A funny thing happened on the way to dessert Ironweed Productions’ Creating a Scene (in a Restaurant)
CREATING A SCENE (IN A RESTAURANT)
IT'S Monday night and you’re in the mood for a beer and a burger, so you head over to Second Street Brewery at the Santa Fe Railyard and settle in at a table with your significant other. You’ve just placed your order when it becomes obvious that the couple at the table next to yours, whose rather animated discussion about personal matters you were delicately trying not to overhear, is now engaged in a full-blown public argument. The woman is pointing and accusing, and the man looks like he is either going to start crying or storm out at any second. The whole restaurant is watching. Finally, the man throws a $20 bill on the table and they leave without finishing their drinks. The noise level has just returned to normal when a young woman rushes in from outside and begins to tell a story to everyone at the bar. You give up trying to have your own conversation and listen to her instead.
“There is definitely that feeling that everything is just getting heightened to a level where everyone can observe it,” said Scott Harrison, artistic director of Ironweed Productions. With Wendy Chapin, he is co-directing a series of short scenes and monologues at Second Street Brewery in the Railyard on Monday, Nov. 14, and Tuesday, Nov. 15, called Creating a Scene
(in a Restaurant), which could contain some of the elements described in the above scenario. Harrison and Chapin spoke to Pasatiempo on the condition that they not be asked to reveal any specific plot points
or names of actors. Because Santa Fe is small enough to have its own stable of recognizable faces from the local theater scene, many of whom are involved in this project, they want as much content as possible to be a surprise. “It’s theatricalized, but it’s all stuff that could potentially take place in front of witnesses,” Chapin said.
Creating a Scene has no introduction, no intermission, and no charge for admission. People are free to come and go, talk to the servers and bartenders, and dine as they would on any other night. The directors and cast are prepared for the possibility of disruption, and even excited by the prospect of something unexpected happening. Harrison and Chapin have both worked primarily in traditional theater venues prior to this project, and Harrison, who tends to select classic American plays for Ironweed, has not directed much new work before. He originally envisioned setting a collection of excerpts of published plays in a restaurant but found out the royalty fees would be cost-prohibitive for something like that. He put out an open call for short scenes and monologues by local writers, stipulating that they must take place at Second Street Brewery. Nine original pieces were selected from 61 submissions. Harrison based his choices on how the submissions complemented each other and how seamlessly he could weave them together. The final works are by Jonathan Dixon, Gary Dontzig, Ned Dougherty, Natalie Fox, Bruce King, Kita Mehaffy, Kat Sawyer, Thomas Woodward, and Alaina Warren Zachary.
Though the play is not technically a “flash mob,” since patrons will be made aware upon entering the restaurant that they will be watching a performance, Harrison and Chapin are calling Creating a Scene “pop-up” theater, another au courant term that encompasses a variety of temporary happenings — from TV-show themed dinners to comic-book stores to poetry readings — that “pop up” in unlikely locations for a few days, a few hours, or even a few minutes. Pop-up theater has its roots in street and guerrilla theater, and the form tends to circumvent the need for traditional spaces and contexts.“The philosophy behind what we’re doing is that you don’t have to tell an audience much,” Chapin said. “If you start performing in almost any environment, people start to pay attention as long as you pull their focus.”
Harrison and Chapin previously worked together when she directed and he starred in Ironweed’s 2014 production of Good People by David Lindsey-Abaire, which was performed at the Santa Fe Playhouse, as were several previous Ironweed productions. In 2015, the Playhouse stopped opening its doors to outside theater companies and renters, which is what led Harrison to contemplate other types of venues, inspired by advice from a long-ago theater teacher who told students to take their scenes outside, into
the public — anywhere but in the acting studio. “You hear all the time in Santa Fe that there’s not enough space to do theater, but we don’t need a theater. We found a restaurant,” he said. “Second Street has those big garage windows and the size is perfect. You can see what’s going on from almost anywhere in the room, so there’s not an issue with people’s view being blocked from booths.”
Ironweed Productions will return to form in fall 2017, with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe — but for Chapin, who has been directing and teaching theater in Santa Fe since the 1990s,
Creating a Scene has opened a door. She most recently served as the artistic director of the Adobe Rose Theatre but left before the end of her first season, in summer 2016, citing creative and managerial differences. Now she has refocused her creative energy on forming a grassroots theater collaborative that will concentrate on pop-up theater, works in the public domain, and ways to connect with audiences that might not be inclined toward formal sit-down theater experiences.
The first full run-through of Creating a Scene took place a few days before Harrison and Chapin sat down with Pasatiempo. Neither had watched the scenes directed by the other until that rehearsal, and both were pleasantly surprised by how much the writing of the pieces varies in tone and approach, encompassing both humor and pathos. “It’s not all observing people at a table doing stuff,” Harrison said. “There may be activity in the bar. Actors might talk to people in the restaurant. There might be one scene that’s poignant and then one that’s completely different. They just kind of work in a way that’s not static, in terms of what the action is.”
The philosophy behind what we’re doing is that you don’t have to tell an audience much. If you start performing in any environment, pople start to pay attention. — co-director Wendy Chapin