The city of Cripple Creek is hoping villains and damsels in distress return to its Butte Theater with the Thin Air Theatre Company and pack the house.
The melodrama-loving professional theater company comes to the mountain gaming community during the town’s own melodrama. The City Council says the theater programming costs too much, so it voted to discontinue contracts with The Butte Theater Foundation, the nonprofit responsible for theater programming since 2016.
“The foundation was set up to offset costs for the City. Unfortunately, this did not happen and instead created a duplication of services. The City chose not to renew this contract in order to cut out the middle man scenario and take over direct control again,” says a statement on the city’s website.
The nonprofit was seen as a mechanism to cut costs at the city-run theater, but the deal has run in the red, said Butte Theater Manager Mel Moser.
“They lose $200,000 to $225,000 a year on the Butte,” said Moser, who is also Cripple Creek’s city representative on the foundation board. “They wanted to see that number go down.”
The nonprofit isn’t going away, but its deal with Cripple Creek is ending, a move that foundation boss Emily Andrews says was an unexpected blow.
“We’ve had a few misunderstandings with the city as the foundation grows,” she said. “Naturally, the relationship has to evolve. We just thought of them as misunderstandings, like contract wording. So much was changing so quickly, we were trying to figure out what to report to the city. It was mostly semantics.”
While the sides squabble, the show will go on. The city will revert to funding the professional shows directly, as it has every year for the past decade.
Mountain Repertory Theatre, which has been the Butte’s resident professional company since 2018, will offer “All I Want for Christmas Is: More Olio!” It runs Nov. 22 through Dec. 29.
Thin Air was the Butte’s resident company from 2007 to 2017. Its contract wasn’t renewed because of problems with internal staffing structure, Moser said. Chris Armbrister, Thin Air’s artistic director, is excited to return and says he has no animosity toward the city after the previous decision.
“I’ve worked in theaters across the country,” Armbrister said. “I never met a city council and government and administrators that had more support for the arts than in Cripple Creek.”
Moser says Thin Air’s family-oriented shows and melodramas will draw a crowd. The shows hark back to the theater’s history of melodrama since the 1940s.
“I wanted to see the theater reflect more of our history,” Moser said. “And that was melodramas and some original scripts, like ‘A Cripple Creek Christmas Carol,’ that had historic figures in the area.”
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