go out for a beer with us after.”



Reduced Shakespeare Company:
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged)

7:30 pm Thursday May 11. $25.
Lensic Performing Arts Center,
211 W San Francisco St.,
988-1234


 

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