This past year was hard on all of us. But imagine what it was like for local theater troupes. Like a lot of businesses forced to close their doors during the pandemic, these artistic organizations struggled to stay afloat. But all those actors, writers, directors and stage technicians were also deprived of their primary means of artistic expression. What’s a play without an audience to watch it?
Since 2008 Mother Road Theatre Company has been at the forefront of Albuquerque’s modern theater scene. When their final show of the 2020 season was postponed until 2021, the members of Mother Road found themselves looking for a new creative outlet. They turned to the medium of film. “Since we were without a venue and an audience, it made sense to put some work on camera to see if the company could transition to storytelling on screen,” says Mother Road founding member Vic Browder, who took on the mantle of movie director.
The result of Mother Road’s efforts, the 25-minute short “Marvelous Metamorphosis,” is the story of pioneering 17th century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian’s expedition into the Surinamese jungle. A gifted painter, Merian was the first to document the life cycle of the butterfly. Her detailed observations revolutionized the field. However, scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries dismissed the observations of a woman with no formal education. The project enchantingly intermingles film and theatrical techniques, including puppetry by Erin Langford and set paintings by Albert Rosales.
Mother Road artistic director Brennan Foster dreamed up the inspiration for the film and passed the buck to Mother Road’s resident playwright, Kelsey Ann O’Keefe. “Brennan gave me the prompt to write about a woman scientist, real or fictional, whose contributions have been overlooked. My previous writing has been based on historical figures, so I did a bit of research with that in mind. When I learned about Maria Sibylla Merian, I fell in love with her bold and remarkable spirit. I was inspired by her adventure to Suriname in 1699. At a time when it was unheard of for a woman to travel alone, across an ocean, for the purpose of scientific discovery, she followed her curiosity and passion for insects. She was not held back by the opinions of others or the constraints of society. She trusted her own judgement and intelligence. I’d love to have some of her confidence.”
With the help of a grant from the Urban Enhancement Trust Fund and the City of Albuquerque, “Marvelous Metamorphosis” was lensed during the pandemic using hand-built sets and a single actor.
“I’d have to say the biggest challenge for us was the issue of space and equipment,” says Browder. “Doug Montoya at The Box let us use the venue to set up our tent and create the environment. And just like theater, we begged and borrowed the lighting, sound and camera equipment. Having talented people around you makes for an easier process.”
“Marvelous Metamorphosis” premieres Saturday, July 3 at 1pm and 2:15pm at Nob Hill’s Guild Cinema. The screening is free of charge, with donations gratefully accepted. Reserved seating is recommended. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and the number in your party. Future screenings are being planned, along with a limited online engagement from Friday, July 9 to August, 1, accessible at both motherroad.org and guildcinema.com.