Like most faux-adobe structures in Albuquerque, The Box looks just like a box. For years, the building housed a video rental store. If not for a simple twist of fate, it would have become a boxing gym. Last month, Doug Montoya and Kristin Berg met the landlord by accident and convinced him to let them transform the space into Albuquerque's newest theater.
Both Montoya and Berg used to work over at Gorilla Tango, the defunct Downtown improv and theater space that recently imploded when the owners pulled up stakes and moved back whence they came—opening an improv theater with the same name in their hometown of Chicago. Montoya and Berg actually managed Gorilla Tango for a short time at the tail end of its two-year run. This is a somewhat awkward point because when the founder of Gorilla Tango, Dan Abbate, announced the demise of his theater, he heaped a ton of blame on our city for not being sufficiently supportive, but he also blamed poor management.
Montoya and Berg don't believe Gorilla Tango's downfall was in any way their doing. Beyond that, I couldn't get them to talk trash about Abbate, even though I tried really hard. Montoya simply says, “We wish him and Gorilla Tango the best,” and leaves it at that.
These days, they're more focused on the future, anyway. Their theater had a rip-roaring opening night a couple weeks ago when the Pajama Men did an impromptu show, packing the space from wall to wall.
The overwhelming success must have come as a relief, because Berg and Montoya have had to scrape to pull this thing together. Luckily, they had plenty of help from the community at large. At Gorilla Tango, the duo specialized in presenting improv classes for kids. When the parents of those kids heard they were planning to open a new theater offering similar classes, money as well as free labor started pouring in.
In addition to classes and their own shows, Montoya and Berg have decided to open their doors to outside productions, making The Box a true community theater. They've set up a revenue-sharing program that should prove attractive to local performers. Here's how it works: Anyone interested in doing a show at The Box—whether you're talkin' music, comedy, spoken word or traditional theater—can arrange to do so. Montoya and Berg charge no fees up front, but the house will keep $5 of each ticket sold. Whoever produces the event gets to keep everything over that.
“Charities could use it, too,” Montoya suggests. “If they wanted to host a fundraising event here, they could potentially make some serious money.”
It'll be interesting to see how the space evolves. I went opening night, and I have to say The Box is a fine place to see a show. The theater is in a great location. It's spacious and inviting, and the seats—which Montoya and Berg scored for free—are extremely comfortable. Here's hoping it enjoys a long and colorful life on the Albuquerque theater scene.