Literary arts

Two Taos events focus on Tom Stoppard play

SOMOS and the TCA help bring ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern...’ back to life


In a first-time collaboration during her tenure, Taos Center for the Arts Executive Director Deborah McLean says the TCA and SOMOS (the Society of the Muse of the Southwest) are putting together a pair of programs centered on “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” a play by Tom Stoppard.

The first is a facilitated discussion about the play today (Sept. 14), 5 p.m., at the SOMOS Salon, 108 Civic Plaza Drive. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

Then, on Saturday (Sept. 16), a screening of the “National Theatre in HD” production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” will premiere at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The performance, which lasts two hours and 45 minutes, begins at 11 a.m. and includes an intermission. Tickets are $18; $15 for Taos Center for the Arts and SOMOS members.

McLean explains what “HD” means for National Theatre: “One aspect of a digital screening is that audiences have the opportunity to experience performers close up, allowing one to connect with facial expressions and emotions of the performers. Screenings are not a ‘live feed’ to venues, but rather filmed and then rebroadcast to over 2,000 cinemas in 55 countries around the world, needless to say, [the Taos Community Auditorium] among them. Hosting the National Theatre provides for a theater experience that is affordable and in the comfort of our hometown.”

For “Harry Potter” fans, it’s worth noting that Daniel Radcliffe co-stars as Rosencrantz. Joshua McGuire (“The Hour”) plays Guildenstern. Both fictional characters were created by Shakespeare in “Hamlet,” which was originally published in 1603. In that famous play about the troubled Dane, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters. But in Stoppard’s reimagined 1966 play, these characters take center stage. Stoppard got the title for his play from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Act 5, Scene 2, just after Hamlet dies. The Ambassador says about the prince: “The ears are senseless that should give us hearing/ To tell him his commandment is fulfilled/ That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”

For the SOMOS event, Carol Farmer and Dr. David Farmer will facilitate a discussion about the dramatic (and comedic) elements of Stoppard’s play. They will also speak from personal experience about this very same National Theatre production, which they saw live in London earlier this year.

A press release states that David Farmer is retired from Southern Methodist University as director of the DeGoyler Library and a faculty member in the Master of Liberal Arts Program. For 20 years, Carol Farmer was a drama and English teacher in the secondary schools of San Antonio and Austin, Texas. Both have extensive backgrounds in theater and literature.

Carol Farmer says, “We really love the TCA and all its activities. We are very supportive of ‘National Theatre in HD.’ It’s an amazing resource that comes right to our little town. We want it to survive and thrive.”

David Farmer explains that he and Carol Farmer often attend SOMOS events and TCA events, yet they don’t see much “crossover” of audiences at both venues.

“For ‘National Theatre [in] HD,’ our interest is to expand the audience. If they go once, they’ll come back,” Carol Farmer said. “At SOMOS and TCA, we meet so many like-minded people with similar interests and curiosities. So we talked to Deborah [McLean] and told her, ‘We’d be happy to lead a discussion before the show.’”

For fans of “The Met Live in HD” screenings at the auditorium, this model of “discussion before performance” will sound familiar since a brief lecture precedes many of the opera performances – during breakfast at the Taos Inn, no less.

But this SOMOS event is different. Firstly, the discussion takes place today (Sept. 14), not the same day as the National Theatre performance, which will be Saturday (Sept. 16). Additionally, David Farmer is clear that he is not in a professorial role; the SOMOS event will not be a lecture. “This will be a discussion; no lectern needed,” he said. “We are trying to help people understand what’s coming and to build enthusiasm for it. The quality of what is happening in the tradition of the National Theatre is high. What we’ll be seeing on the big screen is the best of the best.”

Carol Farmer explains, “This play can be enjoyed on a number of different levels. Tom Stoppard was only 28 years old when he wrote it. ‘Hamlet’ was his favorite play at the time. He wrote a play within a play. ‘Hamlet’ is heavy and not very funny except for the gravediggers’ scene. Stoppard wrote a play that is funny. The National Theatre performance is even funnier.”

David Farmer agrees. “This is a stitch,” he said. “It brings it all into contemporary times, like the character of Alfred [who cross-dresses]. We want to help folks understand it and its antecedent: Shakespeare’s most famous play.”

When asked about why the selection of SOMOS as the venue for the discussion, David Farmer replied, “It’s a natural. When I think of geography, there is the [auditorium]. Then you walk down the street [Civic Plaza Drive] to SOMOS, UNM-Taos and the Taos Public Library. It’s a corridor of culture.”

This SOMOS discussion is the first in a series of three. The Farmers are scheduled to discuss the upcoming “National Theatre in HD” performances of “Angels in America” (January 2018) and “Twelfth Night” (February 2018).

Susan Nuss of the Taos Center of the Arts will be on hand at the SOMOS discussion to sell tickets to the National Theatre performance of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” All forms of payment are accepted.