top of page

The Full Story:
A Short History of the Vortex Theatre


The Vortex has operated continuously since 1976 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation.  Over its forty-eight years, the theatre has created over 500 different productions—averaging 10-11 plays per year—in its intimate black-box facility in Albuquerque. The plays have ranged from Greek and Shakespearean classics to the great works of the modern theatre and original plays written by New Mexico playwrights.


The Vortex Theatre opened its doors in November 1976 with a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  The theatre was originally a converted warehouse located on an alley between Vassar and Girard, just south of Central Avenue in the UNM area.  The audience at that inaugural production sat on hastily built benches and floor pillows around a pile of dirt that was used to stage Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece arena-style.


In the months that followed, the theatre produced a feminist review, one-act plays by Pirandello and Chekhov, and a wacky version of Aristophanes The Birds.  In its sixth month, the theatre had its first bona-fide hit, Peter Weiss’s revolutionary Marat/Sade.  Suddenly, crowds of people were standing in the alley trying to get admission to the new theatre. 


In the rest of its first two years, The Vortex staged plays by Eugene O’Neill, Eugene Ionesco, Peter Handke, Fernando Arrabal, Neil Simon, Albuquerque’s own Preston Jones, and Woody Allen.  The rhythm of those months was relentless:  a different show each month with no months off for vacation, the theatre rearranged into a new configuration for each show, and a bank account that managed to keep its head above water.


After two years, none of the original founders—David Richard Jones, Joe Toulouse, and Ron Guillemette—remained on the theatre’s board.  Several generations of theatre managers and board members came and went.  In 1978, the theatre moved to a new location on Buena Vista SE.  The fire marshal threatened on more than one occasion.  Audiences waxed and waned. 


But always the theatre kept its commitment to doing the best and most interesting plays it could find:  classics, moderns, plays fresh from success in New York, new works by local writers, experimental texts from around the world.  With its volunteer staff and unpaid casts and crews, the theatre managed to mount over 300 productions in 38 years of existence.


In 2012, at its annual strategic planning session, the board of the theatre made a commitment to finding a permanent home. After 18 months, an affordable location was found.  Having closed on the building in March 2014, renovation was completed and our first production presented to 4 weeks of sold-out houses in September 2014.  Our board is working to keep the Albuquerque theatre audience intrigued with exciting productions of provocative plays. As Albuquerque’s oldest intimate theatre, The Vortex Theatre looks forward to many years of making drama live.


Beginning in 2010, the Vortex specialized in summer Shakespeare shows, beginning with “Will Power,” which ran three shows in repertory in the Buena Vista theatre each summer until 2013, and then “Shakespeare on the Plaza,” a co-production with the City of Albuquerque, in which two plays have run outdoors in Albuquerque Civic Plaza for four weeks each summer.  In 2019, the Shakespeare productions moved to the NM veterans Memorial Park.


At the National Hispanic Cultural Center, since 2010, The Vortex has produced six big-theatre productions of plays by Rudolfo Anaya, including an eight-city tour of his dramatization of Bless Me, Ultima, plus The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which broke all records for theatre productions in the 90-seat Wells Fargo Theatre. Our 2019 production was the musical 4 Guys Named Jose in the Bank of America Theatre, directed by Valli Rivera.  All of these programs are examples of the Vortex’s dedication to its mission statement with outreach into Albuquerque and New Mexico communities.


The COVID-19 pandemic shut the theater beginning in March 2020. Generous donations, and federal, state and City of ABQ grants kept the mortgage paid and allowed the development of recorded plays posted on YouTube. The Vortex re-opened in fall 2022 and is slowly re-building audiences with exhilarating productions of Blood Knot, Dracula, Jitney, What the Constitution Means to Me, the world premiere of The Art of Raising Anything and many more classic, contemporary and cutting edge works.

Keep the Vortex alive for another 48 years -
Donate Today!

Let’s Work Together

Get in touch so we can start working together.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page