Theater Grottesco’s The Moment of YES! at the Santa Fe Playhouse
IN theater improvisation and warm-up games like Accepting and Yes Let’s, saying “yes” is a way to propel a story into action. It enhances the give-and-take between performers by creating moments that allow for movement. For its new production, opening Thursday, May 21, at the Santa Fe Playhouse, Theater Grottesco simultaneously explodes and refines this very specific idea of communication in The Moment of YES!
“After we broke it down, communication became a series of propositions that are answered with either an acceptance or rejection,” said Theater Grottesco’s founding artistic director, John Flax. “If there’s acceptance, it moves to the next step, and it can keep going until it actually builds cultures and civilizations and societies, rules, and games. This show is really an amalgam of theatrical styles that, as we put them together, we are able to take the constructs from the world of dance and the world of theater and blend them together to create a new form.”
Kent Kirkpatrick, an artistic associate at Grottesco, is co-directing the show with Flax. He explained that, as a company, Grottesco concentrates on what is called devised theater or ensemble-created theater in black-box spaces or bare stages. “We don’t start with a script. We start with actors in a room, talking and coming up with the little ideas that are the core, and then getting up on our feet and playing and stumbling around until we start to find things.”
Flax co-founded Grottesco in Paris in 1983 and moved the company to Santa Fe in 1996 after touring here several times. Though Grottesco has one of the larger operating budgets among local theater companies, it has always been a struggle to keep financing in order, Flax said. Company members used to dream of building or converting their own blackbox theater in town, but they have largely abandoned that vision and rented a rehearsal space in the new theater district forming off Rufina Street and Henry Lynch Road on the south side. Teatro Paraguas, the Santa Fe Playhouse, and Theaterwork all rent space in the area, and Wise Fool New Mexico isn’t far away. The groups regularly borrow costumes, sets, and actors from one another, and their teamwork is about to become official as part of a new collaborative arts-marketing program, funded by the Santa Fe Arts Commission. The “Santa Fe Theater Brand” is a website, now under construction, that will be a onestop guide to all live theater in the city. “The problem is still that nobody owns their own space. It’s less expensive out here than downtown, but it’s still not cheap, so everyone is leasing or renting,” Flax said. “When you see someone owning a space, that’s when you know they’re really long term.”
The Moment of YES! features Danielle Reddick, who has performed with Stomp and appeared locally in Ironweed Production’s Good People in 2014. It also has soprano and actor Tara Khozein, who grew up in Santa Fe and graduated from Jacques Lecoq’s theater school in Paris, where she studied physical theater, as did her co-performer and fellow Santa Fe native Apollo Garcia, a circus artist who has appeared in several recent local productions, including Wise Fool New Mexico’s The Circus of Lost Dreams and
Foster with the Santa Fe Performing Arts Adult Resident Company. The fourth cast member is Eric Kupers, co-artistic director of the Dandelion Dancetheater in Oakland, California. The cast did an early preview performance at Dandelion to great applause and laughter, especially from children, who appreciated the way the exaggerated facial expressions, reminiscent of commedia dell’arte, and nonverbal language of dance carried the seven brief stories that make up the show.
The stories divide the new production into three sections: “discovery,” “creating culture,” and “society” or “the game of life.” Kirkpatrick said that the “conceit is that we start with nothingness, and the actors come on and are discovering this place and each other.”
“The exploration is a very exciting process,” Flax said. “We’re doing some storytelling, but since storytelling has become very popular, we wanted to make our stories something else. So we borrowed from tragedy and put a [Greek] chorus together with the simple, intimate stories, some of which are from the actors’ childhoods.” The chorus surrounds the storyteller as witness and collective unconscious.
“We’re not going for the pretense of theater, but the reality of people in space in a room right now,” Kirkpatrick said. “When the actors come in, they’re in presence with the audience, with each other.” Though there are set story points they must reach, there are many times the actors improvise. “They’re discovering and creating and reacting to each other in real time. So there’s a surprise for them and maybe an element of danger and excitement. Audiences can sense that. You can see something that’s really rehearsed, and it may be well done, but it also might be boring because it’s happened so many times before. We’re trying to do something that’s fresh and alive in the moment.”
Apollo Garcia (upside down) and Eric Kupers