“Okay,” Tara Khozein says with only a hint of exasperation. “You’re just gonna have to ignore that when it happens.”
She is surrounded by the nine student actors of Santa Fe Performing Arts’ fall production, and they’re rehearsing their site-specific original play in Meow Wolf. Anyone who’s visited the House of Eternal Return knows what room they must be in (the kitchen) and what must have happened (someone touched the dining room table). The impossibly low sonic waves that make their way into your molars are only one of many distractions in the space, but the venue can’t be beat for what these students have created.
Having met after school since August, the nine students and teacher/director Khozein have pieced together Our Favorite Disaster, a series of student-written vignettes that take place in various rooms of Meow Wolf. They’ve also adapted the piece for a traditional stage and will perform it at SFPA as well, but today’s rehearsal is for figuring out how they fit into the multiverse.
Right now, in the kitchen, each student has come up with a monologue of sorts, ranging in tone from absurd to relatively realistic, whether it’s a mach-speed story about baking a strange cake (Raven Callaway-Kidd) or the dangers of chemical cleaning products (Tia Kutsko, who will snatch that dish sponge out of your hand). The actors’ personalities emerge, including a faked accent from Emma M—make that multiple faked accents. Or maybe she doesn’t even have an accent. We’re not sure. Either way, it’s funny.
Caden Kalfin’s humor is dry as a bone, injecting pop-culture references in a way that, despite his age, evokes an awkward adult trying to sound cool (after entering with a “whattup, fam,” he takes a video of Shiva Eickermann and Tate Stanford’s perfectly comically timed, top-hatted monsters on his exploding Galaxy S7, declaring it will be “poppin’ with likes”). Adara Rodriguez may be the most regal of the bunch—until she launches into her monologue and reveals the ability to be utterly silly, declaring deep love for a serving spoon. (She also sings to it.)
As the students go through their monologues I notice that one, Blaze Frost, is standing to the side. I ask Khozein about her role.
“All of the kids headed up one piece, and most of them wrote themselves into their piece … but Blaze very intentionally said, ‘I don’t want to be in this, I want to watch,’” Khozein explains. “So she stood out.”
Many young people (this writer included) get into theater because they want to be center of attention; for a young performer to already realize the importance of being an observer is remarkable. Indeed, Blaze seemed to enjoy standing in the doorway, laughing at her classmates’ antics and tweaking their blocking as they went.
It always goes that when kids are given the freedom to do what they want, they come up with something funnier than you ever expected. The loose rein Khozein and SFPA have given this cast has proven again that, when encouraged to make use of their best talents, age isn’t much of a factor when it comes to creating something great. (The oldest of these actors is 16.)
“They’re so unselfconscious,” Khozein says fondly. However, as they composed the show, she says, “some of the writing was too sentimental, or they took on themes they aren’t ready for. So some of them needed to be shifted or reeled in or cut—and I made that part of the class.”
Anyone who’s edited or critiqued a grown adult’s creative work would probably agree: For every artist, a class in chopping should be mandatory. “This is what it means to be in a collaborative process,” she says of the culled material. “They were super generous in content—and then were able to let go of it.”
At one point during the Meow Wolf rehearsal, I am sitting in a small room with three students as they run through what they call “the echo scene.” One actor has become shipwrecked and is communicating with echoes of her own voice.
At first, Tula Dillman-Stanford, the survivor, is scared and confused—but soon the voices calm her. “Here is good,” they say.
“Here is good,” she replies. “And I am good.”
“Here is good, and I am good.”
Even just sitting on the floor in this cubby, crouched with the students as they’re running through the lines—no acting or blocking or sets or props involved—it’s poignant, really. It feels like pure, honest artistic expression.
And then the clock hits 6 pm. Khozein finds each small group of students to say it’s time to go home.
“Is class over?” someone asks incredulously.
“Yes,” Khozein says apologetically, hoping the students aren’t frustrated. “We’ll work fast …”
Her apology is cut short by Tate, who calls out: “But it was just so fun!”
The actors gather their props, sweaters and backpacks, and head from their multiverse back to our universe.