Certified theater nerds Ali Tallman and Mairi Chanel met a couple years back while working at the excellent Santa Fe Playhouse-produced Santa Fe Dead Halloween event wherein participants entered a fully interactive zombie apocalypse.
But it wasn’t until later that they connected
“[Mairi] thought I was a high schooler,” Tallman says, “so we didn’t really talk much.”
“It’s true,” Chanel adds with a laugh. “I did think that.”
Once the pair got clear on the other’s age, however, a shared love of theater fostered and cemented a strong bond. Tallman had come up through high school drama programs, while Chanel’s love of Shakespearean text and youths spent attending performances from the now-defunct Shakespeare in Santa Fe ultimately morphed into her own practices of writing, acting and directing.
“We’d stay up late at night talking about our dream casting for shows or what we’d do if we could,” Tallman explains, “and then one day we were just like, ‘why not?’”
The &Sons Theatre company was born, and our heroines cast, produced and directed a gender-swapped, movement-based version of Macbeth at The Swan Theater (formerly Adobe Rose and now HQ for New Mexico Actors Lab) in Midtown.
“It was more successful than we’d hoped for, but it also closed three days before the pandemic hit,” Chanel says, adding that a snafu with online ticketing retailer Brown Paper Tickets meant a stiff reduction in capital.
&Sons went on hiatus while the planet tried to heal.
Fast forward to today, and Tallman and Chanel are nervously wrapping finishing touches on their company’s newest production, Lay Our Scene, a virtually mounted retelling of Romeo & Juliet with a heady dose of humor and a choose-your-own-adventure flair.
(As a side note, the company that owns the Choose Your Own Adventure book series is very litigious when it comes to just about anyone using that language, so the best way to describe the show might be to call it a live audience poll with roots in video game-esque branching narrative structure. Fans of the Mass Effect or Dragon Age series will know what’s up.)
During the play, which &Sons begins broadcasting via livestream platform Twitch over the next three weekends, audience members will encounter various scenarios during which the story can veer off in several directions. Clocking in at over 200 pages, Chanel’s original script for Lay Our Scene takes great care to keep any Bard-heads engaged while providing enough tantalizing threads to follow elsewhere. Some paths herald smaller changes (you can wind up with Romeo’s twin brother Bromeo in the lead), while others are bizarre and sound gloriously fun (Juliet can leave Earth in search of her home planet Capulus Prime), and though some purists might balk at the thought of cutting up Romeo & Juliet, might I remind you that everyone inexplicably loved that 1996 Baz Luhrmann atrocity (yeah, I said it)? Besides, it sounds like a complete blast, a responsibly safe affair and, frankly, very funny—Capulus Prime alone just sounds genius, really.
&Sons is small, however, and its micro-ensemble model makes things even more challenging. How does this pan out in livestream form? Through a virtual set featuring posh paintings of lords and ladies with their heads cut out, of course. This means doubled-up roles for the small ensemble and, probably, a certain charming jankiness—but not a misunderstanding of the source material or with a lack of accessibility.
“It’s my second language,” Chanel explains. “Even people who don’t know Shakespeare will get the jokes, and I specifically cast everyone in this show because I know they’re quick-witted, and I trust everyone to ad lib; there will be tech issues—it’s inevitable with livestreamed theater—but it’s about keeping people engaged.”
Up next for &Sons is a short film project that pulls from the Scooby Doo format (with cryptids thrown in for good measure) and, hopefully, a return to more live performances, though both are quick to say livestreamed shows will be a permanent company feature. Ultimately, Tallman and Chanel say they hope to take shows as they come rather than plan a season and adhere to a strict regimen.
“We want our show selection to be more in tune with what we think an audience needs rather than locking ourselves into shows,” Tallman says.
“Yes, if it culturally isn’t what we should be putting on in that moment...” Chanel adds.
“We just want to do some weird shit,” Tallman concludes.
Note that livestreaming Lay Our Scene is technically free through twitch.com, but that you should purchase tickets—the most expensive of which includes naming rights for a character—through tix.com. Tallman tells SFR that those who buy their tickets are encouraged to watch the stream multiple times to catch all the different branching plot points.
Lay Our Scene: 6 pm Friday, June 11 and Saturday, June 12; 1 pm Sunday, June 13. $5-$80. andsonstheatre.com