Live theatre has a rich history here in Las Cruces,
and includes a wide range of plays and musicals at the New Mexico State University Theatre Arts Department, as well as downtown theatres, and at least one theatre company that two local artists created a few years ago.
“This might be one of the great open secrets of this town: Las Cruces has such a highly inventive and productive community of people offering all kinds of good theatre at low prices, enriching themselves and their community,” says NMSU Theatre Arts Visiting Professor Algernon D’Ammassa, who has acted and/or directed for LCCT, Black Box, NMSU Theatre, and Scaffolding Theatre Company. “I believe that a sign of cultural health for a city is a varied theatre scene that serves diverse tastes. In the current theatrical season, theatre artists in Las Cruces are presenting musical theatre, Greek tragedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning American drama, comedies, a drama by a New Mexico playwright, a Disney musical re-envisioned, and more. Two companies based here have been invited by the El Paso Community Foundation to perform at the Philanthropy this spring.”
“We have been striving to bring people out to see theatre for 54 years now,” Las Cruces Community Theatre (LCCT) Board of Directors President Janet Beatty-Payne adds. “LCCT is very excited to be right in the heart of downtown and to play an active role in the revitalization of this beautiful area. As the downtown grows, we hope to see more and more people come out for dinner, drinks, and theatre. We are proud of the shows we present to the community and are eager for more and more people to discover just how wonderful and important our thriving theatre is to the growth and development of the arts and cultural scene.”
LCCT welcomed a new owner in 2016. Las Cruces Attorney Jose Coronado bought the building in May and signed a lease that will keep LCCT there for at least the next 30 years, with an option for 10 more years after that. The building was built by the Buckley family as the State Theatre and opened on Christmas Eve 1941, just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. LCCT moved into the space from the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla in 1977.
The theatre holds almost 200 people and has replaced its seats and curtains, renovated its stage within the last few years, and added refrigerated air in 2016. Plans are underway for an electrical upgrade and restroom renovations.
Contemporary Curtain Raiser
Just north of LCCT is Black Box Theatre (BBT) and its resident No Strings Theatre Company (NSTC), built by Ceil and Peter Herman of Las Cruces and now celebrating its 18th year.
“BBT is happy to be a part of the vital theatre scene in Las Cruces where each company has established its own niche,” Ceil says. “NSTC’s emphasis is on contemporary works, including those by local playwrights, which allow Las Cruces audiences to expand their theatre horizons. In addition to the seven productions which make up the regular season, NSTC hosts guest theatre companies as well as music and dance events.”
The theatre added new seating during the summer of 2015 and can move seats around to accommodate any stage configuration. It seats 101 people in a black-box layout.
BBT has produced more than 130 plays and musicals during the past 17 years, and hosted many special events. The theatre also has a lobby gallery to display the works of local artists, often related to the show currently on stage.
The Hermans also own BBT2, which provides additional rehearsal space and set and props storage a few blocks from the theatre.
The NMSU Theatre Arts Department was started by the late Hershel Zohn in the 1950s. He directed more than 100 plays at NMSU before retiring in 1975. When the original NMSU theatre in Hadley Hall was condemned, the school’s Air Mechanics Building was converted into a theatre and named for Zohn in 1978. That building was converted into Domenici Hall shortly after the new ASNMSU Center for the Arts opened in December 2013.
The center includes the 400-plus seat Mark and Stephanie Medoff Theatre, honoring long-time NMSU Professor Mark Medoff, who premiered his Tony-winning play Children of a Lesser God at NMSU in the late 1970s before opening it on Broadway in 1980.
“Having only completed one full year at NMSU, I have already been inspired by the talent, enthusiasm, and dedication of our theatre arts students,” says NMSU Theatre Arts Department Head Wil Kilroy. “Our student talent combined with the professional skills of our faculty and staff have resulted in quality productions. This year I’ve made a special effort to recruit students, ranging from representing our program at the local Comic Con to traveling to events in California and Arizona. It’s easy for me to represent a program that I know to be so strong—and, of course, we are fortunate to have our impressive facility, the Center for the Arts.”
NMSU holds auditions at the beginning of each semester, and welcomes community actors as well as NMSU students to try out for most shows.
New Kid on the Block
One of the newest additions to live theatre in Las Cruces is Scaffolding Theatre Company, founded in 2014 by NMSU Theatre Arts Associate Professor Megan McQueen of Las Cruces and El Paso actor/director Justin Lucero.
The two have produced and staged hugely successful musicals at the NMSU Center for the Arts and Rio Grande Theatre in downtown Las Cruces, as well as venues in Socorro and El Paso. To date, the have produced the musicals Nine, Chicago, Passion, and Beauty and the Beast.
Playbill.com featured articles about Scaffolding’s 2015 production of Chicago, saying the show “impressed the national theatre community when they mounted an unusual production of the classic Kander and Ebb musical, set entirely inside a modern-day women’s prison.” m
This might be one of the great open secrets of this town…