Letting young energy in
If you wanted to find someone who is an active singer-songwriter, busy director, and involved artistic-collective member— and who happens to project a strong, sometimes gaudy, and always probing insight into all those activities— you wouldn’t have to look further than 24-yearold Santa Fe resident Megan Burns.
A native norteña who has lived hither and yon but chosen to keep her roots here, Burns represents the kind of multifaceted yet committed approach to creativity that characterizes youthful enthusiasm. And for Burns, that enthusiasm hasn’t been upset by the challenges of being an active artist in the fairly restricted sphere of Santa Fe.
“I am Flamingo Pink, a songwriter. I am associate director for Santa Fe Performing Arts. And I am co-founder of [artist collective] MeowWolf,” Burns said when asked for a précis of her résumé. “I don’t make a living here as an actor, but I do make a living as a director, and I think I’m unusual in that sense.
“I was born in Los Alamos, but we moved to Santa Fe when I was 2; I was raised here. I went to Santa FeWaldorf School, where the focus was on art and creation and expression, and I kind of maintained that desire through my high school and teen years.” That was helpful, she added, in terms of building a strong background in various theatrical disciplines, without being distracted by other pursuits. Certainly she took no hiatus from her art out of over-busyness or boredom: rather, she kept observing and learning.
Santa Fe’s artistic slopes are littered with the carcasses of theater groups huge and tiny that have died off over the decades, but Burns said that she had no conflicts about staying in a place that’s notoriously tough for theater. “I did some traveling, but I liked the pace here, and I think it’s the most beautiful place to live in that I’ve ever seen. I love working with these talented, creative young people at SFPA, and my work all around makes it possible to feel part of a fantastic community here.” Sure, a big city might offer more opportunities and challenges, she conceded, but doing the best work she can in a place she loves makes up for a lot of the siren lure of Los Angeles or Chicago or New York.
“I really do like the family feeling of working in Santa Fe,” she said. “I feel I’m part of the community with the children; I feel part of the family experience with young people and with my friends and peers — people I create with.” Even though they live rather in one another’s pockets, as creative folk often do, there haven’t been many instances of 3 a.m. calls to announce, “I figured out how to do that big scene!” Not a problem, Burns laughed, “in these days of e-mail.”
As Flamingo Pink, Burns writes original songs and performs them to her own acoustic-guitar accompaniment. She termed her compositional-performance approach to be “my little lullabies, playing in depth into metaphors. I don’t do covers.” Does she feel like part of what we might call the coffeehouse line that began with the Beat generation— where deep philosophy is reflected equally in introspective and ranting output? Yes, she said, with an emphasis on introspection— making people think and feel with simplicity rather than overpowering them with manifestos.
As an actor, she began right out of the box when Santa Fe Performing Arts took her on as an intern when she was still in high school. Her training has all been in that practical school of simply going onstage and acting—“I’d rather learn just by doing”— buttressed by her own reading and discussion with mentors and peers about the art and craft of theater. She’s done some work at both SFPA and Santa Fe Playhouse, but her paid professional work has been in many shows atWarehouse 21.
When it comes to pinning down specific theater projects, Burns listed several things. “With Santa Fe Performing Arts, on a fourmonth project, I probably work six to 10 hours a week with the kids actually onstage, but at the same time, there is a lot of reading the script, defining the script. I have a lot of outside time with Meow Wolf; we have a theater production at Warehouse 21 in 2010, so it’s taking a lot of energy from us. We do readings three times a week, and we’re writing the script from the bottom up!” On the other hand, “Really estimating time is hard, because I try to love my life as an actor and director.”
Having watched Santa Fe theater over two decades, does she think things are better or worse now? “I think it’s gotten better. I think there is probably more of the young artist subculture now, with creative communities like High Mayhem, MeowWolf, Warehouse 21, and others.” On the other hand, she also wonders if Santa Fe theatrical founders don’t tend to hang onto their organization and ideas even when it’s time to think of moving on.
“I think people who start up little businesses, little theaters, and run them— it’s important for them, at a certain point, to allow young motivated people to come in and be involved. We can’t hold onto that initial energy forever. When you get to the point where you try to protect your business, keep it where it was rather than see what it might become, you’re in trouble. Theater is one of the most beautiful forms of art. You need to keep listening to it, feeling it, and letting young energy in.”