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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   January 2009

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The Play's the Thing

Las Cruces Community Theatre hosts the state one-act play festival, Jan. 15-18.

By Jeff Berg

Finally, front row center seats were mine. Although the theater was cold and dark, nevertheless, I had the best seats in the house while interviewing Larry Fisher, the current (but not for much longer) president of the Las Cruces Community Theatre (LCCT), and Mike Mandel, a past president of LCCT, well-known regional poet, and man of the arts.

Fisher is filling in as president until the next LCCT election. He'd held the position for many years, and stepped in again when the previous president was about to accept a job transfer out of Las Cruces.

Fisher and Mandel had just arrived at the theater for our scheduled morning interview, only to find that the home of the LCCT, the State Theatre, an aging art deco-style building in downtown Las Cruces, was without heat. Not good timing, since the 40-plus-year-old theater group was in the midst of a seasonal run of a slightly slanted version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

But between shivers and concerns, Fisher and Mandel were able to provide all the details of an important arts event that will be taking place here in mid-January, the Theatre New Mexico State Festival. Scheduled to run from Jan. 15-18, this event is a regional lead-up to the American Association of Community Theatre's AACTFEST, which will take place in Tacoma, Wash., in June.

"This is the New Mexico state festival, which is sponsored by AACT, of which Theatre New Mexico is the local branch," Fisher explained. "LCCT is hosting the event, and will act as the sponsor for the ultimate (local) winners, which will proceed to the AACT nationals in Kerrville, Texas, with finalists going to Tacoma."

Although LCCT tried to win the hosting of the finals, it was defeated by Tacoma, partially because, as Fisher put it, "they were really ready to do it." There was also some wincing about participants not being to fly directly to Las Cruces, and needing to have additional travel accommodations from the El Paso airport.

"We'd never done anything like this before," Fisher added, "so a member of the Las Cruces CVB and I went to Dallas in February of 2008 to do a presentation to the AATC board."

But by hosting the state festival instead, LCCT and Las Cruces will get some recognition for its very popular local theater productions. Besides LCCT, Las Cruces supports the No-Strings Theatre Company, housed at the unique and independent Black Box Theatre, just a few steps away from LCCT, and a very busy and popular theater program, the American Southwest Theatre Company, located on the NMSU campus. Nationally known playwright Tom Smith (see Tumbleweeds, April 2008) was recently named the managing director of the American Southwest Theatre Company.

There will be sixamateur theater companies from around the state participating in this month's event, with a production from Lordsburg High School being the showcase affair. Other groups from around the state in the competition besides Lordsburg and LCCT include the Artesia Community Theatre, Los Alamos Little Theatre, the Nat Gold Players from Las Vegas (NM), and the Lincoln County Community Theatre, which is based in Alto/Ruidoso.

"There are approximately 2,075 community theaters in the US," Mandel said — nearly 900 of which belong to AACT, "so it is pretty cool that we get to accommodate this festival."

Fisher explained that each group gets 10 minutes to set up their production, 60 minutes to perform, and another 10 minutes to strike the set. Technical help will be offered by Ceil and Peter Herman, the owners/operators of the Black Box

"They don't need to be original works, but they have to be one-act works," Fisher added. Each performance will be adjudicated by three theater professionals: Kristi Quinn of Nebraska, Scott Richard Klein of Oklahoma, and Stephen Slaughter of Shreveport, La. An official from the Dallas-based AACT, Frank Peot, will also be on site.

Fisher noted, "Each of them will also be doing workshops, as will Mark Medoff and Tom Smith."

Medoff, of course, is one of Las Cruces' best-known residents, with an active career in stage and film work, best-known for his play Children of a Lesser God. Medoff, like Smith, is an instructor at NMSU.

The Las Cruces Community Theatre has operated for over 40 years, offering several hundred stage productions over the last 30 or so years in the 200-seat State Theatre.

Recalling some of the past shows at the theater, Mandel laughed and reminded the tall, lanky Fisher that he was probably the tallest "Oompa Loompa" ever, when he appeared in a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a few years back.

As for the LCCT's future, the State Theatre is due for some maintenance and repair work. Fisher said, "We're negotiating with the owners for a long-term lease, and we are hoping that the continued revitalization of downtown Las Cruces will help with that."

In the meantime, Fisher, Mandel and their small squadron of volunteers have only a few weeks to make sure that everything at LCCT is ready for the big event. They promise to have the heat on, and that the action onstage will really heat things up.

For more information on the AACT Festival in Las Cruces, visit the LCCT website at www.lcctnm.org, where you will also find information on the 2008-09 season. The schedule for the No Strings Theatre Company can be found at www.no-strings.org, and for the American Southwest Theatre Company, log onto theater.nmsu.edu/astc Or check the "40 Days and 40 Nights" section in each issue of Desert Exposure.


Senior writer Jeff Berg has profiled Las Cruces playwrights
Tom Smith and Mark Medoff for Desert Exposure.



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