Almost every theatrical production in Santa Fe this year has been uncomfortably relevant to our social and political zeitgeist. Some were more overt than others (Adobe Rose Theatre’s Building the Wall was a near-future story about Trump Administration immigration policies), some were more subtle (Teatro Paraguas’ Motherfucker With the Hat, which centered around addiction and communication); now, as we come up on announcements of new seasons, SFR poked around with some of the deciders of Santa Fe.
Headed to the stage in October is Ironweed Productions' The Crucible. Ironweed founder and artistic director Scott Harrison sees the current importance of Arthur Miller's canonical show, which tells the story of 17th-century witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts, written in response to the Red Scare in the 1950s—but that's not why he chose it.
Harrison rediscovered the play back in January 2016, with the simple goal of "producing a play that is scary or terrifying," he tells SFR. He believes the story speaks for itself; "[Miller] wrote a universal story; to me, it suggests what happens when fear takes root in a family, a school, a community, a country."
In describing the play, wherein young girls and greedy landowners accuse their neighbors of witchcraft for revenge, Harrison was struck by the concept of a place in which "little children are jangling the keys to the kingdom and common vengeance writes the law," as main character John Proctor decries.
"There's a certain amount of hatred that's been unleashed, or there's an allowance for it now," Harrison says. "We're being led by a lot of people that aren't really capable of leading, and they're … led by things such as vengeance or hatred or needing approval, as opposed to just making quality leadership decisions. … This could happen anywhere, with any group of people, when fear takes root."
So, a play Harrison chose nearly two years ago now resonates palpably in America; another artistic director who could probably relate is Vaughn Irving of the Santa Fe Playhouse. Irving, who chose the theater's 2017 season in August and September of 2016, saw his pile of scripts take on a life of its own when 1984 hit bestseller lists again just a couple months before they presented the show, and literal Nazis were marching down American streets while audiences were watching Cabaret.
Irving initially chose Orwell's dystopian 1984 "in terms of Big Data and Google and the corporate Big Brother," he tells SFR. "But what really became relevant was the idea of doublethink, doublespeak, the control of information. … Then Kellyanne Conway said 'alternative facts' a month before we opened, and all of a sudden we were in it."
Irving also believes, however, that every show has importance when deeply considered. In The Next Room, presented in May of this year, didn't have actual Nazis or mini-trues in the script, but Irving was still passionate about its place in the political conversation now. "That show is about women's sexuality belonging to men, and that's something that I take issue with, as I think everyone should," he says. "That show increased in relevance with the changing of the guard in Washington, but it's always mattered." And then we learned our president once bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, and—once again—we we were in it.
So, after a heavy-hitting 2017, what is in store? "It does put a burden on me for planning next season, to be perfectly honest. It's a nerve-wracking process," Irving admits about the new season, which should be announced any day now. "I don't want to be prophetic. But I do want to give people something that they can use."
While Harrison and Irving might be hesitant to designate politics as a main motivating factor for a season, Adobe Rose Theatre's Maureen McKenna can barely contain herself on the subject.
I began to say, "I would single out Adobe Rose as having the most explicitly political season in town this year—" and before I could finish my question, McKenna cried, "Yes!"
She believes in theater as a tool for communication, and hopes the theater can be Santa Fe’s toolbox. “I’m trying to create dialogue between people who don’t necessarily agree with each other,” she says. “If you go back to [
Building the Wall
], the reason I thought the play was so important was that it wasn’t an anti-Trump piece. It was about how we are the wall; we are the construct when we don’t speak to each other. I’m trying to encourage people to listen to each other and to create a dialogue for participation, thought and change.”
For the coming year, you can absolutely expect more political works on the Adobe Rose stage. McKenna hopes to announce the new season soon, but is confident it won't disappoint. "I'm comfortable with us being referred to as putting up political works, because these are politically interesting times, and theater should be on the forefront of what's happening in our culture. That means politics, that means science and art and expression."
There will be some levity everywhere, of course. McKenna has some light stuff planned, because even social justice warriors need to have fun. "Sometimes it's good to go into the theater and laugh, or feel nostalgic, or see a love story," she says. "Those things are important too, and we like to mix it up, but we want people to think and talk."