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Farmington Civic Center kicks off series of virtual offerings this weekend

Live, in-person productions remain on hold over pandemic

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Farmington Civic Center supervisor Randy West, left, speaks with actor Matthew Aaron on Sept. 19, 2019, during rehearsals for the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company production of "The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)." The company will return in January with a production of "Now. Here. This."
  • A livestream of "On Broadway" will be offered Friday, Nov. 13 and Sunday, Nov. 15.
  • The Four Corners Musical Theatre Company production of "Now. Here. This." will be presented in January.
  • The New Mexico touring arts company ARTrageous could perform some virtual shows from Farmington next year.

FARMINGTON — It's been a long dry spell for fans of the performing arts in the Farmington area since the COVID-19 shutdown began, but that situation will begin to change this week as the Farmington Civic Center launches a series of virtual offerings.

Fans of musical theater can purchase tickets to livestream productions of "On Broadway," a live touring concert featuring Broadway performers, on Friday, Nov. 13 and Sunday, Nov. 15.

The shows will be performed live in other locations across the country where performing arts venues are operating at reduced capacity, but they are being offered to the Farmington audience through the Civic Center website on a virtual basis. They will include a component through which local viewers are acknowledged.

The shows feature Broadway veterans of such shows as "Hamilton," "The Lion King," "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Book of Mormon."

That virtual approach will be repeated in January when the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company returns with a production of a new show, "Now. Here. This." The show will be pre-recorded and edited locally, then streamed Jan. 14-17 and Jan. 21-24.

Those offerings represent the first attempts by Farmington Civic Center supervisor Randy West to resume a series of productions that was cut short in March when the pandemic began. Since that time, the Civic Center has been dark, and West has been trying to figure out how to offer his productions on an alternative basis.

Farmington Civic Center supervisor Randy West plans on resuming the venue's entertainment offerings over the next several months with a series of virtual events.

"That's a baby step in exploring the premise of, 'Will (this) work in Farmington and what can we do to make that better?'" West said of this weekend's "On Broadway" offerings.

West said city officials have encouraged him to think outside the box when it comes to resuming his schedule of events. His old friend Lee Lessack of LML Music Presents had put together the "On Broadway" series and called West to see if he would be interested in offering livestream showings of some performances.

West thought the idea had potential, but he knew there had to be some way to make local viewers feel like they were part of a production that was being performed live halfway across the country. So he and Lessack devised a plan by which the cast would offer a shout-out to the Farmington-area viewers during the shows, and this weekend's shows will provide West with an early indication of whether a substantial Farmington market exists for virtual offerings.

West acknowledged he doesn't have any idea whether local performing arts fans will respond to the new format, but he said it's worth a try. He said he regularly talks to his friends who run performing arts venues throughout the country, and they're all trying to identify a model that works during a time when most of them still can't offer performances for a live, in-person audience.

Director Randy West, second from right, addresses the cast of the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company production of "Disaster! A 70s Disaster Movie Musical" during rehearsals in February at the Farmington Civic Center.

"Some people went early on into drive-in theater performances, but we were so locked down, we couldn't do that," West said. "Then, the weather started changing, so that's not something we'll be able to look at until the spring. But I have received so many wonderfully supportive emails and phone calls from people who said they loved what we were doing here by once again bringing in touring productions and concerts, and asked us to not give up on Farmington. They said, 'Please, we were so excited with what was happening.'"

West insisted he has every intention of resuming a full slate of live, in-person productions at the Civic Center as soon as it is safe to do so and they are permitted under the governor's public health orders. But in the meantime, the virtual alternatives seem to be the best option.

He's especially excited about the production of "Now. Here. This." planned for January. A six-person cast of Four Corners Musical Theatre Company veterans and professional actors will return to Farmington to star in the production, and they will be joined by a group of eight to 10 young local actors who will help fill out the cast.

West said the production will be shot and recorded under strict social-distancing protocols, with the professional actors — whose participation is being underwritten by the Mains Performing Arts Foundation — being kept in a bubble separate from the rest of the cast. Much of the footage of the local cast members will be shot at locations around Farmington, then edited into the final product.

Matthew Aaron and Natalie Szczerba rehearse a scene from the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company production of "Disaster!" in February at the Farmington Civic Center.

The show itself will run approximately 90 minutes, West said, but he plans to augment the webcasts with live Zoom presentations featuring the cast and crew before and after the show.

Young actors from middle school through college age who are interested in taking part in the show are encouraged to audition for the production. They should submit a video of themselves performing a song, a recent headshot or photo and a résumé of their theater experience to West at rwest@fmtn.org by noon on Monday, Nov. 16. The parts are unpaid.

West cited the recent sharp increase in COVID-19 cases throughout the state and acknowledged it may become necessary to delay the production if that continues.

"This could still slide based on where we are based on events over which we have no control," he said.

But he fully intends to mount the production as soon as possible while still placing an emphasis on keeping everyone safe.

Further down the line, West also said he has been in talks with ARTrageous, a touring arts group based in Tijeras that performs shows mixing performance and visual art, about having a regular Farmington presence.

The group performed a well-received show here in February, and West said ARTrageous officials are open to the idea of doing some virtual performances here, as well as potentially workshopping some of their new ideas here.

Matthew Aaron, left, Natalie Szczerba, Margaret Clair and Nick Drivas rehearse a scene from the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company production of "Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)" in September 2019 at the Farmington Civic Center.

"So, Farmington would the testing ground for their new material," West said. "ARTrageous doesn't really have a hometown, and I would like to see Farmington become that."

West sees this weekend's offerings, the January Four Corners Musical Theatre Company production and the potential ARTrageous productions as building blocks in his efforts to rebuild the local performing arts scene. Even when the pandemic is over and traditional live performances have returned, he said it is likely that virtual offerings will continue to be a staple for most performing arts venues, including the Civic Center.

"They would be something we could produce and put out virtually," he said. "We're looking to expand a bunch of different ways of using the venue and expanding the art form."

Call 505-599-1150 or visit fmtn.org/FCMT for tickets or information about the auditions.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.