The Evolution of Theatre
Image above: Laura Gilpin, Photograph, 1936 Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, J.G. Meem, Theater (detail). © Amon Carter Museum of American Art
The initial shock of the barefoot Martha Graham spectacle gave way to a summer season of more palatable, professional shows organized by co-founder Hare. The Russet Mantle by Laura Riggs and Dangerous Corner by J.F. Priestley were two of the first plays presented in 1936. The season was directed by George Coulouris from New York who went on to Hollywood fame. Jack and the Beanstalk, Why the Chimes Rang, and Rumpelstiltskin followed in 1938.
Many groups in the community used the stage at the FAC. The original Drama League (organized in 1916) used the theatre for all its performances. In 1946 the name was changed to Civic Players and in 1970 to the Civic Theatre. Further name changes occurred in 1988 when the resident group was rechristened the Repertory Theatre Company (under Thomas McElroy); in 2003 it was shortened to The REP (under Sandra Womochil Bray); and in 2007 it was renamed the “Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company” (under Alan Osburn). It’s now a professional TCG Member Theatre (the national organization of the American Theatre) operating in both the SaGāJi Theatre and the 108-seat Music Room, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers, directors, designers, musicians and technicians from Colorado Springs and throughout the country (under current Producing Artistic Director Scott RC Levy). In addition to the 10 productions the company produces each season, nationally-based artists, dance and music also perform in the SaGāJi Theatre.
In the 1930s and 40s, an annual Winter Concert Series offered three or four shows per season, featuring nationally known musicians. Musical performers included such stars as Andres Segovia and Lotte Lehman. This tradition of concerts has continued; the Chamber Orchestra of Colorado Springs is scheduled to appear this year. A wide variety of dance performances have graced the stage, including local companies, the Maria Benitez Spanish Dance Company, and groups from India, Africa, and the South Pacific.
The FAC has always encouraged programs for children, and it undertook a major project in 1977 with the creation of the Play Factory. This endeavor was funded in part by the city of Colorado Springs. This popular company traveled all over the state performing for children in parks. While the Theatre Company produces a regular season, the Youth Repertory Theatre hosts a variety of educational programs for students ages 6-18. Youth Repertory Theatre productions have recently included shows such as Applause, Pippin and As Thousands Cheer. In addition, Youth Repertory Theatre features a technical student track that allows students to be involved in the design and administration aspects of theatre. These programs are currently in their 16th season. Theatre tours conducted by the staff and the FAC Docents are available.
Films and film festivals have often been part of the programming at the Fine Arts Center. Classic films and travel-related films were presented throughout the mid-20th century, and recently, the SaGāJi has served as a primary venue for regional film festivals (including the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival).
For the 50th anniversary, Martha Graham’s dance troupe was asked to perform. This time, the residents of Colorado Springs were more receptive. Although Martha was no longer dancing, her reputation was worldwide and Modern dance was an accepted art form.
The theatre has seen more than 10,000 performances of all kinds and has, in the past decade, gained a reputation for high-quality productions and Colorado premieres of new American work.