As the pandemic took hold, the Longmont Theatre Company decided they weren’t going to wallow — they thrived

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Courtesy Longmont Theatre Company
The Longmont Performing Arts Center Box office and entrance.

Sometimes, it takes a pandemic.

As COVID-19 struck the world — and arts organizations all over the U.S. shut down, denied the lifeblood, enthusiasm and money patrons bring — the Longmont Theatre Company had a decision to make: Sit back and wait it out … or work hard to make things better so when people returned, the company was ready.

They chose the latter, surviving and thriving, and along the way showing what it truly means to be a “community” theater company. 

With beginnings reaching back to a 1957 fundraising effort for the Longmont United hospital, a community group called the Potpourri Players grew into the Longmont Theatre Company. That long community connection forged 65 years ago proved critical to surviving the pandemic shutdown. Without any paid staff members, the community theater company didn’t qualify for government grants. 

“So as everyone experienced, in March of 2020, wherever you were in your work environment, the phone call came through to close,” said Fay Lamb, the Longmont Performing Arts Center president. “I answered the phone and it was Boulder public health. And that was when we were told that we needed to close and what we needed to do.”

Courtesy Longmont Theatre Company
Andy Ernst sands antique wooden arms for the seats in the auditorium at the Longmont Performing Arts Center during a recent renovation project.

The all-volunteer organization couldn’t imagine how long the shutdown would last. Lamb says that the money the theater got from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District was critical during those early days of the shutdown. So, too, was the money the community began sending to keep the theater company afloat. 

“Because of my background, I was very touched. I was amazed. I know that people support this theater. Love it. They absolutely love it,” Lamb said. “And, and so I know that, but it really came home as I opened the mail [and found donations].”

This community-led funding campaign was inspired by, and as a tribute to, Tracy Cravens, a longtime supporter and volunteer for the theater company. 

“She did the marketing. She was all over town as our representative. She was unbelievable energy and she died. She never said a bad word. You just never heard a bad word from Tracy. So when she passed away, her family set up a rejuvenation seat Memorial fund, and people began donating to redo the seats.”

Courtesy Longmont Theatre Company
Tracy Cravens stands at a Longmont Theatre award ceremony. Cravens was a key member of the Longmont Theatre Company for many years. As part of her legacy after her death, her family set up a memorial fund to get the theater new seats.

The fund was the catalyst and Lamb and the theater company team used Facebook and Instagram to spread the word. 

“The interesting part of this story is that. A lot of people during the pandemic, did a, ‘Woe is me.’ We didn't,” Lamb said. “And again, we had because of this Tracy's seat rejuvenation, we said she wouldn't want us to wallow … she would've tackled this.

The momentum of the improvement project later extended to the entire facility. New carpet was donated for the lobby, the aisles, and the dressing rooms. Electrical work, a new furnace, and more were also added. 

After more COVID-related struggles the Longmont Theatre Company was finally able to end this season with a rousing production of “Something Rotten - The Musical” to sold-out performances. Lamb says she’s taken lessons from the pandemic that extend beyond the community support her company has received.

“I think one of the things that was with me during the whole 21 months is how we value arts. I've been in this line of work for a long time. How we don't — we don't fund the arts.

Courtesy Longmont Theatre Company
A seat designated as the “Tracy Cravens Memorial Seat” sits among others in honor of her years of service as a member of the Longmont Theatre Company community.

“And we need to reevaluate that because one of the things that's happened in the pandemic and for the future of where people gather for performances, we've changed.”

For Lamb, more places around the nation need to provide support for the arts – and money – like Colorado.  

“And if we're gonna succeed as citizens. And human beings. We need the arts. We need what the arts do for the brain as a child — it does both right and left brain. It creates different citizens,” Lamb said. “We need support for the arts, to enhance ourselves as human beings.”

Series: How Colorado creatives are handling the pandemic