Masked due to the pandemic, the Rio Rancho Youth Chorus performed at Shop Small Saturday last November in Enchanted Hills. (Gary Herron/Observer)



Do you think your child can sing? Does your child think he or she can sing?

Neal Shotwell says she doesn’t care. She had been the volunteer executive director, and had always been looking for new voices for the choruses she leads.

Aaron Howe, who had served as the founding artistic director of the RRYC since 2013, was recently named to be the executive director, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Shotwell.

You’ve probably seen or heard the Rio Rancho Youth Chorus by now. And Shotwell wants to create another chorus for younger kids, namely those in grades K-6.

Shotwell’s melding of the choruses, the Rio Rancho Players and The Squeaky Shoe Project came together in what she calls Rio Rancho Creative Crossroads, of which she serves as board president.

As of July 1, Howe will be the busier of the two. In addition to working with RRYC for nine years, Howe has been the artistic director of the New Mexico Gay Men’s Chorus since 2010 and artistic director of The Zia Singers in Santa Fe since 2016. He’s also been the chorus master for Opera Southwest since 2018. He serves on the board of directors for Musical Theatre Southwest and teaches voice at the Albuquerque Academy Summer Program.Growing the arts in the City of Vision has been Shotwell’s main goal, and it’s certainly an admirable one for this nonprofit.

Shotwell and her husband moved to Rio Rancho from Long Island in 1994 because of what she termed “economy of scale.”

She founded RRYC in 2013 after, “I noticed not too many artistic opportunities, community arts programs.” The group began with just nine singers.

Since then, the collaborative has been growing – admittedly slowed a bit, like so many other community activities, by the pandemic – with Shotwell all set to soon add that chorus for elementary school students.

Here are the pieces in the Creative Crossroads:

  • Rio Rancho Players received quite a bit of attention in May, thanks to their 13 presentations of “A Little Piece of Heaven” at the Avix Art Performance Theater, 4311 Sara Road (east of NM 528). Mel Sussman founded that group and directed the play.

Rio Rancho Players is the city’s only all-ages community theatre group, free to join and made up of people of a wide range of ages in a variety of roles — actors, crew, set designers, costumers, makeup artists, etc. The group meets July 23 at noon at the Avix building and invites new members to drop in.

  • Rio Rancho Youth Chorus (RRYC) is made up of middle school and high school kids, and has had numerous appearances, including performances at Sunday is Funday, and the singing of the national anthem before a Rio Rancho Runners indoor soccer game, before a New Mexico United soccer game and prior to an Albuquerque Isotopes’ baseball game.

Parents interested in learning more about the chorales should mark Aug. 27 on their calendars. Shotwell, RRCC’s volunteer executive director, is having a meet-and-greet event at the Avix Art building.

Those interested in the new chorus should be there between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. The older kids’ open house is from 2:30-3:30. Shotwell said that group once had as many as 40 members, but “COVID decimated us,” and the number of voices is now about a dozen.

She’s hoping for 20-30 voices in each choir, but, “I would take a thousand,” Shotwell said. “There are no barriers, it’s all-inclusive.”

No experience is necessary and there are no auditions. Memberships cost $100 per season, and that includes two shows each season, Shotwell said.

In addition to making new friends and singing in a group for likely the first time, Shotwell said youngsters often come to the rehearsals lacking confidence, “scared and some in tears,” but by the 10th week, she’ll see them auditioning for solos.

“Every kid will do it, even if they’re terrified. … You would be shocked at what these kids do,” she said. “They come so shy, but they’re so confident at the end of one season.”

Along the way to gaining confidence, she said, are the helpful older members of RRYC, who “help manage the younger kids – and there is no negative behavior.”

  • The Squeaky Shoe Project is part of GenerARTistry, and directs proceeds from RRBCC projects into shoes for needy children. Children’s book author Debbie Coston wrote a book about Stanley and his shoes, and used the proceeds from a local sale to purchase and deliver 14 pairs of shoes for kids at Colinas del Norte Elementary.

For more information, check out the RRCC Facebook page or send an email to [email protected].

Is acting in your future? Here’s the ‘Maine’ idea

The second season is about to arrive for the Rio Rancho Players Community Theatre Group.

Following its successful initial season, the group kicks off its new season on Saturday, July 23, with a new membership/pre-audition meeting. The meeting will be held from 12-1:30 p.m. at the Avix Performance Center, 4311 Sara Road.

Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the various ways they can participate either in front of or behind the curtain. Committee chairpersons will give brief presentations and prospective members can meet with them and learn more about the different opportunities.

The group’s first production of the new season will be presented.

“Almost, Maine,” the John Cariani off-Broadway hit, will be explained and pre-audition scripts will be available for those who are interested in trying out for a role in the play.

The cast needs 12 males and 12 females ages 17-50. Auditions will be held on Saturday, Aug. 6, from 12-3:30 in the theater.

“Almost, Maine” will have a 3-weekend, 9-performance run starting in late October.

For additional information, contact Mel Sussman ([email protected]).