Breckenridge Theatre reopens with ‘Chicago’ after $2.55 million upgrade
IF YOU GO
When: Opening night June 17 is sold out; show runs on select days through July 24
Where: Breckenridge Theatre, 121 S. Ridge St., Breckenridge
Cost: Online: $29 a ticket Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $34 on Fridays and Saturdays; Groups of 10+: $2 per ticket discount; Youth (18 & under): $20 for all performances. At the Box Office: $31 a ticket Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $36 on Fridays and Saturdays; Groups of 10+: $2 discount per ticket discount; Youth (18 & under): $22 for all performances. All tickets are plus a $2 processing fee
More information: backstagetheatre.org
The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre has come a long way since the first melodrama was staged in 1974 in a Breckenridge bar. Shirley Martin and Allyn Mosher weren’t sure if anyone would show up to the first production of “Poor Pitiful Pearl” — but it was soon realized that the theater would flourish in Summit County.
Now, backed by the town and Breckenridge Creative Arts, Backstage’s newly remodeled home will open on Friday, June 17 after a $2.55 million renovation with the production of “Chicago.” Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, the show will run from June 17 through July 23. Opening night for the June 17 show is sold out.
IN THE BEGINNING
The Backstage itself began with performances in saloons after hours, growing the programing over the years and eventually doing shows in the summer as well as the winter, said Christopher Willard, artistic director with the Backstage.
Its first home, after incorporating as a nonprofit in 1976, was in the Sterling Building still located on Ski Hill Road and Main Street. With 74 seats and a very small stage, the theater produced a year-round schedule of large-cast musicals, mysteries and melodramas.
In 1980, Backstage moved to its new home to what was then a new development in Village at Breckenridge. It remained in the space at the base of Maggie Pond until 2001, when it began hosting performances throughout restaurants and bars for a year before ending up in its current location at the old Shamus O’Toole’s Roadhouse. During the current remodel, the Backstage again continued with performances outside of its traditional home.
“In a way, this is the second age of the Backstage because, for almost 20 years, they were at the old Maggie Pond space, and, when they lost the space there, they were nomadic for about a year and a half until the town helped them out,” Willard said.
When Breckenridge began plans for the Arts District, members of the Backstage decided to take the idea of a new theater to the town.
“Once they started building the Arts District, we went to the town of Breck and said ‘Hey, we have 12,000 patrons a year, we think a new space would help the town a lot in that aspect by bringing people in to see our shows,” said Mark Lineaweaver, executive director of the Backstage. “(The town) has been super supportive.”
In April 2013, the town of Breckenridge signed to help fund what was then an estimated $1.3 million for the renovation and expansion of the theater. Town leaders opted to support the improvement and expansion of the existing theater rather than scraping the building and constructing a new one. Renovations for the new theater began in the spring of 2015.
BOOKEND TO THE ARTS DISTRICT
On Ridge Street, the newly-remodeled theater fits perfectly on the edge of the Breckenridge Arts District.
“We are thrilled that it is going to be opening,” said Robb Woulfe, president and CEO with Breckenridge Creative Arts. “Obviously, with the opening of the Arts District Campus and Old Masonic Hall, in many ways, this is the final piece within that campus. Between the Breckenridge Theatre and the Riverwalk Center, we have this now-completed cultural corridor in the heart of downtown.”
The Breckenridge Theatre has added more than 3,000 square feet of new construction to the space, bringing it up to a total of around 9,000. Added wing space on the sides of the stage makes it easier to bring set pieces on and off and allows for actors to enter more comfortably, rather than having to come in from behind. Even the dressing rooms are substantially larger.
“I think we’ve gotten quite a bit and realized quite a bit of our original hopes, which were to expand what happens behind the scenes,” Willard said.
Outside of a large garage door is a spacious outdoor area in the Arts District, perfect for summer drinks. Inside leads to an extended bar area with plenty of space for pre-show socializing. The walls will showcase local and regional artwork.
Patrons of the old theater will notice a more ambient temperature, with a new HVAC system installed to keep the space at a perfect temperature. Woulfe said it’s changes like these that will make the patron experience that much better.
The seating capacity of the theater went from 100 to 137, and because of such positive feedback on the seats in the Speakeasy Theatre at the community center in Breckenridge, the same ones were installed here, he said.
“We sort of joke that the problem may be people falling asleep because it’s so comfortable there,” he laughed.
The new space will also be used for more than just Backstage shows, including Breckenridge Film Fest programming and possible chamber performances with the National Repertory Orchestra. Woulfe said they are even toying with the idea of how to use that as a venue for showcase or jazz performance for local music, or even stand-up or a speaker series.
“I think it’s going to open up some future programming possibilities for both BCA as well as our partner organizations,” he said. “The town was very generous in not only building a beautiful facility, but they’ve outfitted it quite nicely and so all of the gear that’s in there — the sound, the lighting, the projection — all of that is state of the art. It offers us the flexibility to use it in many different ways.”
For the Backstage, Willard looks at the new space as a chance to rebrand the theater.
“We just celebrated our 40th anniversary not far back, and now we have a chance, in essence new digs and new toys to play with, to do bigger and better shows,” he said. “We have some ideas of how we want to grow and expand, and having the town back our concept and get behind our business model and help to make this a reality has been invaluable. That gives us that kind of strength that makes us want to do more — and bigger and better things.”
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