Historic figures return to the Plaza

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By Joan Irene Krohn

Spirits from the past will haunt the Plaza Hotel beginning this weekend. A multimedia video presentation capturing historic Las Vegas characters will be projected onto the windows of the hotel and visible from Plaza Park.


“The Plaza Hotel and Park seems like the perfect place for the Highlands Media Arts video project that focuses on our local history,” said Wid Slick, one of the owners of the Plaza Hotel. “The state designated Las Vegas as an arts and culture community and now it’s up to us to do something about it,” Slick added.


And “do something about it!” they did.  It’s called Almas de la Plaza, or Spirits of the Plaza.  Highlands University applied for and received a New Mexico Humanities Council grant to create a “groundbreaking public video art installation in the historic Las Vegas Plaza,” said Margaret McKinney of the University Relations Department.


The video projections that will be visible from the Plaza Park will feature some of the area’s own actors and actresses. Juan Diego Chavez, a frequently seen “romantic lead,” will play Felix Martinez. This is the same Felix Martinez who helped found Highlands and whose name is on the Student Services Building on Eighth Street. Local actress Karyl Lyne plays Ida Ilfeld, who demands, “It’s time Las Vegas has its own theater!”  Haven’t we heard this from Karyl Lyne herself? And, of course, she’s right both times.


Patrick Rucker, another local actor last seen in Arms and the Man and who directed The Quilters, makes a perfect President Teddy Roosevelt. He looks as if rough riding is his passion. Also check out Robert Woods and Faviola C de Baca. There is someone almost every Las Vegan will recognize in this production.


The Harvey girls and Big Nose Kate will make an appearance, too. Anyone remember “Las Gorras Blancas?” Don’t miss them if you can’t recall who they are. Some of us will recognize a few of these characters. But all of the historical figures are really well known, like Billy the Kid or Doc Holiday.


Robert Drummond, Highlands Video Arts professor, said, “We stayed away from the most nefarious characters.  And with the well-known people, I asked the students to dig deeper and find out new and interesting aspects of the person -- something the public might not know.”


Video Arts students like Seth Romero and Virginia Marrujo took Drummond’s advice and really did their homework. They checked for historical information on their characters at the NMHU library, on the Internet, at the Donnelly Library, with the Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation, the Rough Rider Museum and also with professors who know a lot of local history, such as Peter Linder.


Because the students knew this would be a public video performance, they wanted the information to be accurate and also interesting. Romero and Marrujo said they were both very proud of their part in this production. Virginia Marrujo is the video editor for the production. Marrujo said, “It’s getting close to the opening and I am getting so excited to see it up and running.” Seth Romero, who also acted in the video, did much of the research for historical characters.


Opening night is this Saturday, Dec. 13, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Park. “The video art project features monologues from local actors depicting 24 Las Vegas area historical figures,” said Margaret McKinney.  New Mexico became a U.S. territory in 1846. From that year until the time of New Mexico’s statehood in 1912 was the era of some of New Mexico’s greatest characters who are featured in the presentation.  This kind of production prepares us for the upcoming centennial in 2012 of New Mexico’s statehood, said McKinney.


Professor Drummond, a Los Angeles-based video performance and installation artist, has his “Design Projects for the Community” class putting together this public video art project. Drummond joined the Highlands Media Arts faculty in January of 2008. He has a website that displays some of his other video art installations in Los Angeles and in Virginia Beach.


Drummond said, “We’re grateful to our sponsors from the Plaza Hotel, the Chamber of Commerce and our University. The Las Vegas Citizens for Historic Preservation was a helpful resource along with   Roy Montibon at MainStreet Las Vegas. The project brings together interdisciplinary talent from different departments on campus and that’s phenomenal.  Peter Linder was an adviser, and theater professor Robert Woods is also assisting us.”


“New Mexico itself provides spiritual, historical, cultural and aesthetic qualities that inspire a video art project like this,” Drummond said.


Almas de la Plaza — Spirits of the Plaza will be viewable  throughout December and January during evenings.  Opening night is this Saturday, Dec. 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Park.


For more information, call Margaret McKinney of the New Mexico Highlands University Relations Office at 454-3458.