One of Colorado's estimated 200 or so theater companies is in rehearsal for the final show of their season, but it required strong community partnerships to overcome a threat to its very existence.
The Springs Ensemble Theatre, also known as SET, operated at the Cache La Poudre Street space in Colorado Springs for 13 years. Like many arts organizations across Colorado, SET faced challenges during the pandemic, but it was able to survive.
The pandemic made creating art with people in the same room challenging, but now, founding ensemble member Sarah Sheppard Shaver says the all-volunteer theater has been hit with another threat.
“Not having the ability to have the audience in our room was a real financial blow as well as, like, [a] spiritual and mental and psychological blow to the art that we make. But we pivoted and did some online things, some monologue projects,” Shaver said. “Then we're like finally coming out and getting to meet again as an audience and as performers together. And then we were hit with this, the real estate market realities, and they were harsh.”
The theater faced an enormous rent increase in the midst of the current season. After months of negotiations and initially agreeing to an increase of double the rent, the final figure became four times the previous rent. The ensemble had 30 days to vacate, with one more show left to stage in the season.
“We had even auditioned this next play. We had a director, we had a production team all lined up,” Shaver said.
Despite the team suffering from what Shaver called pivot fatigue or emergency fatigue, the company figured out a way forward — with help.
“We reached out to the community and found a temporary host for this final play of our season,” Shaver said.
Matt Radcliffe who plays Harold in this production of “The Boys in the Band” is also the president of Springs Ensemble Theater. He says finding new space was a formidable challenge for the theater company.
“But, we did overcome it. I'm actually really grateful for the opportunity that was presented to us,” Radcliffe said. “Grateful to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College for providing us rehearsal space, grateful for Pikes Peak State College and the theater department there, for providing performance space. And then, our new space, the Fifty-Niner, and Old Colorado City. Really grateful to the team over there for offering us a new home to move into,” Radcliffe said.
Though Tim Muldrew has been working in Colorado Springs theater for more than a decade, this is his first time directing a show for SET. He also acknowledged how vital the support and collaboration from other organizations has been.
“Well, thank goodness we were able to move all of the rehearsal spaces to the Fine Arts Center,” Muldrew said.
Rehearsals had to begin at the Fine Arts Center before the company knew where the ultimate performance would take place.
“We just sat there and I was like, ‘Well, I have a set design and so I should just stay with this set design and knowing that I'd have to probably alter, change if the space didn't accommodate the set,” Muldrew said. “But, it just seemed like everything just fell into place, and that was a great thing.”
Guest artist Jude Bishop has worked with SET for 10 of the company’s 13 years in existence and plays Hank in “The Boys in the Band.”
“So I heard that they were closing down, that they were losing their Cache la Poudre Street address. And I was like, ‘Oh, no, what are we gonna do?’” Bishop said. “Now that I'm in the space now, it's really awesome.”
Though small theater companies like Springs Ensemble Theatre have small budgets, the mission isn't small. Radcliffe says the work of Colorado artists is important to the entire community. He said overcoming these challenges is done one day at a time.
“It's leaning into the volunteers, leaning into the community, and pulling teams of people together to help us thrive, because that mission is important,” Radcliffe said. “I always said that we had a moral imperative, that if we have the ability to create art, then we need to keep creating because, without creation happening in the world, things are stagnating. There are conversations that aren't happening. [Now] more than ever, at the base core of, you know, humanity and art and creation and experiencing those moments together, are the ways that we make it through that.”
Springs Ensemble Theatre’s production of “The Boys In The Band” plays at Studio West Pikes Peak State College Downtown Campus from June 1st to the 18th.
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