It was about this time a year ago when Dan Gerrity died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was in the middle of directing the Santa Fe Playhouse's A Christmas Carol. In the midst of this tragedy, the cast and stage manager somehow pulled together and produced the show. "It was for him," says board member Barbara Hatch.
This holiday season, the Santa Fe Playhouse rises out of last year's ashes in more ways than one. With sizeable renovations planned and a new artistic director, the little adobe community theater on De Vargas Street jumps into the holiday spirit a bit rejuvenated.
With her long blonde hair and trim physique, newcomer Cristina Duarte looks the part of an actress, and her added warmth makes her instantly endearing. Originally from New York, Duarte enjoyed a long career as an actor, director and teacher. She was a supporting actress on Saturday Night Live for nine years and had recurring roles on Law & Order, All My Children and One Life to Live. She left New York because of what she describes as "the matrix of the trivial."
Now she's the new artistic director at the Playhouse. "I went on a road trip out of college and when I came through here, I completely fell in love with Santa Fe and New Mexico. I said to myself I would move here one day when I was older. Well, it's one day and I'm older," recounts Duarte. She and her husband had been regular visitors before deciding to relocate permanently.
Duarte is eager to immerse herself in the local scene: "Entertainment can feel so trivial. As I've gotten older, I've wanted to be in a place where there is more connection and where there are relationships to build, whether in a community garden, choir or book club. In this case, it's the Playhouse."
Duarte's A Playhouse Holiday takes place on Christmas Eve at the Playhouse and ends in the Farolito Walk along Canyon Road. It's pay-as-you-wish at the door, with funds going toward renovations. The new lobby is expected to be finished by Christmas Eve, though there are still restorations planned into the new year for dressing rooms, electrical wiring and plumbing.
The performance brings together storytellers, Celtic harps, folk singers, Spanish guitars, a mariachi band and more. The idea is to show a myriad of local traditions, followed by hot cider along the Canyon Road Farolito Walk. It's less of a show and more of an event.
"It's about community," Duarte explains. "I want to involve people from all aspects of our community–Latin Americans, Native Americans, European Americans, everyone and all who are musicians, singers, dancers, actors and storytellers. We share in a culture of creativity, which I think is what gives Santa Fe its unique flavor."
Justin Golding emcees A Playhouse Holiday. "We wish to celebrate all faiths and cultures. I'm from Wales, Great Britain. As part of the performance, I'll be reading Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales, and my daughter will be playing the Celtic harp. She's nine," he reports.
Of Gerrity's abrupt passing last year, Golding remembers, "It was a huge shock. He was such a vibrant and strong man. But the point of the holidays is to bring hope and joy out of tragedy. These are the shortest and coldest days of the year, and in ancient traditions the holidays celebrated life when all around is dark." Regarding Duarte's new position as director, Golding is "extremely excited—we found someone who can create a vision."
So this year in Gerrity's absence, the tradition and community he had built around him live on in new forms. Though the Playhouse receives a makeover and enjoys fresh artistic direction, the crux of what the Playhouse is and its role in Santa Fe's fabric stays in place and grows.
"I'm hoping this will take root and become a part of our tradition, something we do every year," Duarte says. "My vision is for a community in collaboration, and theater is such a collaborative art to begin with. We connect to our community, share in our talents and grow stronger."
A Playhouse Holiday
4 pm Wednesday Dec. 24. By donation.
SF Playhouse, 142 E DeVargas St.,
Santa Fe Reporter