Each year for most of the last 99, the Santa Fe Fiesta Melodrama has taken on the issues of the time in a pithy parody. This year will see the continuation of that tradition, despite COVID-19 essentially ending the live theater season at the Santa Fe Playhouse before it really got started.
Set in the 1920s but digging into myriad current-day issues, the melodrama features heroes—half of them unemployed due to the virus—who must travel back in time to stop greedy villains from stealing artifacts for their Canyon Road gallery and gentrifying the city.
While COVID-19 will play a role, it won't be the starring problem. That's—spoiler alert—a lack of green chile coupled with an abundance of mayonnaise-loving villains who are ruining Santa Fe's culture.
But the big change this year is the loss of a live audience. The performance itself will be filmed with minimal crew and cast, all of them masked between scenes and socially-distanced. Santa Fe Playhouse plans to begin the release of free, livestreamed, 15-minute episodes once a week starting Sept. 10. After the final release, the episodes will become available for purchase on DVD or by download.
Annie Liu, production manager at Santa Fe Playhouse, tells SFR this year's melodrama, Time Turning Tyrants Taunt Town: A Topical Tale of Tangible Turmoil and Testy Turbulence, is authored by the traditional anonymous team and will be produced on a "tight, tight budget" because of significant lost revenues.
"Unless we get shut down, we are going to make it happen one way or another, with or without the funding," Liu writes to SFR. "Because we are doing this like a TV show, we will be showing commercials before and after each episode, or even make some commercials a part of the show itself."
Felix Cordova, a staple actor in the melodrama for the last eight years, will audition for a part this year and is awaiting news about casting. He tells SFR the production is "a Southwestern tradition" and he hopes to be back onstage next year for the 100th anniversary.
"When we have a melodrama, we encourage the audience to applaud and boo; the audience is a character in the show themselves," Cordova says. "To do the melodrama and not have that energy, I think it's gonna be a little awkward. But right now we have to do what we have to do for the safety of everyone involved."
The Fiesta Melodrama is not the only major late-summer event to go virtual this year. Indian Market, for example, goes virtual August 1; the Santa Fe Fiesta Council announced June 1 that none of its public events typically held on the Plaza would take place; and Zozobra will burn to ashes without his jeering audience Sept. 4, caught only on KOAT's cameras in front of an empty field normally filled to the brim with people. (And gloom submissions, of course, are now virtual too.)
In order to reach a wider audience, the Santa Fe Playhouse partnered with the Kiwanis Club and the Zozobra Committee, the organizations behind the annual burning and its associated events, to create trailers featuring the upcoming Fiesta Melodrama and photos of Old Man Gloom in previous melodrama appearances. Those trailers are set to play during the virtual art show, ZozoFest, which goes live on August 14 and runs through Sept. 6.
The theater is also in talks with KOAT about airing its melodrama trailer on live television during the actual burn, according to Liu.
"There have only been a small handful of instances throughout the last almost-100-years that the Fiesta Melodrama has existed in which the show didn't happen," Liu says. "We're trying our hardest to not allow 2020 to be one of those years."