The cliché about working with a group of unruly and differing people being like "herding cats" might apply to the local theater community — that is until seasoned theater pros Lynn Hamrick and Jane Ayles entered stage right.
The pair brainstormed recently about doing a series of short plays, much like another local theater vet Jim Hatch did with his "Bench Plays" through his Odenbear Theatre troupe. That conversation evolved into something new and potentially exciting for Taos.
It has become a one-night-only "Evening of Short Plays," performed by the new Theatre with Benefits, a group of actors from all the local theater groups in Taos. The performance is planned Friday (July 19), 6 p.m., at the Philip Bareiss Gallery, 15 State Road 150, north of El Prado. And keeping true to the "benefits" part of the troupe's title, 100 percent of the evening's proceeds will be donated to the Culinary Arts Program at Taos High School and Stray Hearts Animal Shelter.
The evening will be dedicated to beloved Chef Benjie Apodaca, who was the instructor for the Taos High School Culinary program, according to Hamrick. Apodaca died July 15 at the age of 55.
On Friday evening, Theatre with Benefits will perform "three fresh, short, contemporary comedies from around the world," according to Hamrick, who is taking a little side trip from her work as a documentary film director. "They are short plays that all take place on a bench -- usually two-handers."
The venues where this group may show up for future shows is ever evolving, "but the evenings will always benefit local organizations in and around Taos," she said. "From micro teatro in a living room, to the wonderful Bareiss Gallery space, to productions at Taos Onstage, Odenbear, Metta Theatre, the Taos Community Auditorium, Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership and more, the ensemble's mission is to entertain, inspire and give back."
We asked Hamrick how she and Ayles gathered all these unruly cats for this production. She replied, "Hah, no simple task." But, they were united by the worthy causes involved. "Jane is very passionate about the animal shelter, and I have a foodie bent as I just finished a feature-length documentary about a chef, 'Hiro's Table,' that recently screened at the Harwood Museum and several film festivals around the country including the wonderful Environmental Film Festival at the [Taos Community Auditorium]. Thus, the organizations we targeted for the evening have to do with our passions and in some cases the plays we chose reflect those interests."
Both Ayles and Hamrick have worked as directors and actors with most of the theater groups in Taos, from the Space Theater that Ayles started, to productions that Josh Bryant did at the Taos Community Auditorium to Bruce McIntosh's ongoing MettaTheater to Taos Onstage, etc. "For our July 19 event, I decided it would be good to form an ad hoc group that could do benefit theater in a very low-tech manner, a pop-up so to speak," she said. "And Phillip Bareiss' space was the perfect venue; Phillip regularly lends his gallery for meaningful art and music events and he enjoys good acting."
Right now, she and Ayles aren't affiliated with any one group. "That's the point," Hamrick said. "Theater can be too tribal at times. My concept -- and I have to say the name just kind of landed on me -- is that any group of actors writers and directors could pull together an evening as a fundraiser for a particular entity under the banner of 'Theater with Benefits'; hopefully with some supervision from directors like Jane and myself.
"I want the acting to be really first-rate. That is my background, I have been an ongoing producer director member of the Actors Studio on the West Coast, and I have to say that the actors I am working with now are really talented and professional and experienced, working really hard for our one-night only performance. In this particular case, Jane and I reached out to the writers noted below personally and got their permissions to do a one-night only benefit in Taos with their wonderful scripts. We want them to be credited, too."
What will the audience see?
• "The Lady and 'The Tyger' (or William Blake's How I Met Your Mother)" by Trace Crawford from Hilliard, Ohio, which Hamrick says is a special piece about an introduction. Directed by Ayles. Featuring Savannah Holden and Josh Still.
• "Armadillo-Iguana Bacterial Unification" by John Weagly from Chicago, Illinois. This is "a hilarious comedy with a discussion by two exotic pet owners." Directed by Ayles. Featuring Ruth Farhbach and Ann Soker.
• "Ebook Meets Treebook" by Rex McGregor from Auckland, New Zealand. This is "a very funny look at a collision of two eras," Hamrick said. Directed by Hamrick. Featuring Marcos Martínez, Tymotha Thurston, Savannah Holden and Josh Still. "The play I am directing … deals with the disconnect in technology that many of us feel today and the effect that has on human relationships."
With all this collaboration, we asked Hamrick if there might be a future theater festival in the offing. "Yes I think we should have a theater festival in Taos. We have so much talent here."
Tickets $5, additional donations appreciated. For reservations, call (575) 595-9399.