One of the best freebies in New Mexico is a tour of the nonprofit Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts in Alto. The Spencer Theater is a hub for Ruidoso entertainment. A guide takes visitors through the theater providing history and stories about the crystal lobby, the stage with special floors for dancers, and the backstage areas, including the dressing rooms and the green room. Of course, they do welcome a donation.
Broadway and Buffets
The Spencer Theater is famous for its award-winning acoustics, generous stage, plus spacious dressing area and green room. This attention to performers and the audience provides a special evening for all.
Broadway plays, dance performances, and singers from a range of genres perform at the Spencer Theater year-round with summer and winter season schedules. A recent summer season included performances by Pavlo, Kathy Mattea, Tony Orlando, an Elvis impersonator, the folk music of Lonesome Traveler, a beach party performance by Papa DooRun Run, and a Missoula Children’s Theater performance of the new Red Riding Hood.
Summer performances are preceded by a buffet in the Crystal Lobby for $25. Or have a cocktail, wine, or beer from the lobby bar as you mingle with friends before the performance or during intermission.
The dining opportunities are directed by Hospitality Manager William Wilson, who started his culinary career at the Dallas Country Club and then ventured to 560 by Wolfgang Puck – Reunion Tower. Wilson briefly moved to Maui, Hawaii, and worked at Spago Maui, a Wolfgang Puck Restaurant in the Four Seasons Resort, before joining the staff at the Spencer Theater in 2021.
The Spencer Theater’s Creative Trio
Founder Jackie Spencer‘s mission for the Spencer Theater of the Performing Arts, which continues to this day, was to enrich the lives of New Mexico’s residents and visitors by creating a year-round venue for world-class performances in theater, music, and dance with performances ranging from Broadway productions to classical, country, and jazz musical performances to ballet and modern dance.
Spencer was collaborating with Albuquerque architect Antoine Predock to design the $22 million theater when she became acquainted with glass artist Dale Chihuly at her winter home in Palm Desert. She engaged Chihuly to create blown glass installations for the Spencer Theater, which was completed in 1997.
Predock was known for his ability to incorporate his creations into their natural environment. According to the Designers & Books webpage: “The Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts represents the culmination of a search between client and architect for the convergence of the theater of landscape and the theater of performance.”
Predock wrote, “The wedge-like limestone form of the theater was to suggest a monolithic piece of stone that has forced its way up from beneath the crust of the mesa with a crystalline, chandelier-like shell of laminated glass lodged within a fissure.”
The now famous Dale Chihuly was making a name for himself when Jackie Spencer commissioned him to create art for the modern theater designed by Predock. This trio collaborated to create a national gem in New Mexico to be Jackie Spencer’s legacy for South-Central New Mexico.
No expense was spared in the construction of the theater, from the imported limestone exterior, which was quarried in Spain and finished in Italy, to planting Bradford pear trees so large they had to be placed in an enclosed courtyard by crane. Chihuly’s glass installations would now be valued at millions of dollars.
The Persians was the first Chihuly installation at the Spencer, but not the last. There are four Chihuly installations throughout the theater. In addition to The Persians, the crystal lobby includes Indian Paint Brushes, which reflect the Red Hot Poker flowers that grow along the side of the road in this area.
Three additional pieces were installed in early 2000. Glowing Sunset Tower in the lobby; Ruby Sea Garden (with a major chandelier) in the Founders Room and outdoor Loggia; and Cobalt Blue Baskets, on the second floor.
Stars at the Spencer
Perhaps vivid blown glass doesn’t blow you away. The Spencer has many other treasures. From the earliest shows, artists performing in the theater would autograph the walls in the backstage hallways. Many added drawings and artwork.
During the 24 years of Spencer theater performances, thousands of autographs in dozens of languages have been added to the walls and even the ceiling.
The first autographs included violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Dave Brubeck, and the New Mexico Symphony, who performed at the grand opening. Visitors from Southern New Mexico and West Texas would recognize autographs from the conductor and members of the El Paso Symphony. Look for stars such as Tanya Tucker, Hal Holbrook, Dolly Partin, and many other Hollywood, country, and Broadway stage stars.
Speaking of stars, the night sky is one of the stars of the theater, which was designed with 300 glass panes, each cut to a different size, so that the night sky is visible to visitors.
During daylight hours when the free tours are offered, you can enjoy the views of the landscape. The Spencer is surrounded by 74 acres of meadow flowing toward an amazing view of the Sierra Blanca Mountains, which may be snow-capped even in the summer months
Children and Education
Spencer wanted more than a performance space. She also emphasized arts education and instituted the Angel Fund to insure children in this isolated New Mexico region would have opportunities to see and participate in the arts.
School children from throughout the region attend performances at the theater and artists visit schools. Spencer created the Angel Fund to support tickets for children, seniors, and vets. Area school systems use the theater free of charge for productions during Student Performing Arts Month (April and May) and again in the fall (November and December). Young actors taking part in the Missoula Children’s Theatre, a program to involve children in performance, have performed at the Spencer.
Through the decades, the Spencer Theater of the Performing Arts has continued to pursue its mission to provide a wide range of theater, music, and dance performances.
Public tours are available Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. Call the box office to make tour reservations at 575-336-4800. For the current performance schedule and to buy tickets, go to their website. https://spencertheater.com/home
Spencer Theater Facts:
- 514 seats
- 4,770 square foot stage with 49 fly lines
- 8 miles of cable
- 456 stage lighting dimmers
- 7-1/2 stories of space
- 2 Steinway baby grand pianos
- 430 tons or 49,474 square feet of limestone quarried in Spain and finished in Italy for the exterior
- 2 doors between the stage and scene shop that weigh 2.5 tons each
- 15 years planning
- More than 1,000 tons of steel were used in the construction
- Distance from stage to the farthest seat is 67 feet
Story by Jackye Meinecke • Courtesy photos
Posted by Ruidoso.com