Sunday, September 21, 2003
As the Steamboat Community Players moved 17 years worth of props and costumes out of the Seventh Street Playhouse this weekend, and Players president Nina Rogers looked back at the empty theater, she was saying goodbye to a lot of memories -- good and bad.
In the past year, the roof has been leaking on audience members in the front row and springing new leaks with every rainstorm, and the ever-increasing rent payments had the tiny theater company sweating over ticket sales, unable to financially survive unless every night was a full house.
But it hasn't always been this way, Rogers said.
When Chuck Stevens, head of what was then called the Great American Laughing Stock Company, discovered the empty room on the corner of Seventh and Aspen Streets, it was the perfect space for a community theater.
The space was originally part of Steamboat's first hospital and then was converted into a middle school. During its time as a school, the 96-seat theater was a band classroom, but it sat empty after the middle school moved to a new location.
According to theater lore, Stevens happened to be passing the building when the door was open.
"Nobody wanted it," Rogers said. So the Steamboat Springs School District agreed to rent it to the Great American Laughing Stock Company (soon to become the Steamboat Community Players) for $500 a year.
The Steamboat Community Players put on four productions a year, ranging from "Don Juan in Chicago" to "A Shayna Maidel."
Each production was a combination of first-time actors and the company's core group, which worked on every play.
But community theater was more fun than profitable. As rent went from $500 a year to almost $600 a month, the company started to struggle.
And the roof was leaking. Audience members watched "Shirley Valentine" under a rigging of plastic tarps, tubes and buckets that caught the snowmelt before it reached the front two rows.
"Spring productions were the worst," Rogers said.
Eventually, the Community Players started talking about a change in venues at their board meetings.
Colorado Mountain College Dean Robert Ritschel heard rumors that the company was looking for a new home. He was looking for a theater company.
"Something sort of serendipitous occurred," Ritschel said. He approached Nancy Kramer, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council and she arranged a meeting. Ritschel offered the use of the first floor of Monson Hall to the Players. In exchange, the Players' productions would become part of the course schedule.
If all goes as planned, the new arrangement will help CMC achieve its long-time goal of building a 300-seat performing arts center.
"From an institutional point of view, in order to justify the need for additional facilities, we have to show a need. That will be achieved through increased enrollment in the performing arts," Ritschel said.
Meetings to determine the educational piece of the theater company's agreement will begin as early as next week, he said.
Until then, the company will be busy moving furniture from one side of town to the other. On both Saturday and Sunday, Steamboat Community Players loaded the contents of the Seventh Street Playhouse into a semi-trailer.
"We just want people to know, we are not going away. We are just moving. Steamboat Community Players are still alive and well," Rogers said. Their next production, "Twelve Angry Men" is scheduled for early November on the CMC campus.
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