Working Classroom is fighting a guerilla battle for the hearts and minds of young artists and actors in Albuquerque. And it's doing it without ever lifting a weapon.
This nonprofit street conservatory recruits talented young people from historically ignored communities in our city, providing tuition-free arts education and training. Sometimes this even includes college scholarships. From its Downtown headquarters at Second Street and Gold, Working Classroom projects are led by renowned artists, playwrights and directors from around the country, producing work designed to engage the imagination of our community in ways that highlight various social concerns.
Rebeca Mayorga is one of the star products of the organization. In the latter half of the '90s, she developed her acting skills in a series of Working Classroom productions that included Blood Wedding (1996), Bocon (1998) and Sarita (1999). This immersion in professional theater at a young age opened the door for her to work with both Santa Fe Stages and the Santa Fe Opera. She went on to receive her BFA from the University of Miami in 2002.
One of the driving goals of Working Classroom is the promotion of community involvement. In that sense, it's no surprise that Mayorga, at the start of her promising artistic career, has chosen to return to Working Classroom to give something back to the organization that gave her a start in theater.
Mayorga has assumed control of Working Classroom's impressive theater program. She's also directing the organization's current production of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Nilo Cruz' Night Train to Bolina.
This odd little theatrical number is set in an unidentified Latin American country plagued by poverty and a brutal guerilla war. The play focuses on an intimate friendship between Mateo (Michael Lopez) and Clara (Gabriela Mayorga), two abused, starving kids who run away from their rural homes to build better lives for themselves in the city.
The bond between these two characters is simultaneously erotic and innocent. Mateo and Clara create a fantastical world for themselves to escape a real one torn apart by bloodshed and soul-crushing poverty. The play's primary symbol is a kite, Mateo's kite, which they use to send messages to heaven, begging assistance from a God that refuses to answer their prayers.
Cruz' play has a deeply mystical quality, and director Mayorga and set designer Richard Hess have taken full advantage of this. Time isn't quite linear in Mateo and Clara's universe. Instead, it's a series of dreamy loops, curving in and out of their shared fantasies. In this production, this is illustrated with simple, poetic elements—large black blocks, strobe lights, paper kites—rearranged in different creative contexts to move the story forward.
Some of the acting here is slightly rigid. In other scenes, it's a bit overcooked. Even so, this is a surprisingly professional production, especially considering the youth and relative inexperience of most of these performers.
The standout performance certainly comes from Gabriela Mayorga, the director's younger sister. Mayorga is a junior at West Mesa High School and a veteran of several Working Classroom productions. Her turn as Clara is both natural and penetrating. Watching her, you never doubt for a second the sincerity of her feelings for her friend.
The other performers mostly hold up their end of the bargain. In many ways, Night Train to Bolina is a peculiar play, but it fits nicely with Working Classroom's broad social and creative vision.
Whenever I've attended a Working Classroom event, I've heard someone from the organization begging for funds for their idealistic programs. These people shouldn't have to beg. This unique and innovative organization should be a source of pride for this community, and it deserves funding to continue its worthwhile projects.
For the last decade or so, Working Classroom has been very generous to Albuquerque. It's time for Albuquerque to be generous to Working Classroom.