There are many benefits to living in Albuquerque. There's the weather. The relaxed, culturally diverse ambiance existing side by side with a funky art and music scene. There's the food. The nightlife. The proximity of spectacularly diverse wilderness in every direction.
On my personal list, right up near the top, there's also the Tricklock Company. Operating out of a dumpy strip mall theater at the corner of Central and Washington, this tireless troupe annually puts on a season of some of the most creative theater this town has ever seen. While touring these shows around the world, they also search out other experimental performers and invite them back to New Mexico for Tricklock's yearly Revolutions International Theatre Festival, which kicks off this week at venues around Albuquerque and Santa Fe. (See accompanying article and sidebar.) In the process, they've done much to champion Albuquerque's slow but steady transformation into a Mecca of theater in the Southwest.
"We're very lucky to have them," says UNM theater professor Eugene Douglas. "There's a lot of great theater going on in this city, but Tricklock is the only group in town that's truly doing something totally unique. They want to create a new type of theater—physical theater, poetic theater—and they're constantly touring so they make sure people around the country and the world know there's something going on here in Albuquerque."
One of the first things people notice about Tricklock is that this group is extremely driven. Juli Etheridge is one of the founding members of the troupe. "Even high level performance groups in other cities don't have the passion, love and creative depth of Tricklock," she says. "It's like nothing else I've ever experienced. I always come back. The big companies we work with recognize this. They tell us how unique it is that we have this kind of energy."
Over their 11-year history, it hasn't always been simple to keep that enormous energy from exploding into a destructive fireball. As with any tightly knit group of performers, personality conflicts are inevitable. The core Tricklock members, though, have somehow managed to keep this mystery train on track.
The story of how they accomplished this is a fascinating one. In the inaugural issue of his online theater magazine, Acting Now, Douglas composed a lengthy article about the Tricklock Company that does a supreme job of covering the ensemble's often bumpy history. (That article can be viewed at www.actingnow.com/
At this juncture, the most important thing to understand is that the company has taken several crucial steps that have brought it to where it is today. Back in 2000, the company ditched its original name—the Riverside Ensemble—for its current, more alluring moniker. The group also decided to bring a level of professionalism that it's always insisted on in its productions to the ordinary day-to-day administrative aspects of the operation. It brought on a board of directors. It got its finances in order. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Joe Pesce, it also cemented and expanded its respected position in this community.
Along the way, Tricklock has cultivated some friends in high places. One of their biggest supporters is our current mayor, Martin Chavez, who recently put our money where his mouth is by having the city award Tricklock a well-deserved $10,000 grant.
"They're fabulous," says the mayor. "This is a group that annually tours Europe with what is almost universally recognized as cutting edge performances. This speaks so well of Albuquerque. In a community that so often looks to Santa Fe as a center for the arts, Tricklock stands out as a nationally, even internationally, recognized troupe of high class performers."
Most artistic groups need a strong leader to guide it. Tricklock found its leader in Joe Pesce. Everyone with an inside knowledge of the inner dynamics of the troupe gives Tricklock's artistic director an enormous amount of credit for infusing the company with its ambitious artistic and professional vision. Kerry Morrigan has been a member of the group since the early days.
"Joe has a spirit and a belief that I don't think I have ever seen, or will ever see, in anyone else," says Morrigan. "Based on his convictions, he can accomplish so much more than normal people. He's definitely the visionary of this group. I think he was reluctant for a while to take over, but there came a point in our history when he recognized that this was his role. We all grew into our roles, based on our strengths, and for a while we had to reinvent the wheel. Joe has always been a leader. He's always had a really fierce spirit and energy about him. He has an uncanny ability to know exactly where this company needs to go and how we need to get there."
For his part, Pesce is quick to downplay his role. "Look," he says, "this is an ensemble of people who work together that's 14 strong now. One of my talents, for better or worse, is to go out, eat with the mayor and get public support. We have an amazing company filled with amazingly dedicated people. It wouldn't be possible to do what we do without everyone working together."
Over the next few years, it won't come as a surprise to anyone when these talented, hardworking performers continue to expand their theatrical vision here in Albuquerque, around the country and around the world. "I'd like to see more young performers joining the company," says Pesce. "I'm hoping to do more and bigger tours. Basically, I want to do what we're doing now but more of it."
They'd especially like to make an upgrade from their current humble quarters at the strip mall on Washington. "Yes," Pesce says, "we want a bigger theater. We want more space. We want a theater complex with multiple performance halls and gathering space for community events. We're actively pursuing looking for buildings."
Of course, much of the company's ambitions center around the Revolutions festival, which Tricklock will continue to expand and promote as an A-list performance spectacle in the Southwest. Pesce would also like to tour Revolutions troupes to communities in New Mexico that have never seen this kind of world class theater.
If Tricklock succeeds in achieving these goals—and there's no reason to doubt it will—our city will certainly benefit. "People are starting to realize," says Pesce, "that a thriving arts scene brings economic development. Everybody knows that if you improve the life of the community through the arts, everybody benefits. It's very simple math."
Bringing this kind of high quality art to Albuquerque hasn't always been easy, though. "One thing I'm not sure a lot of people know," says Douglas, "is that we have this amazing season of Tricklock shows, this amazing festival, these productions that tour all over the world, but it's all done by these guys who have to do day jobs. They're not just interested in dabbling in this. They've all basically taken a vow of poverty, sacrificing personal time, sleep, all of that, to bring art into their own lives and, more importantly, into our lives."
Thankfully, despite the hardships, they all seem to be having a blast doing it. The festival's kicking off, the party's getting started, and everyone's invited. Don't be shy. Come right on in. The door is unlocked.