From community performances to educational classes, the East Mountain Centre for Theatre makes it their mission to entertain, educate, inspire, nurture, challenge, and empower artists and audiences of all ages.
Artistic Director Richard Atkins and his wife, Cheryl, who serves as Vice President of Education and Outreach, were drawn to the high desert of New Mexico long before they made the move here from their native New York in 2003. So much so that they purchased land in San Pedro Creek for their retirement. Their relocation plans were accelerated after living through the devastation of 9/11 in New York City, where Cheryl worked only ten blocks from ground zero. Seeing the first plane hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower, losing contact with Richard and their daughter, and walking with thousands of other dazed and shaken New Yorkers out of Manhattan that fateful day, was the catalyst for their move to our community. That, and the fact that Richard’s job as a professional pianist was in jeopardy with the sudden drop in tourism.
As luck would have it, two years after Richard and Cheryl arrived in the East Mountains, members of the board of the East Mountain Community Theater were looking for a way to bolster attendance. They offered the new transplants positions on their board. “I’m not exactly sure how they found us,” Richard says, “but they heard we were professionals from New York.” The couple joined the struggling theater company, recommended a name change, and guided them in critical areas, such as creating a professional website and cutting down on the number of yearly productions. After serving as president for several years, Richard became the artistic director in 2014.
Today, EMCT is a thriving enterprise, drawing patrons not only from the East Mountains but also from Santa Fe, Belen, and Los Lunas—and 45 percent of their demographic hails from Albuquerque. “We are the little theater that could,” Richard jokes.
The East Mountain Centre for Theatre offers four unique productions each season: an original murder mystery with dinner in October that Richard writes and directs, a Christmas play, and two additional productions during the first part of the year. All performances take place at the Vista Grande Community Center in Sandia Park.
“The dinner theater has been our most successful offering,” Richard says. “We’re able to do a dinner and show for $35, whereas if you had a night out at Yanni’s and Popejoy, you’d spend closer to $250.” Catered by Atrios Catering, this past October’s production of The Deadly Seance at Madame Puchenko’s marked the 12th dinner theater production in 12 years written by Richard.
Never seeming to rest his pen or imagination, he also wrote a Holocaust-themed play, DeliKatessen, that was performed at the Adobe Theater in Albuquerque. It will also be performed at a regional theater in Greenville, South Carolina, this May, under the direction of Tony award-winner Mark Medoff.
In keeping with that genre, in place of their usual Christmas-themed play this year, Richard will bring in Belgium native and Holocaust survivor Simon Gronowski for a special presentation. An attorney, celebrated jazz pianist, and president of the Union of Jewish deportees in Belgium, the now 84-year-old Gronowski will share his story of courage, loss, and survival as he recalls his April 19, 193 escape from the train that would have taken him to Auschwitz, where his mother and sister eventually perished. Gronowski, who once received a special invitation to play with Woody Allen’s group at the Carlisle Hotel in New York, may even engage in a duet or two with Richard.
The 2017 season will open with Cheryl directing the beloved family drama On Golden Pond in February or March, followed by an outlandish comedy, Double Wide Texas, in April or May.
With a mission of strong community outreach, EMCT offers invaluable after school programs for kids in the fall and winter of each year. Additionally, they hold a summer camp each June for children ages 7 through 12 that runs for two weeks and culminates in a performance for family and friends. Atkins says that although they’d love to, it’s slightly more difficult to nurture the teens in our community, since their exposure to theater is limited (area high schools do not currently offer drama programs) and students are busy with other extracurricular activities.
Although they hold regular auditions, and the theater boasts a dozen or so thespians that are considered their resident company, finding and maintaining talent is an on-going challenge. “With no less than 20 theater companies in Albuquerque,” Richard says, “it’s really an actors’ market.” Making the drive up to our neck of the woods just isn’t as appealing to most of them as performing in the city. An influx of younger members in particular would give them greater flexibility in their programming.
Still, if attendance is any indication, the East Mountain Centre for Theatre has become a vital part of our cultural fabric. As the company continues their pursuit of engaging the community and enriching our lives through the performing arts, let’s make sure to take advantage of such fine entertainment so close to home.
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