Enter, Stage Right: New Performing Arts Building Debuts in Grand Lake


Sky-Hi Daily News, 6/10/11

GRAND LAKE — Two rows of sewing machines hummed as actors tried on 18th century costumes while veteran Costume Designer Jesus Perez floated from one backstage room to another, fitting outfits and fashioning props. “Do I look like a perfume bottle?” one actor asked, wearing a large velvet headpiece that indeed resembled the shape of a fancy stopper. As he tugged at the fabric of her garment, Perez wore a hula hoop that rested on one shoulder and ended at the opposite hip.

Would the hoop become the bones of a larger skirt? An exotic hat?

“It’s for an egg beater,” Perez said, matter-of-factly. He envisioned the plastic hoop as an old-fashioned handle for an oversized kitchen utensil — just one of many large effects belonging to the “beast” in the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre’s opening night production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Yet aside from big yellow patent shoes, fairy-tale frocks and enormous silver discs, there was even something larger happening at the theater on Wednesday — two days from Opening Night of Grand Lake’s new 12,000 square-foot performing arts building. It was the anticipation of a new beginning. “We’re all buzzing,” Perez said. “There’s an enormous amount of excitement. It’s hard work, but it’s also about everybody aiming at the same goal: We don’t want to disappoint.”

‘Creative chaos’

“It’s a vortex of creative chaos,” said Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre Managing Director Scott Haden, as he led the way from behind the scenes to areas ticket-holders will soon experience.

The entire building was teeming with activity as “Guys and Dolls” actors rehearsed in the large public lobby at the entrance, all the while Beauty and the Beast set-construction, lighting, sound testing, and line rehearsing brimmed in the creative sanctum — the 291-seat auditorium. With its high ceiling and hanging panels, or “clouds,” purposed for optimum acoustics, the space is grand yet subdued, comforting down to the upholstery.

“D-20 is my favorite seat,” Haden said. “That’s not the same for everybody. Some like to be closer, some like to be right in the middle. But fourth row is my favorite.” Not that there are undesirable seats, he continued. “I’ve sat all over the place, and I’d be really hard-pressed to find a bad spot.” Different sections can bring forth different nuances of the performance, new perspectives, he said.

The space is fitted with more than 150 independent lights for the stage, each controlled on a single iPad. Sound is managed similarly. “Instead of all these dials, like a mad science experiment, now they’re running it all off their iPads,” Haden said. The new lighting and sound technology is expected to elevate each professional performance. “Like if we want a ‘plane flying’ overhead, you’re going to feel it in your seat,” Haden said.

“It’s like day and night,” said RMRT’s returning Lighting Designer Kent Barret, of New York City. “It’s a completely different set-up than what we’ve been using. “In the old space, I was always worried about starting a fire to be honest,” he said.

The professional theater company has long produced shows in the historic Grand Lake Community House, attached to the town hall. During summer Monday-night town board meetings, it wasn’t uncommon for a dramatically dressed actor to open the door to the boardroom and rush past trustees to the opposite side of the room, accessing another door to the stage.

The Repertory’s three-year “Raise the Curtain Campaign” raised $5.2 million through private donations, grants and town support to build its new state-of-art theater. The result is a venue with a large rehearsal space, men’s and women’s dressing rooms, a costume room, storage spaces, a kitchenette, a beautiful lobby with exposed steel work and an alder ceiling, public restrooms (with six stalls in the women’s), a gallery leading to the theater, a lighting box with new spotlights from Italy (that, apparently, don’t overheat like the old ones), and a stage with tracks and riggings that allow for quick scene changes. The official “RMRT, Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater” sign was hoisted onto the building just this Monday.

“It’s completely different. All the possibilities are so exciting,” said RMRT Artistic Associate Jeff Duke, who is the director of “Beauty and Beast” and “Chess” this season. Duke was applying final touches of black paint to a large bridge that will become a fixture on the stage for the entire season. Although it will be used in all plays, its greatest use will be in “Chess,” he said.

“Outlets! Now we have outlets!” Perez exclaimed, back in the sewing room. Artistic director of children’s theater in Chicago, Perez is entering his seventh season at RMRT. In former seasons, costume preparation happened upstairs in the community house, he said, where there were only two electric strips. For sewing machines, the clothes iron, steamer, and hot clue guns, there was never enough power; “But in theater, you just make it happen,” he said.

“I live in New York, and I work in a lot of theaters there,” Barret said, “and most of them aren’t as nice as this theater. They’re old, they’re smaller, the power is not as good.”“It’s not everyday you get to move into a space that you get to start,” Haden said.

From Milwaukee, Wis., Haden’s very first professional acting gig was with Rocky Mountain Repertory in 1997. He later met his wife Clare through the theater. “(RMRT) wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the support from the community,” he said.

For Perez, Grand Lake’s support for theater sets it apart from anywhere he’s ever worked, he said. “That a group of people accept and trust and respect and support us so much as to give us this gift, it’s insane.”

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext.19603