In June of 1984, Articles of Incorporation were filed with the State of New Mexico for the American Southwest Theatre Company (ASTC). The first season of plays for the new company at New Mexico State University began in September of that year with the opening of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart.
The program cover for Crimes of the Heart features two logos, one for NMSU Theatre Arts and the other for ASTC, symbolizing the union that continues to this day, and playbills for that first season include a history of the company to that point in time.
Prior to the formation of ASTC, the Business Alliance for Theatre provided significant financial backing for NMSU Theatre Arts. This program achieved national recognition for the support of theatre by the local business community in Las Cruces. In addition to monetary donations toward the staging of main season productions, sponsors could contribute to a range of business aspects including advertising, transportation, design and printing, and lodging for visiting artists.
The Business Alliance for Theatre was the immediate forerunner of the ASTC Board of Trustees. When the original ASTC Board was established, there were twenty-eight members, with Jack Curry, president of the Business Alliance for Theatre, as chairman.
Mark Medoff and Bruce Streett were co-founders of the American Southwest Theatre Company. Mark was artistic director and department head in Theatre Arts, and Bruce Streett was a professor of English at NMSU with a specialty in William Shakespeare. Streett served as department head in English before becoming managing director and administrative head of NMSU Theatre Arts, and in 1985 he was named NMSU’s Vice-President for Development.
Prior to ASTC’s founding, Medoff had become a nationally recognized playwright, noted for When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder and the Tony Award-winning Children of a Lesser God among other works. In September 1984, as Crimes of the Heart was launching ASTC’s first season, Medoff’s The Hands of its Enemy was opening at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, with Gordon Davidson directing and Phyllis Frelich appearing in a leading role as in the case of Children. Both The Hands of its Enemy and Children of a Lesser God were developed and produced first at NMSU Theatre Arts at the Hershel Zohn Theatre, with Phyllis in the roles she would later play professionally.