Now in its 14th year, Santa Fe Playhouse's BenchWarmers—the city's longest running one-act festival in which all plays are 15 minutes in length and take place on a bench—has become a time-honored tradition in the local theater community. Vetted by a committee made up of resident professionals and curated by Playhouse artistic director Cristina Duarte, 2015's BenchWarmers is composed of six plays spanning the gamut from drama to comedy and everything in between.
This year's lineup presents May Sarton Dreams Deep by Deborah Magid, directed by Alaina Warren Zachary, featuring Stefany Burrows and Francesca Schrady; Relative Humility by Barry Hazen and Richard Dargan, directed by Cristina Duarte, featuring Cliff Russell, Libby King and David McConnell; Confessions of a Character Actor by Aaron Leventman, directed by Alaina Warren Zachary, featuring Jules Rubin and Danette Sills; Daniel & the Autumn Folk written and directed by Jonathan Dixon, featuring triple threat Dixon and Karen Leigh; Patent Pending by Terry Riley, directed by Danny Kovacs, featuring Kathi Collins, Jules Rubin, Aaron Leventman and Melissa Christopher; and Visible by Michael Burgan, directed by Jeff Nell, featuring Matthew Montoya, Kathi Collins and Melissa Chambers.
"All the playwrights are local or with local connections, and each play is new and has never been produced. Most were written especially for this contest," Duarte explains. "Each play is different. Some are biographical, others have internal or external conflict. People love to come out and see BenchWarmers—it's become a bit of a tradition, and it's hugely popular, especially since we use actors from the community."
In fact, many of the playwrights are BenchWarmer veterans. Barry Hazen, for example, notes, "I've been involved in BenchWarmers since 2001. I was a real mainstay at the Santa Fe Playhouse. I started out as an actor, then later on I started directing, and then two years ago, unfortunately, I had to leave Santa Fe. I have a great affection for BenchWarmers and for original material." Richard Dargan, who co-wrote Relative Humility's co-author, says, "This is my fourth time with a play at BenchWarmers, but this one is a little different because I co-wrote Relative Humility with Barry Hazen. Barry directed two of my previous efforts, and he decided he wanted to try and write, and I collaborated with him."
He continues, "BenchWarmers is a great opportunity for seasoned actors, writers and directors to work together with less experienced people in a supportive environment. I've seen several people who were pretty green at first develop quickly thanks to their experiences at BenchWarmers." Hazen adds, "It's a real step up for me as an artist to climb the ladder from actor to director to playwright."
Seasoned local actor Jonathan Dixon is also new to the playwriting scene, and with his play Daniel & the Autumn Folk, he wanted to try his hand at something new: "I like the idea of miniatures, as if you can get as much substance as what might be in a great big work. That was my challenge. I also liked the idea of internal conflict. I wondered if you could do something of real substance in 15 pages."
"Perhaps short-play festivals are popular in the same way that magazines are sometimes more popular than big, long novels," muses Deborah Magid. "Not a commitment to only one play and set of actors, but a smörgåsbord. BenchWarmers, being by and for locals, draws our community that much closer together, helping us know each other that much better, and I'm thrilled to be included in this year's run." Magid's play, May Sarton Dreams Deep, captures a crossroads in one of writer May Sarton's most significant relationships on—you guessed it—a bench.
With so many talents brought to the table, even if something is not to your liking, you simply have to wait 15 minutes to be sucked down a new rabbit hole. And the best part? It's all homegrown, or as Patent Pending's Terry Riley sums it up, "There are so many very good writers, directors and actors in Santa Fe. BenchWarmers offers the community an opportunity to see what talent is in our own backyard."
BenchWarmers 14: Back to the Basics
Times vary, June 11-28.
$20 general admission; $10 Thursdays
Santa Fe Playhouse
142 E De Vargas St.,