Butte Theater Foundation Leaders Praise 2018 Season

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Let the show go on!

That’s the theme of city leaders and members of the Butte Theater Foundation in gearing up for next year’s season and in reviewing 2018, with a new company at the theatrical helm.   

After a number of discussions in the last month, the Cripple Creek City Council and the Butte Theater Foundation group appear ready to finally dot the i’s and cross the t’s, with a few contract changes for the lease arrangement in 2019. Under this proposed pact, the Foundation will receive a subsidy of $280,000 for 2019, but it will repay the city $200,000 of this contribution later in the year.  This subsidy, which comes mostly from historic preservation funds, will be paid to the non-profit Foundation group. The Foundation contracts directly with the company that puts on the shows, which was Mountain Rep Theatre in 2018.  

This money will pave the way for another active season with close to 10 shows, offering a variety of performances and theatrical genres. Moreover, the Butte hopes to become self-sufficient within the next few years, a scenario that won’t require the theater  Foundation to receive city subsidies that now come from  Cripple Creek’s historic preservation funds.  

In a recent interview, Emily Andrews, executive director of the Butte Theater, described the inaugural season with a new Mountain Rep Theatre group as quite successful. Although the final figures haven’t been tabulated for the Christmas show, the Butte is expected to garner a 15 percent hike in revenue for 2018.

“We did real well. We were very happy with our season,” said Andrews.  

In recent numbers provided to TMJ News, the 2018 season generated close to 17,000 ticket attendees, nearly matching the bonanza season of 2016. This represented a 15 percent hike from 2017, the final year of the Thin Air Theatre Company’s decade-long stint in Cripple Creek. . 

But that’s not to say a few bumps didn’t occur along the road for the Butt theater group.  

One of the main 2018 shows, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, created a community stir due to the risqué nature of the 1970s performance that had a cult-like following in bigger cities, with some Rocky Horror fans witnessing the show 50-plus times and knowing all the lines. A number of Rocky fanatics, who attended the show in Cripple Creek, displayed a similar level of fanaticism.   

However, several council members and some civic leaders didn’t share this enthusiasm and weren’t happy with certain scenes of the performance. “This is our brand,” said Mayor Pro Tem Chris Hazlett. The councilman cites the family-oriented, historic reputation of Cripple Creek theater that has garnered a certain image, first pioneered by the Mackin family back in the 1940s. Hazlett admits he wasn’t a proponent of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

According to Andrews, the 2019 shows won’t feature any controversial Rocky-like theatrical sequels for Cripple Creek. “We are not going to have any more Rocky Horror shows,” quipped Andrews.

But that said, the Butte executive director noted that the Rocky Horror Picture Show did bring a slightly different audience that doesn’t normally go to their performances. And controversial or not, the Foundation leaders cite fairly robust numbers for a fall show that easily beat the autumn show of 2017.

According to sources, this was one of the touchy contested points in the contract renewal process for 2019, with the council seeking a little more control over the shows decided on and the group’s annual business plan. But at the same time, both sides agree with the direction of the 11-member Foundation group to have live theater at the Butte become self-sufficient. Andrews says they hope to operate without any city subsidies by possibly 2020.

In the preliminary discussions, the contract language was clarified further, according to city officials.  

Andrews says the group’s main goal is to offer variety and to adhere to the historic integrity of Cripple Creek’s theatrical past. Melodrama, a genre that was really pioneered by Dorothy and Wayne Mackin at the old Imperial hotel, and then continued by Steve and Bonnie Mackin at the Butte, will continue to receive strong emphasis. “We are very concerned about maintaining the historic integrity of the Butte,” added Andrews.

That trait is also important for fiscal reasons, as the state is taking a closer look at how the city spends historic preservation funds for such purposes as promoting a historic theater genre like classic melodrama. 

“We want to do shows that are entertaining and fun. We try to have something for everyone in the community,” explained the Butte executive director.

“We don’t do ‘think plays,’ like what you may see with TheaterWorks (done in Colorado Springs by UCCS). We are not going to do Shakespeare or (Henrik) Ibsen (plays). We really want to do a variety of performances.”

Like the previous group, the Thin Air Theatre, the Mountain Rep group cites their musicals as their strong suit and top draw.  But unfortunately, these are the most expensive to produce, especially if you choose cover titles.  The Always Patsy Cline emerged as the main highlight of the 2018 season, according to local theater-goers and Butte proponents.

However, from a ticket-selling aspect, the melodrama show, Hot Night In The Old Town, was the most successful performance. 

Andrews also lauds the fact that they have upped their costs next year to put more money into marketing and production. Their costs for professional programs have been upped to close to $400,000 for 2019, according to Foundation figures. That is a substantial increase from 2018. 

On the upside, surveys show that Butte shows are among the most affordable in the Pikes Peak region.

Expansion Plans Moving Ahead

The Butte Theater Foundation is also eyeing a $1 million-plus expansion into the adjacent Star and Horseshoe buildings for a better lounge and theater entrance area, additional bar space, business display sections, galleries and places for additional post or pre-show performances. The plans, though don’t call for a restaurant, as the Foundation group doesn’t want to compete with any local eatery.

The group is seeking initially to buy the next door Star building, which once housed a casino, from the Aspen building owners.  Currently, this building is just used to store costumes and as an extra storage area.

The proposed building acquisitions are part of plans for developing  the “West End Performing Arts Complex.”

In 2018, the Foundation group did unveil the kicking off of a fund-raising campaign for the Butte expansion. 

“We are about three-fifths of the way towards raising the money that we need to buy the (Star) building,” said Andrews. 

The group’s expansion bid has generated mixed sentiments, with some civic leaders contending that this pursuit may be a little too unrealistic. Some complain that the Foundation may be exploring too many different directions. But other theater buffs and community residents laud the concept. 

City officials say they are not involved in this acquisition, and have no plans to contribute any government money at this time due to the city’s fiscal challenges. 

Andrews conceded that their group has heard some concerns about the expansion bid. But she emphasized that the expansion was spawned by the fact that the out-of-town building owners have expressed an interest in selling their buildings.

She cited this as a way to plan for the town’s theater future.