September 2017 - Cover Story: Celebrating Popejoy


Those who are regular readers of this publication are aware of how we feel about Popejoy Hall. For this writer, Popejoy provided me and my family the ability to see Tony Award® winning musicals and plays close to home. There is always the goal of seeing a Broadway show in New York, but until that dream comes to fruition, Popejoy IS our Broadway. As the theater is celebrating the announcement of being nominated for a Rocky Mountain Emmy® Award for the documentary Popejoy@50, we thought this would be a perfect time to talk about where Popejoy Hall began and the legacy the theater looks to achieve.

The legendary performance hall was the brainchild of Thomas L. Popejoy, a rancher and alumni of The University of New Mexico, who became the President of UNM during what was fondly known as “The Popejoy Era.” During his 20 years as President, enrollment went from 5,000 students in the Fall of 1948 to 14,000 students near the end of Popejoy’s retirement in 1960. UNM saw major expansion under Popejoy, which included KNME-TV, The School of Medicine, Jonson Gallery, the first Bratton Hall, and The Pit. But it was the creation of the beloved theater that received his namesake that brought him so much passion. For two years, Popejoy worked in Washington, D.C., as Deputy Director of The National Youth Administration. That position afforded him the opportunity to travel to New York and talk with advisors who worked closely with President Roosevelt, known as his “brain trust.” While there, Popejoy got to take in the sights and sounds of Broadway. That experience expanded Popejoy’s vision of UNM as not only being a vessel for fine art, but for all forms of art, including performance and visual.

The plan to build Popejoy Hall was a start and stop process, dealing with speedbumps that included WWII, the Korean War, and conflict with the City, as UNM and the City of Albuquerque had different visions. Finally on October 1, 1966, Popejoy Hall opened its doors, providing New Mexico a evening of theater and music. Since then, the concert hall has had many incredible shows grace its stage, including Rent, The Lion King, Wicked, and Book of Mormon. 30 years after opening its doors, Popejoy Hall introduced the Broadway series, a very popular series with more than 250,000 patrons a year, and its educational series, The School Time Series, which welcomes over 58,000 schoolchildren to the theater each school year to see performances. “Many of the productions offer workshops for students in theatre and dance, so they can take an acting class with a professional, a dance class, a singing class...this extends further than just the performances on stage,” said Thomas Tkach, Director of Popejoy Hall. “This gives our students the opportunity to participate with professionals."

The documentary, Popejoy@50, includes perspectives of administrators for Popejoy Hall, including Tkach and Kristine Purrington (Senior Director of Development for the College of Fine Arts). It also includes Albuquerque Native and Broadway performer Patti Cohenour, and actor of stage and screen Hal Holbrook, who played Mark Twain on the Popejoy stage. They all share their experiences of working with such a fine institution and the memories Popejoy has brought to the community.

Those at Popejoy Hall love using the phrase, “University-Founded and Community-Funded,” and it is this sense of community created by the theatre that turns around and supports Popejoy’s creative endeavors. Popejoy, the man, was proud of his efforts and achievements but didn’t expect praise, as explained by his son,Thomas Popejoy Jr., in the documentary. “He never wanted personal accolades for what he did. He wanted good stuff, he wanted it to be well-done. To him, the University was everything. It was the end-all and be-all of his whole life.” We think Popejoy would be happy to know that his legacy is one of joy and excellence, thanks to the theater he brought to the community.

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