You may not remember Justin Holt as a tuba player for the Cibola High School (Class of 1993) marching band, but you may recall him from the first four plays staged by the Rio Rancho Community Players: “Our Town,” “A Little Piece of Heaven” or “Almost Maine.”
If not, you’ll soon get another chance, because he has two roles in the Players’ new production, “Airport Encounters,” a 12-act play running from its sold-out April 14 premiere through three consecutive weekends, with 7:30 evening showtimes Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday matinees.
Here’s the play’s synopsis: “You never know who might run into an airport waiting area, from your long-lost crush, to an angry mother-in-law, to a man (Holt) dressed up as the airport therapy dog, to a mystery man who has been living there for months and a woman with her pet in a takeout container.”
Opening night, emceed by Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull, features a unique twist to what the Players have been doing: Patrons will be served hors d’oeuvres upon arrival and dessert at intermission. At the conclusion of the play, patrons will have the opportunity to meet the cast and take photos, along with the chance to win a raffle basket.
Hull is among celebrities of sorts Players founder and director Mel Sussman hopes to bring another dynamic to the group, “to really give it a push to show that we’re really throughout the community, that we’ve become a part and people have become involved with what we’re doing.”
The “celeb” at the April 30 matinee will be the church’s head parishioner, Fr. Alexander Lenzo.
It’s probably what audiences have come to expect from the Players, now working in a new venue, at St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2903 Cabezon Boulevard (northwest corner of Cabezon and Golf Course Road).
“There are some times when I’ve been nervous about it,” Holt said of his “career” on stage. “You’ve got to be able to expect the unexpected.”
Holt said the craft of acting has helped him in real life, and it’s become “a personal project to help build confidence, of all things.”
Now, he said, public speaking has become much easier.
In addition to playing a therapy dog, he plays a man named Sam, who has a chance meeting with another passenger, “and we kinda get to leave our partners behind.”
Melanie Ebaugh of Rio Rancho, a native of Wagon Mound in northern New Mexico, has enjoyed acting since she was 11 or 12, still relishing a role as Mrs. Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” many years ago.
“It was so fun and I was about 15 years old,” she said. “I was Señora Scrooge – it had a Spanish twist.”
Like Holt, who played her spouse in an earlier play, she has two roles in the airport, “Allie” and then “Jane,” a lady with a lot of baggage, literally and metaphorically.
“It’s hilarious,” she said.
Unlike Holt, she is the costume and makeup coordinator for all of the Players’ productions. And she has also had some experience in movies, though only in the background (“The Gamer” and “Hamlet 2” among them), with no speaking roles.
“That makes it more fun,” she said of being a regular among the Players. “This is just a hobby for me; it’s something I really enjoy doing – keeping my passion alive.”
Fun is what this is all about, she said, seemingly enjoying all the roles she’s had locally.
“I think what I like about them is how much they’ve grown since they first started,” Sussman says of the duo. “Starting with ‘Our Town,’ they had smaller pieces, and since that first opening play that we did, their roles have expanded. … They’ve really evolved into a pretty neat actor and actress, in serious roles and now in comedic roles.”
Why should folks come out to see this, Holt was asked.
“It’s going to be very casual, very contemporary. It should segue pretty good from one scene to another,” he said. “It’s a good taste of what life is like and it’s also relatively unknown at this point.”
And, of the other two dozen or so players, “It gives everybody on stage a very equal part in it, so we don’t have one person who has more lines than another.”
“This is for all ages, and I think it’ll bring some light and life to Rio Rancho,” added Ebaugh. “I think everyone’s gonna love this play – it’s funny.”
Ticket prices are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $12 for groups of six or more. With a purchase of 6 or 8 tickets, a table will be reserved for that entire group. This setting holds only 64 people per performance.
Tickets can be purchased online at the St. Francis box office from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; at Pet Food Gone Wild, 2415 Southern Blvd.; Doggie Day Care, 4035 Peggy Road; online at rr-cc.org/buy-tickets; or one hour before each performance at the St. Francis theater entrance.