THE Creede Repertory Theatre carved out a niche for itself 25
years ago in a volcanic ring high in the Rocky Mountains. One of the
most successful small arts institutions in the state of Colorado,
the company has won awards, received grants, and sold out its house
night after night. Odd as it may seem, this summer company actually
operates in the black.
Odd because, off the beaten path as it is, one has to look for
the little town of Creede to find it. The only settlement in
southern Colorado's Mineral County, Creede is not particularly easy
to get to, and it's not on the road to anywhere else.
Silver mining has waxed and waned in its 100-year history, and
many of its resident families and miners had moved on. Like so many
other boom-to-bust economies, Creede's was forced to cultivate a new
source of revenue - tourism.
Little by little the town renews its sidewalks, cleans up its
front yards, removes mining tailings scarring the landscape, paints
its store fronts, and dresses for company. It has a character all
its own, quite distinct from other mountain communities, and at
least part of that character emanates from the Creede Opera House,
where the repertory theater attracts locals from all over the San
Luis Valley and vacationers - more and more of whom have designed
their entire trips around the rep's programs.
The nonprofit company recently raised $300,000 in remodeling
funds to save its dilapidated theater. But it isn't the new plaster
walls that matter to the audiences; it's the quality of the
productions - surprisingly energetic and engaging, if sometimes
Some of the actors have been performing in Creede for years. But
most are young talents drawn from around the country when artistic
director Richard Baxter makes his winter audition tour. The actors
he chooses need more than talent to make it to Creede because the
theater company has an important responsibility to the small
community. "If I don't think they can appreciate and co-mingle with
the community I give it up. If it looks like they're too hooked on
urban life - the excitement, the fast pace, the lights, and the
24-hour conveniences - if it looks like that's a necessity in their
lives, they won't survive here.
"Some are just out of college, but most are making a living as
actors," Baxter says, "just not in Equity houses. (Our) roles
attract actors. They are attracted to the variety of material we do
here - the changing roles day after day. The modest salary helps,
but it's not the big drawing card. I think the location for some of
them matters a lot - the chance to get out of New York or Dallas and
live here in the mountains."
Baxter's formula for success lies in selecting plays and
directors guaranteed to please an audience on vacation. And while
the standard farce and the light comedy balance off against more
serious fare, Baxter likes to take on a new play each season, too.
The formula works. The company brings in $1.7 million in tourist
green to nurture not only Creede but the larger San Luis Valley:
Theater patrons come to the restaurants, motels, and shops, and
every night but Monday (when the theater is dark) the main street of
Creede crackles with customers buying trinkets, treats, antiques,
even art works before show time. …