9/13/2011 Creative Community
I never thought that producing theater, much less film, in
Albuquerque was going to be anything more than a stopgap measure. In New York I’d seen writers miss out
on a run of their show, and consequently support for their career, when a big
venue opening got a bad notice and they had to close overnight. In my opinion it was always better to
road test new work away from the big budget entertainment centers, so what I
wanted was a way of premiering my own writing locally at minimal expense. The Vortex Theater has always been that
place for me, so it was in my best interest to make it, as they say,
“sustainable,” and that meant coming up with money making answers for gaps in
the schedule. The “Quickies”
showcasing of short new work was an idea that the Vortex board thought I should
pursue since I was the in-house writer.
Who better to produce these premieres than someone who had experience
with the process? In other words,
I would now be the person I had always complained about, that guy trimming the
budget, worried about ticket sales, weighing in on who should be cast, what
should be cut, and how the show should be advertized.
No big deal, the “Quickies” would be over quickly and then I
could resume my dramaturgical duties.
And I did, but the show made money, and since it was the result of a
contest, it could be produced annually.
The Vortex board persuaded me to hold another “Quickies” the following
year. Little did I know that
producing contest winners would be a rhythm that I would be locked into for the
next ten years.
I know at the outset my reasoning was that if I got actors,
directors, and designers excited about premiering a lot of new work Albuquerque
might change from being a consumer community viewing New York knock-offs to
being a creative community experimenting to see what viewers from outside New
Mexico might like. From my
understanding, individual voices never achieved excellence unless they competed
with other voices vying to be heard, whether it was Elizabethan dramatists, or French
surrealists, an ambitious cluster of artists had given rise to distinctive
contributions. I wanted a more
rigorous test of new material at the same time as I had this romantic notion
that New Mexicans perceived the world in a different way and that like the
Hudson River School, or the North Beach Poets, we could have strength in
After two years of producing “Quickies” I realized that a
school of distinguished New Mexican work wasn’t going to be forthcoming any
time too soon. I could count the
number of decent playwrights on two hands; I could count the number of possible
screenwriters on one.
With this in mind, I convinced the Vortex board to hold a
national playwriting contest.
Finding prize money for the winner and runners up wasn’t easy. Businesses didn’t buy that plays
premiered in Albuquerque could be pipelined to Broadway, much less
Off-Broadway. Some of this
attitude, pumped up by sports, came from intellectual low self-esteem, some
came from the fact that a lot of sponsors associate entertainment with stars and
if stars aren’t immediately provided they’re skeptical that they will appear
later in an out-of-town run.
Nevertheless, we scoured up some cash, advertised in
writers’ publications, and got submissions from all over the United
States. If people locally weren’t
excited about the possibilities of a premiere, there were plenty of others
outside the state who were, and I began to feed off their enthusiasm. Then, when it became apparent to me
that short movies were more exportable than short plays, I fed off the energy of
screenwriters eager to have their work distributed.
The creative community I had envisioned became a festival
held once a year dependent on writers from out-of-town. And so when I reference “the festival”
I mean to bring to life a period of time that, to me, was engendered from a
romantic interpretation of history, and no matter how crazily I spin the
narrative, I will always feel it was bracketed with purpose no less dynamic
than the Elizabethan stage, or Beatnik rage, or synchronicity of Silicon Valley
startups in the late 70s.