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For centuries, the theater has been a way to look at humanity from different angles. It has been a space of catharsis and creative vision. Live theater and performance art are an exchange of energy between audience and artist. Mary Austin, the founder of the Santa Fe Playhouse, saw the theater as a way to share stories of what was happening in the world around her and to start conversations within her community. Through her meaningful and miraculous work, she brought greater visibility to euro-centric audiences of the realities of South Western Native American culture as well as advocate for the conservation of the wildlife of New Mexico. Mary Austin is the reason The Playhouse is alive today and it is part of our mission is to continue her work. It is our mission to create a context in which difficult and expanding conversations can take place within a container of compassion, kindness, and empowerment.
The Santa Fe Playhouse was founded by writer and social activist Mary Austin (1868-1934). Originally called the Santa Fe Players, it held its first performance in 1919 and incorporated in 1922. Austin took her cue from the national Little Theater movement, which provided homes for intimate, progressive, and experimental works outside of the profit-driven corporate theater world. Austin was drawn to Santa Fe in 1918 by its growing reputation as a center for artists, writers, and intellectuals. She followed her close confidant, Mabel Dodge Luhan, who settled in Taos a year earlier. Austin assembled a cast of locals to present the Players’ first productions, on February 14 and May 13, 1919, in the St. Francis Auditorium at the newly constructed New Mexico Museum of Art. (The museum’s architect, John Gaw Meem, acted in at least one of these plays.) The Santa Fe Players performed in temporary venues around town, including tents at the rodeo grounds and makeshift shelters on the Plaza. Some early melodramas — still an annual tradition — were presented at an outdoor market that’s now a hotel parking lot on Old Santa Fe Trail. In 1964, the Santa Fe Players renovated an old livery stable in Barrio de Analco into a theater space. Over the years, the venue has been called many things, including Santa Fe Little Theater and Santa Fe Community Theater. In 1997, it became the Santa Fe Playhouse. One of the original signers of the 1964 lease bequeathed a generous gift to the theater in 2008, enabling the Playhouse to purchase the historic building at 142 E. De Vargas Street. The Playhouse has transformed and grown since 1922, but remained in open almost continuously. There was a wartime break in the 1940s, and a year in the 1960s where not much happened — historical research is ongoing — but as far as we know, we are the oldest, very-nearly-continuously operating theater west of the Mississippi. The Santa Fe Playhouse has been awarded Best of Santa Fe in the category of Best Theater Group by the Santa Fe Reporter every year since 2019.