The press release read 'round the town this week (in the theater world, at least) came from the Adobe Rose Theatre and the International Shakespeare Center: ISC has taken over Adobe Rose's midtown building to present Shakespearian plays as well as host readings, lectures, workshops and other events, as well as rented space to outside groups.
The first thing a cynic would likely sniff is that the theater needed to be rescued. Not so, says McKenna.
"Bruce and I, we're not retired," she says. Bruce, her husband and co-founder of ART, is perhaps best known as one of the writers for acclaimed WWII series Band of Brothers in the early aughts—but both he and Maureen still maintain hearty, if sometimes hectic, careers in film and television. "Bruce's work often requires that he travel for long periods of time," McKenna continues, "and we wanted to be able to do that together."
But anyone who's seen a show at ART was struck by an operation that likely came with a hefty price tag. A huge Midtown space that was beautifully renovated by the McKennas and designer Geoff Webb houses a bright lobby, a nice concession area complete with popcorn machine, and a state-of-the-art black box theater. ART has come to be known for presenting plays by renowned contemporary playwrights like Lauren Gunderson, Robert Schenkkan and Donald Margulies; plus, perhaps most notably, the McKennas took great pride in paying their actors enough to get by, rather than providing the usual small stipend that performers expect from community-oriented theaters.
Yet, ART still charged no more than $25 per ticket—the going rate for theater in Santa Fe. All of this sounds like it would require a huge budget, if not run a deficit. Did these perceived costs contribute to the decision to relinquish the space?
"No, not really," McKenna says breezily. "It was more that the actual running of the space was mostly done by Bruce and I—and our kids and stuff like that pitched in a lot, and our volunteers—but most of the responsibility fell with Bruce and I. And the fact is, we are not retired. That other job that Bruce has, it's what we have to do in order to fund the theater and send our children to college and that sort of thing." ("That other job," of course, being the one that won him an Emmy—no bigs.)
Plus, McKenna says, "We always intended to turn [the theater] over to the community. We just did it a little bit sooner than we'd planned." Turns out, that when she first signed the building's lease, she thought it was for five years—but, nope, it was for three. This resulted in a bit of a scramble at the end of 2018 to see if ART could raise some funds to allow her and Bruce to be away from the theater more starting in 2019.
The fundraising pledge drive's goal was $100,000; if they raised that much in promises, they'd call everyone up to make good. "People were extremely generous," McKenna says. "We had over $50,000 in pledges made. But it really wasn't enough to pay two people to work like we know you need to work to run the theater."
So they made the decision to let go. And while most stories of this tone would probably have called it a "difficult decision," it really wasn't, judging from McKenna's attitude.
"I haven't had a vacation in a long time," McKenna says, good-naturedly—if perhaps sounding a little tired. She and Bruce will help ISC with the transition, and ART will produce two plays in the space this year; as ever, McKenna has an eye toward woman playwrights and contemporary political pieces.
Caryl Farkas, secretary of ISC and director of the kids' classical theater troupe Upstart Crows, is perhaps a bit breathless, but ultimately very excited to take over ART down to "the pens in the drawer," as McKenna says. In addition to hosting their usual readings and the requisite Shakespeare productions, ISC is renaming the space The Swan (after the 17th-century theater in England, naturally) and will play host to student productions and workshops.
ISC has been around since August 2015 and, says Farkas, "We were about a year and a half in when we realized we really did need our own space. … We're bringing Shakespearians from London to give talks, we're bringing authors to give talks, we're bringing directors to do workshops. We were renting venues all over the place, and you do that for a while in Santa Fe and you begin to realize there's a need for space here; there's a need for theater space."
So when the Rose came up on the market, so to speak, she and ISC President Robin Williams leapt at the chance to take over. Additionally, she says, "The process of doing the Youth Shakespeare Festival has put me in contact with all the drama teachers in town, so a lot of them are interested in bringing shows that their schools are doing into The Swan. Just the other day I booked Mariposa Montessori for an evening, and we expect to be able to provide space to any school that's interested." She also has productions by Ironweed and the New Mexico Actors Lab on the calendar, and more in the works.
Around the corner, next to Teatro Paraguas on Calle Marie, ISC will also host a reading room and rehearsal space. Additionally, Farkas adds, "we have a program called 'Long Dead but Well-Read,' and they're dramatic readings of authors from the same time period; especially authors who treated some of the same original material that Shakespeare did. That's kind of our bailiwick."
Like all the offerings from ART, what ISC has been up to certainly doesn't sound cheap. At the risk of sounding indelicate, SFR asked Farkas directly: Where does all this money come from?
"This is going to be surprising, perhaps—but when we brought people from England like Ben Crystal from the Globe and the staff from LAMDA, the workshops that they held for us and the talks that they gave came close to covering the cost of their airfare," Farkas says, sounding just as surprised as we were. "So we weren't making money, but we were doing everything we wanted to do. And then last summer, King Lear turned a big corner for us. Because that was a project that wasn't just, 'Wow, we got to do this thing we wanted to do'—we made money! … [Lear] was a turning point to not just sort of running as fast as we could just to get done the things that were important to us, but that maybe we can be successful at more than just breaking even. It's been a fantastic ride."
And it sounds like it will continue to be, for all involved. Meanwhile, the McKennas, at least in the theater scene, have been defined by and have defined their work at ART. How does it feel letting go?
"I feel kind of egoless in the situation, you know?" McKenna says. "I don't mind them changing the name. [Farkas and Williams] are incredibly lovely people and really devoted to the community. … I think it'll just be a really friendly space."