History + Entertainment = The Lensic, A Santa Fe Jewel

In the Beginning

I always love when a visitor asks me about the Lensic Performing Arts Center. I start by explaining that the Lensic Theater—as it was originally called—was built in 1931, and that it is more than a theater to the people of Santa Fe. For many, the Lensic balcony was the place for sneaking that first kiss. It was a grand silver screen in the midst of the Depression and a vaudeville venue featuring the singers, actors, dancers, and comedians of the day. Most of all it was a place to escape and be entertained.

Not only did the locals love the Lensic but stars like Claudette Colbert, Judy Garland, Roy Rogers, Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, Olivia de Haviland, Trapp Family Singers are just some of the acts that performed or attended this historic theater. Do you have stars in your eyes, yet?

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The Lensic Theater celebrated its Grand Opening in 1931. (Courtesy of Palace of the Governors Photo Archives. Lensic Theater, San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico Negative 050969)
The Lensic Theater celebrated its Grand Opening in 1931. (Courtesy of Palace of the Governors Photo Archives. Lensic Theater, San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico Negative 050969)

World Class Performing Arts Center Is Born

In the go-go eighties, the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Duvall, Sam Peckinpah, Lillian Gish, Ginger Rogers, Ray Bolger and Gene Kelly attended the Lensic via the Santa Fe Film Festival.

By the late 1990s, however, the theater had fallen on hard times. Despite one-of-a-kind architecture and seating for more than 800 people, the Lensic was in danger of becoming an empty house. This grand Dame was not ready for the final act, in 1999, a vision for a world-class performing arts center was born. A new chapter in the venerated theater’s life was born. Enter Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, members of a distinguished real estate family in New York. They moved to Santa Fe in the 1980s and were among the first to understand the potential of the Lensic as a performing arts center. Determined to provide the city with such a venue, they returned to the vision of a dramatic showplace for Santa Fe.

In 2001, the Lensic Theater once again opened its doors to the people of Santa Fe, now as the non-profit Lensic Performing Arts Center. It’s a place where magic happens—more than 200 nights a year. Despite the Lensic being eighty-four years old, it still pulses with the vibrancy of youth.

The pseudo-Moorish, Spanish Renaissance Lensic was built by Nathan Salmon and E. John Greer (Courtesy of Lensic Performing Arts Center)
The pseudo-Moorish, Spanish Renaissance Lensic was built by Nathan Salmon and E. John Greer (Courtesy of Lensic Performing Arts Center)

Let Me Introduce You To

Now that you know the star-studded and dynamic history of the Lensic, let me tell you about the amazing performance you can enjoy in this Santa Fe jewel.

Lensic Presents is an original series that brings innovative and inspiring performances to Santa Fe curated by the Lensic. From Cassandra Wilson and Derek Jacobi to Body Traffic and the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, or from the Flying Karamazov Brothers to Santa Fe’s own Circus Luminous, the Lensic has brought and showcased artists from around the world and to the Lensic stage—with tickets at every price level.

Here are four upcoming diverse offerings that I recommend: Twyla Tharp, Wynton Marsallis, Cumbia All Stars and Gene Kelly; The Legacy.

On September 22, Twyla Tharps 50th Anniversary comes to the Lensic. John Zorn provides the show’s vibrant introductory fanfare. Radiating with Tharp’s generous spirit and humanity, the dance is set to Johann Sebastian Bach.

Spend an evening enjoying new work by Tony Award–winning choreographer and Kennedy Center Honoree Twyla Tharp.
Spend an evening enjoying new work by Tony Award–winning choreographer and Kennedy Center Honoree Twyla Tharp.

If you’re a jazz lover you won’t want to miss the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) with Wynton Marsalis on September 29. JLCO is comprised of 15 of the finest jazz soloists and ensemble players of today, and has been the resident orchestra since 1988.

Hear Winston Marsalis live on stage. (Courtesy of Eric Delmar)
Hear Wynton Marsalis live on stage. (Courtesy of Eric Delmar)

The Cumbia All Stars land at the Lensic on October 12 at 7:00 pm. This all-star band from Lima features the legends of Peruvian cumbia, musicians who pioneered the popular style in the ’60s and ’70s. They’ve reunited to have fun and make music—think Buena Vista Social Club, but with surf-rock guitars and a touch of psychedelia.

 The Cumbia All Stars invite you to Latin music dance party on Santa Fe on October 12!
The Cumbia All Stars invite you to Latin music dance party on Santa Fe on October 12!

In a unique one-woman show, Patricia Ward Kelly—his wife and biographer—gives us the story of Gene Kelly. Taking audiences behind the scenes, she presents an intimate portrait of this innovative artist who gave us such iconic works as An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain. Using brilliant film clips, previously unreleased audio recordings, personal keepsakes, and stories he shared with her over their decade together.

This loving, lively, lyrical tribute to the actor should not be missed!
This loving, lively, lyrical tribute to the actor should not be missed!

Make Your Debut in Santa Fe

There’s no excuse now not to visit and immerse yourself in history and entertainment. The Lensic is just one of the many performing arts institutions in the City Different. The Lensic and beautiful Santa Fe stand the test of time and await your visit! Visit us for more things to do to round out your stay! Did I forget to ask you if you’ve ordered your 2015 Official Santa Fe Visitors Guide, yet?

One thought to “History + Entertainment = The Lensic, A Santa Fe Jewel”

  1. Great article! Also on the calendar is Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra in concert on October 8. All proceeds will benefit Fight Colorectal Cancer, an advocacy group with which I became involved after my battle with stage IV colon cancer. Would love to have you promote this event as well – you’re welcome to email me for more details, both about the organization and about this event. Tickets are on sale at the Lensic as of 12:01 a.m. today!!!

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