Patsy Cline (played by Kelly McDaniel) corresponded with fan Louise Seger (played by Yo Younger) after meeting her in 1961 until her death in 1963.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY DESERT THEATREWORKS
Singer Patsy Cline was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1962, but her music has outlived her for nearly 60 years. Her 1961 song in particular, Crazy, has been recognized by generations who likely know nothing about the singer.
That was one reason why Lance Phillips-Martinez, the artistic director at Desert TheatreWorks, chose the 1988 musical, Always … Patsy Cline, to open the theater groups’ 2022 season at the India Performing Arts Center. The play opened last weekend and runs through Feb. 6.
“What I'm fascinated by, she was only 30 years old when she died, but she has made such an impact ,” says Phillips-Martinez. “The play has Patsy's music, but it tells the story of her friendship with Louise Seger, which is a true story. We've presented it much more as this dramatic and beautiful story of friendship as a play. If you took all the music out, it would still work. The music is just peppering and making it better.”
The storyline focuses on Cline meeting Seger, a fan from Houston, at a Texas honky-tonk in 1961, and their continued correspondence until Cline’s untimely death. “Besides making such an impact in music, the story shows how human Patsy Cline was,” says Phillips-Martinez . “She wasn’t a star in a way people think of stars. She was not elitist or anything like that.”
“Right now, we really need that positive message in any way we can,” adds Phillip-Martinez. “I find that the audience will connect with the music, the story, and the way that we're telling it.”
Desert TheatreWorks’ Covid protocols included limiting capacity to 150 viewers with plenty of space for social distancing. Patrons also need to show proof of vaccination and wear face coverings while in the theater. Staff, performers, musicians, and volunteers will also wear N95 masks.
Palm Springs Life further chatted with Phillips-Martinez about Desert TheatreWorks and why Always… Patsy Cline was important to include in the 2022 season.
When did you decide that it is time to form Desert Theatreworks? What were the reasons?
It happened quite by accident. I was directing at College of the Desert (COD) and for several of the schools in Palm Springs Unified School District. I had also worked at the Indio Performing Arts Center as the artistic director. I was presenting the kind of theater I knew would work out in Indio, but the board didn't quite understand, so I left after a very short time.
I still had this great season. A friend of mine who also worked at Indio Performing Arts Center and COD said the Joslyn Center is looking for someone in Palm Desert to take over their space as the resident theater company. I met with them, they had heard about my work and what I did. That's how Desert Theatreworks was born. It wasn't quite a plan. It was an opportunity.
I took the season that I initially presented for the Indio Performing Arts Center, put it up for Desert Theatreworks. We did incredibly well for our very first season. From then on, the trajectory was just upward. We outgrew the space within four years and then we moved over to the current location, in the Indio Performing Arts Center.
How long have you been at the Indio Performing Arts Center? How critical was finding that venue to extending the future of Desert Theatreworks?
It was crucial. Venues are hard to come by out in the desert unless you create your own. This was a great opportunity. I had always had a very good relationship with the city of Indio when I was with the former Indio Performing Arts Center board. I had a good relationship with the city and they knew my quality of work. That made it easier to come in and start managing the space because I had previous relationship with them. When things don't work out previously, there's sometimes a lot of skepticism.
I'm sure there were skeptics wondering if there could even be theater, if there could be theater in Indio and would people come. We've been here since 2017 in this building. We were at the Joslyn Center for about four years from 2013. Since 2017, sales have just gone upward. Our demographic has grown from just senior clientele to all the way as young as 6 years old coming to see our shows.
Our very successful KidsWorks kids camp and KidsWorks outreach programs that focus on education, have introduced a lot of families to theater that wouldn't normally be exposed to it. We're growing our audience every year and pre-pandemic, we were having our best numbers. We were sold out every performance for our last three productions before we closed because of the mandatory shutdown.
Why was it important to include this Patsy Cline play in your 2022 season?
We have staged the show very carefully with lighting, sound, and projections and all those great things that can add to the wonderful elements of theater. The performances are outstanding and it's a lot less of a tribute show. It is not even a jukebox musical. Although it has all of her songs it is a play with music that is so moving and touching.
Do you expect to bring back your KidsWorks and Artworks programs this year?
Yes, we do. As long as things don't change pandemic wise, we are planning for an April, May target of rolling out our KidsWorks and ArtWorks programs for the spring. If things change, we'll postpone to the following year. Hopefully, fingers crossed, that we can go as planned.
What is the best part of local theater to you?
The local theater scene is so dedicated here in the Coachella Valley. There are so many theater companies. Not to mention, that there are so many educational school programs in the public schools and private schools that have theater. There is lots of diversity in the types of theater companies that we have here in the valley. There's something for everyone, but the theater community at large is a thriving thing. We all know each other, and we are all supportive of each other.
• READ NEXT: A Synopsis of the 2022 Coachella Valley Theater Season.