@ The Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St.
 

Love Letters

By A.R. Gurney

Feb 14-Feb 14, 2005

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Andrew Ladd
Melissa Gardner
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Artists of the Week
Couple brings innovative productions to city

- By S. Derrickson Moore, Las Cruces Sun News [ Sun Life, pg. 1C February 12, 2005 ]

On Valentine's Day, Ceil and Peter Herman will make their Las Cruces acting debuts, appearing in the two-person classic, A. R. Gurney's "Love Letters."

It's an appropriate choice and perfect timing for the founders of the No Strings Theater Company and the Black Box Theatre.

"This is the fifth anniversary of the groundbreaking for the Black Box and the 38th anniversary of the day we met," said Ceil, as she and Peter sat down in the theater lobby on Wednesday to reminisce about their years together.

"We met at a biology seminar in Pittsburgh," Peter said. "Our eyes met across a crowded rom."

Ceil explained that Peter was mashing up his Styrofoam coffee cup and distracting her from a lecture by one of her heroes. She told him to cut it out. He said he was impressed by her moxie.

The rest is history ... a rather romantic and unusual history worthy of a play.

The Hermans, both 58, came to Las Cruces in 1979 and for two decades were biology professors at New Mexico State University.

Peter, a New York native, holds a Ph.D. degree in microbiology and botany. Ceil, who grew up nearby in New Jersey, has a Ph.D. in animal physiology.

Both had also shared a lifelong passion for the theater.

"After we retired, we decided that it was time to start our second life," Ceil said.

With their own funds, they built the Black Box and established the No Strings Theatre Company.

"It seemed there were always strings attached in every theater; they could only produce a certain kind of play or they had to use students if they were attached to a school;" Peter said.

"We didn't want to produce a play unless we felt passionate about it. I think we've built up an audience who want to evolve with us," Ceil said. "We have a core of about 100 people who come see anything we do and 200 to 300 serious theater people who get to most of our plays. We usually see about 800 people on a full run of any production."

The Hermans have provided a venue for everything from drama, lectures and seminars to a recent benefit for tsunami victims.

NMSU assistant professor of theatre arts and director Tom Smith feels the Hermans have had a major impact on the community in general as well as the arts in Las Cruces.

"They've really been a unifying force in the arts. In addition to their own theater, they do music events and dance events and in many ways they have been the core of the cultural community here in Las Cruces," Smith said

Actor and theater afficionado Joe Denk agrees.

"They are just incomparable in what they are doing. I think they are remarkable in their openness to taking that venue and making it available to literally every kind of community structure," Denk said. "They certainly have brought more theater here. They present more plays per year than anybody else in town and they're doing it themselves."

The Hermans have become known for their prolific productions and innovative choices.

"We've presented about 50 plays so far, about ten a year," said Peter, who handles lighting and stage production work. Ceil frequently directs.

Peter feels Las Cruces audiences are "surprisingly sophisticated. We will do a play that might offend some people if we think it's a strong play, but we won't do something just to offend."

The Hermans' division of labor is similar to their roles in drama clubs in their high school days, when Ceil was president of her Tenafly, N.J., drama club and Peter handled lights and staging with a student group in Scarsdale, N.Y

"After we met, we figured out that our paths had crossed years earlier, in 1964, when we were both in the same theater, but we didn't meet," Ceil revealed.

While they were plotting their transition from NMSU professors to theatrical impresarios, they both took drama classes at NMSU.

"We got As in acting, but we haven't had the chance to act ourselves until now," Ceil said.

Their lives now revolve around their love affair with the theater.

"We get to London ever year. On our last trip we saw 12 plays and eight films in ten days. We also support every theater in town and we read plays voraciously," Ceil said. "We really think of ourselves as non-commercial. We aren't into this for the money."

They also enjoy providing a venue for other theatrical groups and nurturing new talent.

They are happy to be celebrating their anniversary with "Love Letters,"

"Tom. Smith talked us into doing it. He said we were just the right age," Ceil said.

The Hermans are also looking forward to presenting their first "Biography Month" play festival Feb.25 to March 27, featuring three rotating performances of plays showcasing the lives of famous individuals.

Ceil will direct Vaughn Marlowe's "Doc Holliday and the Angel of Mercy" with Patrick Payne as the famed frontier doctor and William Luce's "The Belle of Amherst" with Toni Marie as poet Emily Dickinson. Mark Medoff will direct "Painting Madame X" by Bob Diven, who also stars as artist John Singer Sargent.

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