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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

Selected Shorts Tours the Far West: Part 1 of 3

Published on November 4, 2009

“Oh give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above
Don’t Fence Me In…”

This was one of the tunes incorporated in the post-intermission interactive audience-participation Singalong Quiz that was part of each stop on our recently completed tour of Western and Southwestern cities where Selected Shorts is popular on the local public radio stations, and where fans are delighted to attend a live performance of their favorite radio show.  Let me tell you a little about our touring visits to Santa Fe, New Mexico; Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Whitefish, Montana; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Now, why, you may ask, is a theatre located on Broadway and 95th Street in Manhattan sending its actors across the wide Missouri and the Rocky Mountains to read short stories to people who can just as easily hear them on the radio—-and do!–? Well, for several reasons: it’s a way of earning a little money to help stave off the budget deficit at 95th Street and Broadway; it’s a way of showing the Symphony Space flag in distant regions and winning new friends; it’s a way of enjoying face-to-face contact with the thousands of radio fans who flock to our touring venues—often driving many many miles—to see what their favorite radio show looks like in person; but mostly, it’s a way of bringing our literary creations to a wide American audience.

Trip #1: New Mexico and Texas
Associate Producer Jennifer Brennan, who splits our touring assignments with Kathy Minton, meet up at the Delta terminal at JFK for the flight to Albuquerque, with a change of planes in Minneapolis.  We should have known that this wasn’t going to be a perfect day when the pilot announced, just after pulling away from the gate and onto the taxiway, “We have a little mechanical problem, folks, and we’ll have to return to the gate so they can fix it.  We hope it won’t take too long, and then we’ll be on our way to Minneapolis.”

The problem that has Jenny and me worried was that there isn’t too much leeway in our time between flights, and we didn’t want to miss the flight to Albuquerque (you know, there are not too many place names with two “q”s in them). Eventually the mechanical problem is fixed and we are airborne, but it is going to be very close.  A lot depends on whether the departure gate for our connecting flight is not too far from our arrival gate.

No such luck.  We learn that our departure gate is at the exact opposite end of the sprawling Twin Cities airport! We make a run for it, down endless miles of corridors, detours, and moving walkways, and arrive breathless at the gate—only to be told that this new plane is having mechanical troubles as well and that it will take some time.  We have coffee and catch our breaths until the p.a. system announces after a long while that we must return to the gate we just came from, and better hurry! We once again traverse the whole prairie-wide Delta hub and just make it onto the very same plane and same seats we had vacated.

The flight to Albuquerque is uneventful and there we pick up our rental car, and with the late afternoon sun turning the high desert landscape spectacular colors, we make the 65 mile drive up to Santa Fe.  A long day of travel just to read folks a couple of stories, but hey, who’s complaining?

Our Santa Fe Shorts is a tribute to the late Santa Fe detective mystery writer Tony Hillerman. Joining me in reading Hillerman stories are Kate Burton, our regular Shorts star, who has flown over from Hollywood, where she now lives, and has had an uneventful flight with no need to change in Minneapolis, and the Santa Fe native Wes Studie, who played the role of the Navajo police inspector in the PBS movies based on Hillerman’s tales of crime on the reservations.

The venue for Selected Shorts is the beautiful Lenzic Theatre, a former vaudeville house now elegantly restored, a little jewel of a Symph clone, on the main street of Santa Fe, amid the jewelry and craft shops and art galleries.  I learn that Santa Fe is now a major retirement community for affluent Los Angelenos, despite the fact (new to me: travel is so broadening!) that the elevation (it’s higher than Denver!) makes breathing more difficult for some retirees, which accounts for the oxygen carts being wheeled in by some audience members.

The audience includes Tony Hillerman’s widow and grown children who are so happy to hear his stuff performed by good actors and are very full of praise for the readings.  What is rather unusual about this audience in Santa Fe is that they are mostly NOT radio listening fans of Shorts, though a few expatriate New Yorkers and Californians say they’ve heard the show.  The reason is that Selected Shorts is not on the air in Santa Fe.  But at the post-performance reception in a nearby art gallery, I meet the head of the local public radio station and she hugs me and tells me how much she enjoyed the evening and says she will now contact our radio distributor, PRI, and sign up to carry the show from now on. (Memo to Kathy Minton: Let’s remember to follow up on this with PRI.)  There, you see?  Another benefit of touring: adding a whole new regional radio audience to our fan base.

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