BWW Interview: Brad Fairbanks of MAMMA MIA at Santa Fe Prep
As a theatre educator, I think it is very important to cover youth performances. This is a continuation of my columns about the wonderful high school performing arts programs in the Santa Fe area.
According to drama teacher and director Brad Fairbanks, Santa Fe Preparatory School (more commonly known as Santa Fe Prep) drama may be one of Santa Fe's best kept secrets. After watching final dress for this weekend's production of Mamma Mia, I'm inclined to agree.
Mr. Fairbanks, who has been at Santa Fe Prep for the last 13 years (after a few years at Santa Fe Public Schools' Capital High; prior to which, he was a working actor in New York and appeared in the 1996 Broadway revival of Inherit the Wind), has established a quality program full of dedicated students in that time, despite the academic and extracurricular (student at Santa Fe Prep are also highly involved in athletic programs there) balancing challenges that a prestigious school like Santa Fe Prep might present for students. "Students here have about three hours of homework per night," he said. "That makes it hard; they always get it done, though."
Despite the intense workload, drama students at Santa Fe Prep do have a pretty special advantage - because the school has grades 7-12, they have the opportunity to take six years of drama courses. Middle schoolers (who will present Into The Woods Jr. May 17-18 of this year) are offered acting and musical theatre courses, and high school students are offered an introductory acting course and advanced acting. In addition to providing consistency in training, the amount of time theatrically inclined students get to spend in the program seems to build a great sense of community. "You get so close to everyone in the cast," said Eliza Hillenkamp, an actress who will play Tanya in Mamma Mia. "Closer than sports teams, even, I think."
Sophia Koolpe, one of the actresses who plays Rosie, agreed. "There's no judgment; it's such a welcoming place and it's an opportunity to express and find yourself."
When asked why he chose Mamma Mia for his students this year, Mr. Fairbanks said he had had his eye on it for a while, and finally got the opportunity to get rights this last summer. "A bunch of drama teachers have been talking about Mamma Mia for a while," he said, "and I finally got an e-mail from MTI about reading the script, and then I listened to the cast album and just kept thinking about how much fun the show is."
Santa Fe Prep's production of Mamma Mia, in addition to being every bit as much fun as one would expect, also benefits from some very impressive adult collaborators. In addition to Mr. Fairbanks's direction and musical direction by Chris Ishee, the set was designed by local favorite Patrick Briggs (of Santa Fe Classic Theatre) and the lighting was done by the always brilliant Skip Rapoport. Devon Frieder, a 2007 Santa Fe Prep graduate, provided fantastic choreography which was enthusiastically and energetically executed by the cast at a level far surpassing what one might expect from a typical high school group.
Though I personally have been aware of Santa Fe Prep for a while (in addition to Mr. Fairbanks, there are a handful of other actors employed there), I knew that the small campus near St. John's may not necessarily be at the forefront when Santa Feans think of performance venues. When I asked Mr. Fairbanks if he had any particular things he wished the public knew about Santa Fe Prep theatre, he said, "I would love to get more folks to see shows here. I think people would really be surprised by the quality level. And," he laughed, "it's a cheap night out."
Mamma Mia opens tonight, March 1st, and will run through Sunday, March 3rd. For more information, visit http://www.sfprep.org/mamma-mia-the-musical/