Extreme Home Makeover: Theater Edition

The mother-son duo of Elvia Martinez-Montez and Rockcliffe Montez share more than genes — they share a love of theater and the paranormal … but that’s a different story. Like a modern-day super-twosome, by day Elvia and Rockcliffe write original plays to be performed at their theater, the Old San Antonio Playhouse, and by night they alternate as members of the Playhouse’s Red Curtain Dinner Theatre Troupe and founders of the Ghost Seekers of Texas. All in a day’s work for the two, who find little time to do anything besides dedicate themselves to their current ventures.

Ghost Seekers is the more established of the two projects. The Old San Antonio Playhouse — which has existed for nearly 10 years — has yet to break through in the SA theater scene. “We’re out of the box, we’re out of the theater loop, per se, and we’re very okay with that,” says Rockcliffe.

Housed in a two-story rental located on the cusp of downtown and Southtown, the Old San Antonio Playhouse is not your conventional theater. The playing area recalls old-school memories of performing in front of your family during the holidays — with a 4-by-10 (8-inch high) stage created from two converged rooms. “We kind of figured it doesn’t really matter what size … it’s all on how you present it,” says Rockcliffe. “Especially the way we do our type of theater — it’s very in-your-face, it’s very interactive, and the audience is very much a part of it.” The performances include comedies centered on Elvis and holiday-themed shows. They also plan to incorporate vaudeville into their work.

Thanks to Elvia, the family was raised on a healthy diet of Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers, and Woody Allen — a sure-shot way to get your children thematically inclined. “What’s a better theatrical upbringing than three Jewish `comic acts`?” asks Rockcliffe. They used their appreciation for the comedic greats to their advantage. The Playhouse’s players — comprised mostly of family members — is a pretty impressive improv troupe. “I see our troupe like SNL versus Johnny Carson, where it’s very off-the-wall and it’s very fun,” says Rockcliffe. “It appeals to a broader range.”

Another performance-theater favorite is old-time melodrama, something that Elvia and Rockcliffe want to bring to their performance space. Elvia credits the success of the Melodrama Theatre, which was located caddy-corner to the Old San Antonio Playhouses’s current location. She and Rockcliffe don’t want to model their performances after that theater — they want to bring their own signature style to the scene. “I think we want to not so much copy or replace the old melodrama, we just want to bring that feel and that type of theater back to audiences that really enjoy it,” says Rockcliffe.

Not one performance is ever the same, and Rockcliffe and Elvia are pleased by that. “From one week to the next things are already changing, growing, and morphing,” says Rockcliffe. “It’s a live-and-learn thing. We learn from our performances.”

The Playhouse marked its October opening with Elvis vs. the Undead and intends to do full-fledged melodramas throughout November and December, such as How the Chupacabra Stole Christmas — expect plenty of popcorn throwing to go down with that show and a mid-December production of Elvis’ Rockin’ Christmas Party. Slated for a January opening is Elvis’ Nightmare in Vegas — here’s what to expect: Elvis gets booked with Robert Goulet on the same stage at the same time and, of course, hilarity ensues.

Rockcliffe and Elvia would like to build up their space on Martinez Street, and, in the very near future do a dessert theater. They also have plans to utilize their back patio as a swing-dance floor and a Marx Brothers Film Fest site, among other things. This unique addition to San Anto’s growing theater scene is one more venue to compete against — hopefully local theaters are prepared for the challenge.

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