Miners Alley Playhouse is one of the few arts organizations that found a way to not just survive during the pandemic restrictions, but literally thrive.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Miners Alley Playhouse, like a lot of theaters around the state and country, faced a very uncertain future. Now, producing artistic director Len Matheo gets hugs all over Golden … something unheard of at the height of the pandemic.
“People have hugged me on the street, who I don’t know ... crying, saying, ‘Thank you for not letting this become condos. Thank you for saving our town center.’ People at the city planning where they're looking at our plans, give us a hug.” Matheo said. “So it's become a real community thing in Golden. It's pretty sweet in a lot of ways. It's pretty sweet.”
Why are they hugging Matheo?
When the Meyer Hardware building in downtown Golden came up for sale last year, officials at the playhouse — and at the City of Golden — decided to take a big chance, pony up millions of dollars and try to turn it into the Miners Alley Performing Arts Center. It’s the same sort of never-quit attitude that saw the playhouse get through the pandemic.
“We thrived in the sense that we didn't stop doing our work. Of course we lost money, but we, but we didn't fire anybody,” Matheo said. “We kept paying our staff throughout the pandemic. We did summer camps outside. And then the hardware store came up for sale.”
Matheo said Golden’s city government put in $2 million to help close the deal. Other partners who are chipping in include Miners Saloon, Golden Civic Foundation, the Downtown Development Authority, and Stone Strategy Design.
Matheo thought that a developer would certainly outbid the consortium and end up getting the property.
“But we put together a very compelling package with a story about [how] this hardware store was a community hub for many people, and that we were taking that community hub to the next level and not destroying it and creating something different,” Matheo said. “We were just reimagining that community hub and making it bigger and more beautiful. And they saw our vision and decided to let us buy the hardware store.”
The project is budgeted for $10 million to $15 million dollars with plans for a 300-seat performing arts center, black box spaces for other performances, and potentially, a restaurant.
But Miners Alley isn’t waiting until their new space is ready before putting on their next show. They are currently staging the musical "Hair." The show looks at 60s youth, the “Tribe” contending with generational and personal identity, the Vietnam War, drugs, hippie culture and the sexual revolution.
“I wanted to have a show that really, was the epitome of the Miners Alley vibe, which is, professional theater with a community feel,” Matheo said.
He was motivated to produce "Hair" because of how the pandemic kept people from gathering in public places.
“But what I didn't realize when I initially picked it was how little is changed today and one of the biggest issues in this show is about our teenagers in our world and these teenagers that are different today, different issues, but some very similar issues,” Matheo said.
"Hair" has some iconic songs that everyone seems to know, but one of the ideas behind this production is to make a fresh play on them, said Music Director David Nehls
“Because so many of the songs are iconic and we're so familiar with them, my goal is to have you hear it as if you're hearing it for the first time,“Nehls said.
Putting their own mark on Hair was easier because of how simple the music arrangements were when the company first got them.
“Well, here's the good news and the bad news. So the licensing house that sends out the materials for 'Hair' … the material they send out is very basic. So, you actually have a big canvas to then play with and create with.”
Matheo chose the 2009 Broadway revival script as the starting point for this production.
“I picked it because I wanted to create a celebration and I wanted to create a sense of belonging and community in my theater space. So far so good, the audience is dancing down the aisles and, and jumping for joy,” Matheo said. “And also, their hearts are opening up as they watch the show as well. So it's a real beautiful experience.”
It may take a while for the permanent space to be ready for Miners to move in to, but if all goes to plan, audiences will eventually be seeing shows … and dancing down the aisles … at a whole new venue in Golden — a little light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
The rock musical, "Hair," plays at Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden through October 2.
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