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Arts and Entertainment

Totah welcomes back live theater, continues music performances

‘August: Osage County’ will be the first live theater performance since Totah reopened
Theater Ensemble Arts will return to the Totah Theatre with its production of Tracy Lett’s “August: Osage County,” which opens Friday. (Courtesy Melanie Leeson)

The newly renovated Totah Theatre in downtown Farmington is open for business with events that include everything from movies and live theater to poetry readings and live music.

“We’ve tried to have one movie or one event in there each month,” said Randy West, supervisor of the Farmington Civic Center. He also manages the Totah.

Live theater returns to the venue this weekend with Theater Ensemble Arts’ performance of “August: Osage County,” by Tracy Letts, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the play in 2007.

“It is a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family in the late 2000s. Dad’s a drinker; Mom’s a pill popper,” said Joey Herring, who is directing the play. “Three daughters come home, because dad has disappeared. Every one of them comes with a secret, which are revealed during the course of the play.”

The play was selected by Theater Ensemble Arts’ script selection committee. “We read this show, and we felt like it was challenging and socially relevant. A contemporary show that really reflects our society in many ways today,” Herring said.

“In ‘August: Osage County,’ there is a pattern of dysfunction that is passed down from generation to generation and how that pattern continues on or is somehow broken plays out on stage,” Herring said, adding the cast is made up of new and seasoned actors. “It’s a great cast and an emotional play. It’s a challenge for us.”

Renovation of the theater preserved as much of the original artwork and features as possible. (Courtesy Melanie Leeson)

“August: Osage County” will be performed at Totah Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday,April 28 and 29, and at 2:30 p.m. April 30.

“We’re excited to be in the space again. We will be the first theatrical production in it since it’s been renovated,” Herring said.

“We spent several years in there producing shows,” Herring said. “We’re happy to be partnering with the city on this.”

West said the city provides a special rate for nonprofit organizations, offering 50% off the rental fee. “It’s just about the cheapest package you can get with the sound and lights,” he said of the 280-seat theater.

While Theater Ensemble Arts signed on to use the theater, The Sandstoners, a San Juan County-based Americana band, used the lobby for performances.

“The Sandstoners went in there to create a speak-easy vibe in the building,” West said.

The intimate setting of the Totah Theatre lobby created a speak-easy feel for The Sandstoners’ performances. (Courtesy The Sandstoners)

The Sandstoners have played twice in the theater’s lobby since it reopened.

“I was really impressed with the lobby. I thought it would be a good place for a small, intimate concert series,” said Mike Easterling, a member of the band.

“It’s not another night of live music,” Easterling said. “It’s different every month. We make it really interactive. We have cocktail tables almost in our lap. It’s dark. It’s intimate. I find it more easy to connect with people.”

The Sandstoners put on themed performances in the space. January’s theme centered around Elvis’ birthday, so the band learned Elvis songs and music “adjacent” to Elvis.

“We didn’t play a single Elvis song before we did this,” Easterling said.

The second show’s theme focused on Valentine’s Day and included songs of love and heartbreak. In March, the Sandstoners performed at the Farmington Civic Center and introduced the crowd to the band’s original music.

“People seem really hungry for something like this – not just another night of live music,” Easterling said. “We were trying to do a different show every time we’ve done this.”

The Sandstoners will return to the Totah Theatre lobby at 7 p.m. May 12 with “Songs of the South” – a celebration of southern songwriters.