Creede Rep at 50: An economic engine and a crucible for new plays

Creede Repertory Theatre's Ruth-Humphreys Theatre at night.  Photo by John Gary Brown.

Creede Repertory Theatre’s Ruth-Humphreys Theatre at night. The sleek studio theatre was christened in 2011, joining the longtime Main Street, mainstage theatre up the street. Photo by John Gary Brown.

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By Jessica Jackson
Creede Repertory Theatre

In 1968, the kids running the theatre in Creede received a letter. Their friend and fellow founding company member Gary Mitchell, on assignment with the Peace Corps in Fiji, poured his worries into an airmail envelope:

“Beloved Group,” he wrote. “I feel opening night, Main Street, the smell of the coal bin, the roar of the flume, the cool blankets after a hot day. The summer smoke, the watery Pepsis, the Sucrets, the collapsible garbage lift, the collapsible summer season, the tension of togetherness, the humor and the pain … I sense fear and reservations and deep determination and love and an awareness that this is it: we’re either here to stay or stray away…”

His words remind me that our 50th season was never a foregone conclusion. We’re celebrating in 2015 because the desire for this theatre to exist was stronger than the forces against us: Wildfires, burning buildings, debt, disagreement and isolation. 

The town of Creede is located at 9,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains, about 250 miles southwest of Denver. It used to be a silver mining boomtown – complete with outlaws and brothels. But by the mid-20th century, it was in need of revitalization. In 1966, a group of residents, including a theatre-loving preacher, drafted a letter and mailed it to various universities, hoping that some students would answer the call to start a summer theatre. One of those letters was posted on a bulletin board at the University of Kansas. Steve Grossman, a 19-year-old theatre undergrad, saw the letter and answered it.

Creede Rep started as a far-fetched idea to save a town by creating a summer tourist season. We are more than willing to be a national example of how the arts can revitalize a town, but to be perfectly honest; we need the town as much or more than it needs us. This place is our mother and muse. 

The founding company (whose ages ranged from 17 to 24) established the most defining aspect of our identity: Repertory. Our entire aesthetic is dictated by the rotating repertory format. The bulk of our audience sees multiple plays; so a play is rarely experienced in isolation. All the plays must be very different, yet have threads that connect. Each play must resonate at its own frequency and form a compelling chord. Each rep actor has a “track” that showcases their versatility, transforming from play to play, weaving inside and outside their comfort zones. For me, rep isn’t just a format for running shows – it’s an opportunity for resourceful storytelling, to look for truth in theatricality.

A few weeks ago, our book Creede Repertory Theatre: Stories From the First 50 Years went to print. Steve Reed, the book’s executive editor and member of the 1966 founding company, entered my office to share a revelation: CRT didn’t have a single charismatic founder or revered father figure whose sheer force of personality carried us through dark times. Ours is a story of hundreds of individuals stepping up year after year.

For 50 seasons, CRT has been an employer, an economic engine, a crucible for new plays, an educator, a refuge, a labor of love, a Creede institution, a Colorado legend, a national example, a neighbor, oddity, friend, family, home. In the coming decades, we will explore the full potential of the repertory format. We will continue to bring live performance to kids who don’t have access. In a world that is increasingly impersonal, we will be champions of the communal, ephemeral, fragile, unpredictable experience of watching humans tell a story.

Here’s to another 50.

About Our Guest Columnist:
Jessica Jackson has worked with Creede Repertory Theatre since 2004 as an actor, director and resident composer. For CRT she’s directed The Drowsy Chaperone, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Sighthound, To Fool the Eye, and many original children’s pieces. She founded CRT’s Boomtown Improv in 2007. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in government and earned her masters degree from The Boston Conservatory. She and her husband, Ryan Prince, are the parents of 3-year-old Penelope.

Creede Rep’s 50th Anniversary Season at a glance:
(Click here for more detailed descriptions)

Guys and Dolls

June 13-Aug. 13
Classical musical about gambler Nathan Detroit and his sneezy gal pal

Our Town
July 24-Aug. 30
Thornton Wilder’s classic look at small-town America

August: Osage County
Aug. 21-Sept. 19
Tracy Letts’ incendiary Pulitzer winner about an Oklahoma family directed by Christy Montour-Larson

Ghost Light
June 26-Aug. 14
Nagle Jackson’s world-premiere comedy reimagines Creede Rep’s inaugural summer in 1966.

Good on Paper
Through Sept. 18
George Brant’s modern romantic comedy about a lonely police-sketch artist whose sketches begin to come to life.

Pants on Fire
A totally made up musical for kids


Late-night improv comedy

Ticket and lodging Information:
Call 719-658-2540 or go to Creede Repertory Theatre’s web site

Some Denver Center connections in Creede:

DCPA Theatre Company alums John DiAntonio and Caitlin wise star in 'Good on Paper' for the Creede Repertory Theatre
DCPA Theatre Company alums (and married couple) John DiAntonio and Caitlin Wise star in “Good on Paper” for the Creede Repertory Theatre. Photo by John Gary Brown.

  • Nagle Jackson (Ghost Light) was a longtime DCPA Theatre Company playwright and director
  • Christy Montour-Larson (August: Osage County) directed Shadowlands, Well and The Giver
  • Actor Mehry Iris Eslaminia made sweet music in Appoggiatura
  • Actor and chef John Arp (Shadowlands) has opened a restaurant in Creede called Arps
  • Actor and DCPA Education Teaching Artist Diana Dresser (Jackie & Me, The Giver, Girls Only, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) plays Barbara in August: Osage County
  • Former longtime Artistic Director Maurice LaMee is a masters graduate from the Denver Center’s former National Theatre Conservatory
  • Married couple John DiAntonio and Caitlin Wise are NTC graduates. DiAntonio appeared in Othello and A Christmas Carol; Wise starred in Tom Sawyer and others. They star together in Good on Paper and appear in August: Osage County)
  • Annie Butler, who stars in August: Osage County, is also an NTC graduate

  • Sample cast list: August: Osage County

    Beverly Weston: Jim Hunt
    Violet Weston: Anne Butler
    Barbara Fordham: Diana Dresser
    Ivy Weston: Caitlin Wise
    Karen Weston: Emily Van Fleet
    Bill Fordham: Jon DiAntonio
    Jean Fordham: Wren Green
    Steve Heidebrecht: Sean Thompson
    Mattie Fae Aiken: Christy Brandt
    Charlie Aiken: John S. Green
    “Little” Charles Aiken: Brian Kusic
    Johnna Monevata: Mehry Iris Eslaminia
    Sheriff Deon Gilbeau: Logan Ernstthal
    Directed by Christy Montour-Larson

    Selected previous coverage of Creede Repertory Theatre:
    2015: Creede Rep to celebrate 50th birthday with a nod to past, future
    2014: Shows go on despite wildfires near Creede
    2014: Wild man Paul Stone puts a familiar face on ALS
    2013: Creede Rep season announcement
    2012: Creede Rep season will mark dawn of Jackson era – and zombies
    2012: Creede Rep brings “Is He Dead?” to the Arvada Center
    2012: Video podcast: Creede Rep Says Goodbye to Maurice LaMee
    2011: Creede actors invading, invigorating Denver stages
    2011: Maurice LaMee is Denver Post Theater Person of the Year
    2009: Yes, make the trip to see Creede Rep Theatre

    Video: Watch “In Focus With Eden Lane” reporting last week from Creede Repertory Theatre

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