Teatro Serpiente's Seventh Annual Gorilla Theatre Festival whirls into town this weekend. The festival's 32 hours of frantic behind-the-scenes activity by writers, actors and crew will …
Teatro Serpiente's Seventh Annual Gorilla Theatre Festival whirls into town this weekend. The festival's 32 hours of frantic behind-the-scenes activity by writers, actors and crew will culminate in a public performance Saturday (May 25) at 7 p.m., at Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. Tickets are $10. Visit teatroserpiente.com.
What makes Gorilla such a wild ride? The slate of scenes and one-act plays in this Saturday's show will not begin to be written or even imagined until the day before the event, and actors will see their scripts for the first time just eight hours before curtain time. In those eight hours, they will take on responsibility for all the elements of production that are usually spread out over months of rehearsal time: casting, direction and, most challenging, memorizing their lines and getting off book.
Friday morning (May 24), writers who've signed up for the event will gather at an undisclosed location to receive their assignments. Each writer will be given a play-length (a 5-minute-maximum scene or a 10-minute-maximum short one-act). Each will be given a different prop and a keyword phrase that must be incorporated into the plays. The props and phrases point to a theme. Writers are told how many actors they will have, and those actors' genders and approximate ages, but not their names or any other identifying information.
Multitalented actors and educators Rich Greywolf and Scott Tennant will be masters of ceremony for the event this year. Both are Teatro Serpiente founding board members who have acted and directed for many of the troupe's productions over the years.
"We're a Laurel and Hardy combo," Greywolf quipped. "The theme for this year has not been decided yet. We'll get together and brainstorm props and themes, and the 'magic sorting hat' groups the actors into casts. As to what's new and different this year — to put it in a single word — lemurs. Um … that might not make sense. Okay, I believe we are trying to support our writers now with commentary from the group for motivation, as well as helping them produce their best under the time constraints imposed on them. It has been an absolute pleasure to see this festival transform and grow. I am excited to see what our artists bring to the table this year."
Actor and educator Adam Overley is celebrating his seventh year with Gorilla. "At this point, the project has come to feel like a strange and exciting roller coaster of a ritual to me. Always new, always unexpected, the show is the amalgamation of the creative impulses of each writer and actor that year, that day, that moment. And out of that chaos, sparks of brilliance emerge every single year. The experience firmly drop-kicks us as performers out of our comfort zones, out of our heads and into the unknown where there is no time to think, only to do! Please join us for another exciting adventure in theatrical skydiving."
This year, the show will also include live commercials for actual event sponsors, written by Teatro regulars (and Gorilla lead writers) Ned Dougherty and Gina Gargone, and performed by actors onstage in between the plays.
"Every year, we have a handful of writers and actors from Los Alamos, and we are so thankful they are joining us once again," Dougherty said. "As well, we have new writers, and that is so encouraging. I love this yearly event because I wrote in the first Gorilla Theatre in 2013."
Many of the Teatro Serpiente regulars teach in Taos schools. Greywolf is now director of Taos Integrated School of the Arts, where Gargone teaches theater. Overley and Dougherty have both taught at Taos High School, and Tennant teaches at Taos Charter. They have made the festival a welcoming arena for talented young actors and writers to show their skills to the community and get valuable stage experience while still in school.
Some high school theater standouts, like Julianne Moyer and Makaela Vogel, have continued on to roles in Teatro Serpiente's Shakespeare productions and other shows during the year. James Ryan Cox, who starred as Romeo in THS drama's "Romeo and Juliet," is returning to Gorilla this year. "The chaos of the whole thing was one of the funnest things I've ever done," he said. "I also love the people involved."
The 2019 group of actors, writers and crew is a multigenerational mix of newcomers and veterans, including Jess Cullinan, Adrian Henninger, Nora Cullinan, Kate Martin, Tymotha Thurston, Ryan Maestas, Alexa Pikcilingis, Serena Smith, Patrick Webb, Helen Rynaski, John Cullinan, Holly Laudal, Irene Loy, Mary Becker, Judith Rane, Justin Janowick, Joey Birdsong and DS Nagid.
"I'm coming back to act as well as write this year because I love theater and the Taos theater community," said Birdsong. "I'm so excited!"
Nagid's summation of the experience: "Abject fear, massive trembling and the chance to stretch, grow, play and (best-for-last) have fun!"
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