If there’s one thing former students of high school theater teacher Joey Chavez have in common, it’s a deep reverence for the man who instilled within them a love of all things theatrical. Chavez taught theater for decades at Santa Fe High and New Mexico School for the Arts, and he directed and wrote countless full-length productions, shorts and all things between, but a recent diagnosis of cerebral amyloid angiopathy—boiled down, when blood vessels in the brain become brittle—pushed Chavez, 66, into an early retirement.
“I was going to do another two years,” Chavez tells SFR, “until I was 68. But I taught right up until the Thanksgiving break, when it became clear I was no longer the teacher I used to be. But it didn’t affect my creativity.”
Now, as Chavez grapples with his new reality, the folks behind celebrated Midtown theater Teatro Paraguas are putting the final touches on a retrospective/revue sort of thing featuring 11 shorts penned by Chavez between 1999 and 2009, when he was working for Santa Fe High. They represent, according to the theater’s co-founder and board vice president Argos MacCallum, “quite a range.”
“There’s everything from really dark and strange stuff to one called Texting Zombies, which our teens are having a lot of fun with,” MacCallum says. “Then there are some poignant ones, like one in which two people meet again after 20 years and dig up a time capsule they buried in fourth grade—it’s going to be a very entertaining evening.”
MacCallum diercts a number of shorts, as do other Paraguas regulars, and says his favorite might be Father Do You Know Me?, an emotional tale of a son and father with alzheimer’s who visit a favorite pond to see if the ducks still hang around. MacCallum’s own father is now in his mid-90s, he tells SFR, and such material hits close to home.
“I’m a native of Santa Fe and I went to Santa Fe High—my dad was one of the principals—and Joey Chavez and I were there at the same time,” says Teatro Paraguas board president JoJo Sena de Tarnoff. “I wasn’t in the same grade, but I knew him because I was also in theater, and he was very well-known in the theater, even back then. He’s just so great and knowledgeable, and with the pandemic...we usually have a season, and since we were unable to have that season, we were faced with getting into March and having nothing to produce.”
Enter Chavez, and Sena de Tarnoff says her favorite entry might be the aforementioned Texting Zombies.
“It’s really fun and I’ve got this whole creative way of making it look like a comic book,” she explains. “Basically, it’s a fun one about a couple girls inside a zombie lair because one of them has a boyfriend who is a zombie. But everything I’m directing—all the way up to a monologue that’ll just rip your heart out about a baby left in the trash—some have heart, some sick humor, some have sarcasm and drama. It’s just really fun, and Joey is very excited about how we’re going to present his work, and that we’ve got some students who worked with him in the past.”
“It’s kind of weird, and I’m also surprised I did that much,” Chavez says of the upcoming show. “Mostly I’m excited, because this has kind of forced me to get back to work, and it’s freed me up, in a sense, to use a different part of my brain. I’m incredibly proud of the students and adults who are in it. That’s my celebration—them being onstage.”
Chavez says he’ll continue writing, and that he’s even working with local theater company Ironweed Productions on a new show. His wife, Robin, he says, has been instrumental in his continuing to write.
“She helps me edit,” he says with a laugh. “I write something and then I run it over to her and she helps me out.”
Meanwhile, at Paraguas, Sena de Tarnoff says she can hardly wait to show off Chavez’s works. Given the small scope of the theater, she often performs duties outside her role as board president and leader of the children’s troupe. Janitorial, for example—and other things that punctuate the importance of a reliable and regularly-operating bilingual theater. Productions like the Chavez revue make it all worth it, she says.
“He deserves it, too,” she adds, “and it’s a great time to honor him.”
“I’ve always known Santa Fe should have a theater that promoted the Latinx and Chicano experience,” MacCallum concludes. “I would say this is a very enjoyable way of honoring one of our great citizens.”
11 Short Plays by Joey Chavez: 7:30 pm Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26; 2 pm Sunday, March 27. $10-$20. Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie, (505) 424-1601