All-faculty cast a first

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

What started as a modest undertaking among a handful of Eastern New Mexico University faculty has evolved into a full-fledged drama production.

“And The Winner Is …” opens at 7 p.m. Saturday at Buchanan Hall of the Music Building. The first all-faculty production throws together a cast of characters that many in the community will know.

The proceeds from the play will go to the ENMU Scholarship Fund and to the renovation of the Yam Theatre in downtown Portales, which is envisioned as a gathering place for events such as community theatre.

“This is an amazing assemblage of varied personalities,” said cast member Don “Doc” Elder, professor of history. “I’ve known these people professionally for years, but here you get a chance to know a totally different side of them.”

Bob Vartabedian, vice president of academic affairs at ENMU knew he wanted to put together a faculty drama, but in his mind it was going to be a small show without much set or technical design and probably a small cast.

“It just kind of evolved,” Vartabedian said. “I got to know (English professor) Tony Oldknow, who has a very distinctive English accent, and I thought it would be very interesting to do something with him.”

Vartabedian talked the idea up around his coworkers and figured he had a half dozen people who were serious about the idea, so he began looking for a play to do. That process he describes as sort of a computer dating effort. He went to a theatre Web site that lets searchers type in parameters and it sends back matches.

He knew he wanted a comedy that was new and was looking for something with six actors age 45-60. Mitch Albom’s “And The Winner Is …” was a match.

Vartabedian said things were still pretty simple until KENW’s Mickey Morgan got involved. Special effects were added and soon the production had more than 100 light cues and an equal number of sound cues. He said they’ve made the play more entertaining, though.

Vartabedian has high praise for his cast and crew, who he said have put in hundreds of hours on the production. He said half of the cast has quite a bit of acting experience, while others have little or no thespian background.

“They all have interesting voices and interesting faces and I think they’re doing a good job,” Vartabedian said.

Oldknow, who was born in England, plays the lead of Tyler, an actor who dies the day before he’s to receive his first Oscar.

For Oldknow the acting experience was there, it just hadn’t been used in a few decades. For others like Don Criss of KENW and Tomas Tamayo, an associate professor of dance, acting has been a lifelong experience.

Criss has appeared in numerous plays at ENMU over the years and is a part of a Chautauqua network, which has him appearing regularly. Tamayo, the only cast member who teaches the stage arts, toured nationally as the Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”

On the other side of the coin, Elder said he hasn’t been on stage since eighth grade. Other cast members Patrice Caldwell and Mary Ayala claim no on-stage theatre experience but Vartabedian said its hard to tell.

“Nothing is more fun and challenging than live theatre and I love it,” Criss said.

He said he immediately embraced the idea of bringing faculty together for the benefit performance.

“I thought it was a good idea,” Criss said. “There’s always a lot of talented people at a university. This gives them a good opportunity to use those talents.”

Others making cameo appearances in the play are ENMU staff member Jane Liu, Greyhound football coach Mark Ribaudo and ENMU Regent Marshall Stinnett.

At a glance:

What: “And the Winner Is…”
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Buchanan Hall, Music Building, Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.
Tickets: $10 general admission or $5 for students.
Information: 562-2253