BRECKENRIDGE - The town of Breckenridge signed on Tuesday to help fund an estimated $1.3 million renovation and expansion of the Backstage Theatre, helping the local nonprofit put on bigger shows and host casts from across the region.
Town leaders opted to support the improvement and expansion of the existing theater rather than scraping the building and constructing a new one, saying they hoped to preserve the quirky character of the little performance center.
"I want to support the Backstage Theatre, but I believe there is magic in it being a small community theater," Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said Tuesday. "That is partly captured and encapsulated in the fact that this is an eclectic building with the organic nature of the whole arts district."
The building, officially the Breckenridge Theatre, is owned by the town and leased to the Backstage Theatre, a private nonprofit that town leaders have recognized as a partner and anchor tenant of the Breckenridge arts district.
The renovation will include a new shower and dressing room, additional storage, extra space for set construction and rehearsals, a bigger, taller stage and improvements to the small lobby area where the theater sells tickets and drinks.
The council passed on the theater's request to increase seating.
Backstage representatives say the improvements - particularly the addition of the shower and dressing room, which would allow them to host professional actors - are "vital and necessary" to the continued growth and health of the operation.
Although they would prefer a new theater.
"It introduces the exciting ability ... to start fresh and create a theater experience that is contemporary, modern and state of the art," artistic director Chris Willard told the council Tuesday. "I think we will always be quirky, because we understand this community and we understand what our place is in that community."
The council was divided on the question. Councilman Mike Dudick suggested the issue be put on hold until money could be saved for a new theater, which would cost up to $3 million.
But others said reconstruction wasn't a realistic option.
"It's not going to happen," Councilman Mark Burke said. "I don't think there's the passion on this council to spend that kind of money, so it would have to go to the community and I don't think there's this kind of money in the community right now."
The Backstage has been operating in Breckenridge for more than 30 years, claiming to be the oldest and most-award wining theater on the Western Slope.
But in recent years the theater has hit a wall, representatives say, unable to accommodate the musicals and better-known productions that attract larger audiences.
The improvements will allow the organization to implement five and 10-year plans to increase profitability and attendance and reduce "dark days" - the amount of time the theater has to close for turnover between productions.
The Backstage currently goes dark for 10 days to two weeks between shows.