Cristina Masoliver says she's always felt a connection to people who have developmental disabilities. "We click with one another," the director of the Taos-based ArcTisTics theater company explains.
Masoliver helped create ArcTisTics in 2004. She didn't know what would come of a company that combines the talent of those with and without developmental disabilities in order to create nontraditional, wholesome productions. "I had a gut feeling I should try it," Masoliver says. "Then it grew and grew and grew."
ArcTisTics has cultivated a following in Taos with its themed skits and vignettes. Productions like Old West, Summertime and Dream Big de-emphasize scripted lines and sets to focus on life's basic pleasures. “In a way, we are very simple and very plain," Masoliver says. "We're not cluttered in any way. I think that's what makes the connection with the audience."
Masoliver says ArcTisTics' aim is to showcase the charm inherent in the mundane. "Let's say, for example, somebody's having lunch at the park," she says. "That in itself is very special and beautiful. We're all so busy and so caught up with our struggles, we forget these moments which are really very human."
While there's minimal use of props—giving the performances a "European flavor," Masoliver says—the costumes are lavish. Three designers custom fit every piece of clothing seen on stage. "The costumes are extraordinarily high-class," Masoliver says. "We really believe, particularly with people with disabilities, everything needs to fit right. Everybody's body is beautiful and it deserves to look beautiful."
The soundtrack for each performance is provided by the Sunshine ARChestra, a brass-heavy five-piece Masoliver describes as "Gypsy-
ARChestra drummer Peter Halter says ArcTisTics has shattered barriers. "The audience just says, 'Hey, these guys are great, and they're just like us,' which they are," Halter says. "That's what I love about it. It breaks down people's stereotypes."
Masoliver says ArcTisTics' aim is to showcase the charm inherent in the mundane.
While there is a definite social consciousness attached to ArcTisTics, Masoliver wants the theater company to be judged by the quality of its work, not the nature of its mission. "We like to get criticized or be told that our work is good," Masoliver says. "That's our battle just like any other company."
ArcTisTics' creative process is free-flowing and includes a great deal of give and take between Masoliver and the actors. Ideas are bounced around in an egalitarian process to keep all players involved. "We're all partners in crime," Masoliver says. "We're all learning together or having a good time together or struggling together."
Seven months out of the year, ArcTisTics members rehearse for three hours once a week. Masoliver says the close bonds formed during those long hours are what keep the theater company thriving. The result is a constantly improving product that invites more and more attention from theatergoers. "Through the years, I've see the actors grow immensely," Masoliver says. "They take it very seriously, and their talent is really flourishing."
In a group interview with Masoliver, Halteract and actor Anthony Naranjo, Naranjo repeatedly mentions his close bonds with the other ArcTisTics members. That's the primary reason he's worked with the theater company for nearly six years. "I like these guys," Naranjo says, putting his arms around Masoliver and Halter. "I like hanging out with them."