Exodus Ensemble Awarded Two Grants

Nonprofit theater troupe picks up $25k

News (@therealslimgracie)

At just over a year since it became a permanent resident of the Center for Contemporary Arts, local nonprofit experiential theater company Exodus Ensemble today announced it has received not one but two grants that will help to continue its current run of Hamlet.

According to Exodus co-founding member and Artistic/Executive Director April Cleveland, a $15,000 grant from the City of Santa Fe’s Traditional Marketing Impact program and another $10,000 grant from Santa Fe’s Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry will go a long way toward making the show viable, including the continuation of the company’s no-cost model for audiences.

“The marketing grant is a wonderful grant from the city that any arts organizations can apply for and then use the funds for print ads and digital ads and things like that,” Cleveland says. “The [Witter Bynner] grant is really cool because they fund uses of poetry and ways of expanding the poetry audience—Exodus kind of hits both, and they’re all for doing that in unique and innovative ways.”

Unique and innovative just so happen to be Exodus’ whole deal, including with the company’s Hamlet. A modernized take on the Shakespeare classic, the Exodus Ensemble version trades out the Danish kingdom of Elsinore for the fictional modern-day Denmark Construction and Development company in Detroit. There, young Hamlet (Kya T. Brickhouse) expects to take over the family business after she wraps up her final year at the University of Michigan. But when her father Hamlet Sr. dies, she begins to suspect her uncle Claudius (Patrick Agada) is to blame. As with the original, all hell breaks loose. And while the bones of the show remain true to form and the show features nods and Easter eggs dedicated to The Bard, the language in play has been created from scratch by the members of Exodus.

“We don’t have a script, though you could call it the ‘writing process,’” Cleveland says. “It all works through structured improvisations that get iterated hundreds of times until they eventually form the show. It is exquisite in terms of timing; all the same dominos must fall in every scene, every night, but how [the actors] say something can be different every night.”

This was an attractive prospect to the city committee that voted to award the $15,000 TMI grant to Exodus. According to Arts & Culture Department Director Chelsey Johnson, that committee is composed of Arts & Culture Department commissioners, as well as city employees with an interest in the arts and independent local artists. Funded by the local Lodger’s Tax, the TMI grant is specifically set up to funnel funds into local arts opportunities that might draw tourism dollars—and lodgers, of course—back into the city.

“Exodus was one of the first site visits I did last fall and I was immediately so impressed with their innovation and their staggering amount of energy,” Johnson tells SFR. “I think they’re doing something so fresh and exciting and really special to Santa Fe.”

Witter Bynner Foundation Executive Director Kelsey Brown echoes those sentiments, adding that engaging young people when it comes to poetry is the key to keeping the art form alive. The Witter Bynner Foundation is the same org behind Santa Fe’s Youth Poet Laureate program, for example. And though, Brown says, the foundation regularly gifts outside New Mexico, she and the board are always looking for local grantees.

“When there are exciting programs in New Mexico, we look a little harder at them,” Brown tells SFR. “Our two areas are uses of poetry and expanding the poetry audience, and I think what Exodus does, particularly with a Shakespearean play…they’re taking something very traditional and flipping it on its head and introducing a new audience to the poetry of Shakespeare, which was exciting to me, and our board members felt the same way.”

In other words, the Exodus Ensemble production of Hamlet should help decode Shakespeare’s language for people who might find it inaccessible, and young would-be theatergoers are a big part of that equation.

As for Exodus itself, Cleveland says the pair of grants provides the company with a little breathing room. It’s expensive to mount a show, she says.

“The development process takes three months wherein we’re paying eight people full-time, but there’s no revenue coming in,” Cleveland notes. “That’s a lot of people getting paid full-time, and it’s not the kind of thing where you can go to your other job, then come in and rehearse a couple hours—it’s eight hours of rehearsal a day, five days a week for three months.”

For Brown of the Witter Bynner Foundation, that’s precisely the type of dedication needed to keep poetry alive and well.

“You don’t want it to be a dying art,” she adds, “you want to make it interesting to a new generation.”

For Hamlet information and showtimes, visit

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