3 Questions

3 Questions with Exodus Ensemble Artistic/Executive Director April Cleveland

Santa Fe’s own experimental theater troupe keeps it going

Santa Fe really came together there for a second to save the Center for Contemporary Arts after the nonprofit suddenly announced it would close last April. CCA remained afloat thanks to the goodwill and generosity of locals, but the city also got a pretty sweet bonus out of the whole saving-the-art-space thing: Santa Fe’s Exodus Ensemble became a permanent fixture of CCA and now hosts its experimental/interactive/next-level productions on the campus (same goes for Albuquerque-based neo-chamber music org CHATTER). As the times are a-changing and the ensemble settles into its new digs with current shows (like Jayson: 7:30 pm Thursday, Aug. 31, by donation, location revealed after reserving ticket, exodusensemble.com) we caught up with co-founder and Executive/Artistic Director April Cleveland to see how it’s going. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

It’s interesting that Exodus now has a dedicated space, as I have always thought of the company as nomadic. Would you say that was a fair characterization?

Well, we kind of had to be nomadic. And we still kind of are. Like, right now we have five shows running, and they’re in three different locations. But whatever space we’re in, that’s the space we’re in until something changes. Right before the CCA we were doing our shows at Edition One Gallery, and we’re friends with Pilar [Law], who owns Edition One, so we had X amount of months to do it there, and then couldn’t any longer because they’re installing some big art there.

Does having the CCA space change anything for you? You’ve had to be nomadic, you still are to a degree, but still, this is the first time Exodus has had a dedicated space, right?

Well, we have yet to create in there. We have yet to actually do development in that space. So, when we opened Zero—which is this AI thriller kind of thing—at Edition One, we were always...very thoughtful about the architecture and how that influences the content and the form. Things change when you move to a new site. We’re about to go to San Francisco to do two shows that we’ve run a lot here, for example, and it’ll be the same shows, but they will change slightly for the space.

[Now] we’re not worried about having to move. We’re going to celebrate our three-year anniversary next month, and one of the things that’s characterized our incredible experience here is that there’s constantly a crisis that could or should destroy the whole company and must be overcome. And right when you think you’ve settled one, another appears in some way. So it is really nice, yeah.

Is there anything you’d tell three-years-ago April if you could?

I’d tell her that it’s going to exceed your wildest dreams, April, and it’s going to be harder than anything you’ve ever imagined doing. And that it’s not going to get easier, it’s going to get harder. But you’re going to get stronger, you’re a workaholic—and there’s nothing you can do about that. I mean, I’m very focused on the thing that’s right in front of me, but we’re trying to keep expanding that. It used to be I couldn’t think of more than a week from now, and now it’s like, OK, we are thinking six, eight, 10 months out. That is actually a huge difference in something that was just, like, existing in the moment. And there are still new problems, but I think at least right now, I can say I’m pretty sure I know what the rest of the year is going to look like. Then I know we’re going to be in New York in January and February and...I should probably get more into that five, 10-year plan thing people have, but I think part of why we’ve persisted is that every day feels like creating something.

I have a duty to the people I work with, to make sure they are always moving in a direction of stability and security. And the bigger and more we scale, the more that responsibility increases. I’ve got 13 people whose lives would get really fucked up if I weren’t responsible. So what is Exodus going to be doing in five years? I don’t know, creatively, but I know now that I have to make sure everybody is paid. And that’s not going to stop in eight months, in a year. That kind of runway is something that I’m always thinking about. We’re completely a donation model. We’ve won one marketing grant from the city for $10,000. But three years ago, there weren’t [COVID] vaccines, and there was just us, Exodus, literally not knowing if anyone would ever see what we were making and not sure why we were doing it. But we were doing it every day, and now we’re all doing this full time.

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