Arts center adjusts to world of restrictions

Current theater production is being staged outdoors at Hudson Gardens

Sonya Ellingboe
sellingboe@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 9/22/20

When the world closed down last spring, Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center closed a production of “Barefoot in the Park” a week early and started on a different kind of journey. The board of …

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Arts center adjusts to world of restrictions

Current theater production is being staged outdoors at Hudson Gardens

Posted

When the world closed down last spring, Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center closed a production of “Barefoot in the Park” a week early and started on a different kind of journey. The board of directors, led by J.D. McCrumb, determined to keep the staff on board and met to think about the nonprofit’s future.

“We decided to keep in a holding pattern,” McCrumb said when we met for coffee last week. “We hoped for a June or August opening of “Almost Heaven” in Town Hall and made the arrangement with Hudson Gardens just three weeks ago ... We were given an opportunity to think differently — which will carry over into the future.”

Fortunately, the board’s careful management has resulted in a balance in the bank.

A new connection will result in the Stanton Gallery being filled by artworks provided by the Littleton Fine Arts Guild, which operates the nearby Depot Art Gallery. The building will be open during box office hours and during future performances.

“Almost Heaven,” focused on the music of John Denver, had been scheduled for spring 2020 at Town Hall. Directed by Nick Sugar, it was rehearsed, costumed and ready to go when things had to close ... and there has been a bit of recasting.

But it opened in Hudson Gardens’ Rose Garden with live music and had sold out its first two weekends before the opening night. “Nick Sugar has been on a journey with us,” McCrumb said. “Hudson Gardens has been fabulous to work with.”

They roped out the lawn and figured how to seat 75 people in six-by-six-foot pods that are six feet apart. Each will hold a blanket or a couple of chairs for people from a family or related group. There will be a total of 21 performances. “The John Denver show is perfect — hope comes through music.”

No season announcement yet

As the nonprofit organization, housed in Littleton’s historic Town Hall building, looks forward, “we want to produce live theater,” McCrumb continued, but will not announce a season at present. They will look for plays with a small cast — small-scale musical productions to perform in their downtown space on Littleton’s Main Street.

Two variances will be requested from Arapahoe County, which spells out the new rules for gathering inside. (Town Hall’s auditorium holds 260 — probably 50 tickets will be available.) Audience seats will be limited and there’s also a problem with separating actors from audience in this venue — those who have enjoyed a performance in the front row will recall times when a performer was almost in one’s lap! Lots of measuring tapes are in order this year!

“It’s a gamble for us,” McCrumb said. “We may have to reschedule because of bad weather. We will go rain or shine as long as it’s safe.”

Looking ahead to in-house performances — future theater sets will be smaller and simpler, with not much overhead for each production. A production of 21 to 25 shows could break even, the board thinks.

And there have in the past been a second set of small concerts that played between theatrical productions. People bought tickets for them, when buying season tickets, but attendance was poor. Rethinking will happen here ... “I can’t say enough about the amazing staff, actors, designers ... everyone working there is right for the job,” McCrumb enthused.

There is no executive director at the moment and no search in process yet. “When it’s financially prudent and operationally necessary, the board will bring someone on”... McCrumb also spoke of an increased interest from potential board members. The board has three priorities for the year:

 Continue a focus on quality programming.

 Enhance the patron experience.

 Raise Town Hall’s profile in the community.

“It’s an economic driver for downtown Littleton and a force for kids in the school system. Whether you like art or not, we demonstrate relevance.”

Benefits of education program

The educational program, headed by Robert Michael Sanders, has so many benefits, McCrumb stated. “It teaches children to dialogue, solve problems, meet different people, speak in public. Studies have shown that as school districts have to slash budgets, kids exposed to the arts do better across the board. We want to stay in touch.” Sanders and program manager Matthew Kepler, who connects with what is going on regionally, are among staff members the board leans on.

In the past, some casting decisions have been criticized (i.e., not Latino actors in “West Side Story”), but McCrumb is convinced that “the vast majority of roles can be played by any actor. It’s about politics, not talent. We will look at shows that we can cast appropriately and widen the potential cast as we move out of COVID. Selections will hold to values we preach. We will reach out to current audiences about material they wish for.”

Production of new plays is not in Town Hall’s mission, he continued. Perhaps there will be some “smaller in-between shows, as we’re able.”

Going show by show, the next challenge is “what we can do with a holiday slant.” The board wants to reach audiences who may not now be comfortable with seeing live theater — it may not be on their radar ... On THAC’s YouTube is “Behind the Mask,” with 3-4 minute recordings by different performers — all paid, McCrumb emphasizes.

“It’s not exclusive, we’re not spending a lot on promoting ... but hope to bridge a generation gap.

“Robert Michael Sanders is a treasure. He rebuilt the education program and offered it virtually and free. We have a student from as far away as New Hampshire! A small group of students has learned dialects, improv, expanded speaking skills. It’s a priority of mine to build it up,” McCrumb said.

“We’re not making money now, but I’m optimistic! We’re exploring how to offer something no one else is. Eighty percent of revenue is from ticket sales. Some other cities (Parker, Lone Tree) contribute a larger part of the budget. We have a goal of raising $100,000 by Oct. 1!”

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