Gone dark, not dead

By Tamra Testerman
Posted 5/14/20

"One day I was rehearsing, sewing, set designing and building, and the next day my calendar was blank." These are the words of Kristen Woolf, director, actor, set designer, trained opera singer and performer. When recognition of the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic hit, she was mid-sentence directing Edward Albee's "Seascape" for Taos Onstage. "I had a wonderful cast and we were a few weeks into rehearsal, planning to open mid-April 2020. I was also doing the sets and the costumes."

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Gone dark, not dead

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"One day I was rehearsing, sewing, set designing and building, and the next day my calendar was blank." These are the words of Kristen Woolf, director, actor, set designer, trained opera singer and performer. When recognition of the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic hit, she was mid-sentence directing Edward Albee's "Seascape" for Taos Onstage. "I had a wonderful cast and we were a few weeks into rehearsal, planning to open mid-April 2020. I was also doing the sets and the costumes."

Within days of the last rehearsal the play was cancelled and Taos Onstage closed for the foreseeable future. With the tenacity of a seasoned theater veteran Woolf said, "the show always goes on. Time and money are always an object. Never design something you can't produce."

Thinking of the future, she said "when we open we will have a magnificent show!"

Charlotte Keefe, President of Taos Onstage said, "We had four productions at the theater planned. 'Simple Gifts,' an original play by Robert F. Benjamin, was to open March 12, the day the World Health Organization [WHO] declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Because we no longer could move forward with the scheduled productions, we would not be generating any income. We felt it was unwise and not possible to stay in our theater space with thousands of dollars going out and nothing coming in."

Keefe anticipates that Taos Onstage's future productions will be in another space. "However, we do not know when. We are in what is known as a WAS or a 'wait and see situation.' " Keefe said all that Taos Onstage can do for now is to "be patient and wait until it is safe for both actors and the audience. In the face of a pandemic, it is not easy to pivot - even for seasoned actors and theater folks, where the ability to change has always been an impetus for creativity.

Metta Theater Director Bruce McIntosh said Metta shut down in early March. "The ongoing, free-of-charge Saturday morning acting workshop is not in session and an evening of one-act plays scheduled for April is on hold until Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham approves the conditions under which theaters can reopen."

In addition, the taping of "Hidden Treasure," Ketavan Ussery's one-woman play performed earlier this year at Metta, is postponed. It depicts her life as a theater director/actor in Tbilisi, Georgia in Russia and her journey to the United States.

McIntosh said Metta expects to resume the Saturday morning acting workshops, set a rehearsal schedule for upcoming productions and reschedule the taping. Metta will need to reduce audience seating from the current 36-person to 18-person seating to allow for physical distancing, leaving an empty seat between patrons. Meanwhile McIntosh is working on some projects to improve the theater space that have been on his "to-do" list for a while, so Taos theater lovers can look forward to these and new productions upon reopening.

The Taos Community Auditorium [TCA] , a longtime anchor for the arts and culture in town, is working on a phased-reopening plan for its entire campus including the galleries and theater. TCA's Executive Director Colette Labouff said the TCA's reopening is dependent on Lujan Grisham's phased-reopening plans, including maximum allowable occupancy for public spaces, as well as required safe practices for museums, galleries and theaters. TCA continues to develop and expand its virtual programming to include audio, video, website and radio.

There is also a new theater, The Wildflower Playhouse, scheduled to have opened this summer on the south side of town. Taos thespian Jim Avery said everything changed in an instant and came to an abrupt halt as recognition of the scope of the coronavirus set in. Avery said he has slowed down construction and at this time remains optimistic that the theater will open at a later date.

Taos theater doors may still be closed, but the community remains active.

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