No matter how many years I’ve been in Albuquerque, it’s the happenstance that gets to me.

Over ten years ago, while waiting for a shuttle bus at the UNM South Lot, I struck up a conversation with a woman standing next to me. As we chatted, we discovered that we’d been corresponding with each other on a UNM issue over e-mail for the past month, but had never met face to face.

Happenstance.

We laughed, and soon our conversation shifted to our kids and challenges of being working mothers. One thing led to another, and we pulled out pictures to share. It turned out that both our sons were fast friends enrolled in the same karate class, and that we had missed each other numerous times due to working different parenting shifts.

Happenstance.

A few months later, we bump into each other again at the South Lot shuttle stop. She tells me that her son is rehearsing in a community play, and they are looking for African-American actors since it is an August Wilson play, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. I tell my then-partner, who once did some acting in LA, he takes the part, and things fall into place. Naturally, the production company putting on the play, Omnirootz, lives down the street from us in Barelas.

Happenstance.

One thing leads to another and at some point Out ch'Yonda is born.

So we get pulled into the world of community theater and live performance art that is Out ch’Yonda Live Artz Studio through happenstance of ethnicity and proximity, and leave our mark on this incredible community - by making sure that most of the performances are interpreted into American Sign Language, by giving time and money, by racing home to grab some organic local honey to serve with tea during intermission or by loaning a wrought iron window screen to serve as a prop.

Out ch’Yonda becomes part of the fabric of our daily lives.

Our kids grow up with the idea that it is perfectly normal to know how to break down a set in minutes, to figure out lighting for sign language interpreters and seating for deaf audience members, to cling to Dad’s leg like a leech while he’s blocking lines, to see our furniture castoffs and old clothing come to life again in community productions, and share food, tools, and toys with others at the community art space.

As they grow older, they become practiced at running the gauntlet of come-ons from the fundamentalist church that sits between our house and ‘the space’, letting the sincere invitations to come in for a service or an event roll off their backs like water off a duck’s back. Out ch'Yonda pulls in the whole family to help with productions in a variety of ways, from acting to lighting to babysitting to moving furniture.

Some months and years are Out ch'Yonda intensive, with each family member taking part in various productions; some times are more mellow, with our contribution limited to checking out a show or dropping off a donation.

As the years march on, our time commitments shift to other activities, but Out ch'Yonda is always there in the background and often taken for granted, just like the old dog sleeping on the hearth.

And then, one day, we get word that Out ch’Yonda Live Arts Studio is closing its doors.

Soon.

In June.

Years flash past – memories of community Kwanzaa celebrations, White History Week, Black Market weekends, the plays of August Wilson and Harlem renaissance playwrights, poetry readings and open mike nights, children’s acting workshops, flamenco and yoga and writing classes and workshops – all come to a close.

Several reasons are given: from getting tired (a lament shared by the Donkey Gallery up the street) to a lack of money, to gearing up for a different transition, to dodging the encroaching specter of gentrification.

Out-chYonda hasn’t been without its controversies (loud music, controversial plays a la Rachel Corrie, self-segregation, and less than welcoming attitudes toward other arts venues) and some folks in the neighborhood may be happy to see it go. But I, for one, feel a loss.

Thanks for the happenins’ and the happenstance, Out ch'Yonda.

(If you want to catch the last gasps of a good thing, a few final events are taking place before it all shuts down at the end of June. Call 385-5364 for more information.)

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Tags: Out_ch'Yonda, art, barelas, community, theater

Comment by Gene on June 16, 2008 at 4:58pm
I am so grateful for this post. An absolutely perfect tribute to the kind of magic that could ONLY happen there. The memories will be long and cherished.

That Stefanie and Virginia carried themselves beholden to no one (or others sensibilities) spoke volumes about being not only artists, but people.

There was a lesson here. A big one. It was not always easy to appreciate, but they leave behind a very important legacy for how African Americans engage this community. And vice versa.

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