Spotlight: Cristina Duarte

Santa Fe University of Art and Design theatre department, chair, Cristina Duarte. Photo by Jason Stilgebouer

As the semester comes to an end, Jackalope sits down with Cristina Duarte, the lead faculty for the Performing Arts Department, to talk about the education of the remaining students in her department. Duarte is a director, actor, teacher and former artistic director of the Santa Fe Playhouse. Originally from New York City, she is an alumnus and longtime teacher of acting technique at the Stella Adler Conservatory. She has studied and collaborated with master teachers Stella Adler, Elaine Stritch, Gene Saks, Alan Arkin, Jon Jory, David Shiner and Bob Krakower, as well as theater professionals such as Marci Phillips, James Calleri, Stuart Howard, Alaine Alldaffer and David Caparelliotis. She continues to work as a professional actor and has appeared in several independent and commercial films as well as television, with reoccurring roles on Law and Order, One Life to Live, All My Children and a nine-year run on Saturday Night Live as a supporting cast member. For a short period, she performed stand-up at many New York comedy clubs including: Caroline’s, The Comic Strip, Gotham and Stand-Up NY. Duarte has been teaching acting and directing for 20 years.



What brought you here to Santa Fe?

Cristina Duarte: I moved here in June of 2014, actually the same time as former chair Laura Fine Hawkes. I started working at Northern New Mexico College and I also then worked at the Santa Fe Playhouse as the artistic director for a year before deciding not to renew my contract. Then I came here, someone that I previously worked with recommended me to Laura, and interviewed with her and Jon Jory and they liked me. So I began directing here. I directed Stage Kiss, then started teaching and here we are about three years later.


Were your sights always set on teaching here at SFUAD?

CD: When I moved here initially, I always thought, ‘oh I would love to work there’, and in the beginning it didn’t go exactly like that but I think that every step that I have taken here in Santa Fe led me here.


The school is closing in 2018, was that ever a deterrent to stay?

CD: I mean I could have done anything I wanted but Laura wanted me to stay and I did want stay. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and it is important to me. I think teaching for me is my calling. I’ve been an actor and director a well. But I did really want to stay. I think sometimes the universe sets you up not just to do things for yourself but to also do things for others. So sometimes you are in a situation just to serve, but I think in the long run that kind of works out, and that I will go where I need to go when it’s time. But I’m very happy to be here and I’m having a great time with the students. We are doing the best we can, having fun while still continuing to learn and do the best work that we can.


How have you had to adapt the curriculum if at all?

CD: We are now focusing more on acting whereas before there was focus on acting, design, lighting, technical. We just had more students and much more that we don’t have now; we don’t even have our main stage. So we are using not just our smaller spaces, but also any space that we can fill up with energy, and focusing much more on the acting. But what has happened to our benefit is that because it is just a small group of us, there is more opportunity for students like Tristan Pullen and Audrey Clarke that get to direct their own pieces and invite outside audiences in to watch. So that is a bonus. It’s a challenge technically but in real life, theater is not easy to pull off. It costs a lot of money, you won’t always have a beautiful 500-seat theater, so you have to work with the spaces and materials that you have. In a way, it’s a learning experience to be imaginative and creative.


Has the intimacy of the department changed the atmosphere?

CD: We always have had small classes, and definitely next semester it will be different, but there has always been a one-on-one atmosphere. We are still doing shows, but I’m picking shows that use the students that we have. So like right now we are working on the last show of the semester that I am actually directing, which is our Christmas show The Semi-Amazing, Sort of Sensational, Almost Unbelievable Christmas Spectacular! written by Jon Jory, which runs Dec. 7-10. We had a musical, which was hosted by the playhouse and then we had students write their own ten-minute plays. So we still have very much to keep us busy.