Creede, Colorado doesn’t have a lot to offer from the outside. Five hours from the nearest major airport, one grocery store, one gas station, and not a single traffic light, Creede seems like one of those places that barely makes it on the map. When people learn this tiny town has a successful theater, they are understandably surprised.
The Creede Repertory Theater has a rich, 56 year-long history that has hosted locals and theater enthusiasts alike. Even Tony and Emmy Award-winning legend, Mandy Patinkin, was a company member in 1971 and 1974.
The Creede Repertory Theater. Credit: Four Corners Region.
“Paradise was defined for me and birthed in me by the theater of Creede, Colorado,” Patinkin says. “It taught me what the theater was truly about: everyone working together to bring people together.”
In the mid-60s, Creede’s future was tenuous at best. What was once an area rich in silver-mining, restaurants, and saloons had run out of time. Storefronts were boarded out, and many families struggled financially. The local pastor suggested starting a theater to save the town, despite none of them knowing how to do that. Calls for help were sent to neighboring states, where it eventually caught the eye of Steve Grossman (you might know him as a renowned saxophonist), then 19, and Joe Roach (theater historian at Yale), then 18.
A few months later, Grossman, Roach, and 10 others came to Creede to clean up the Creede Opera House and start something big. The Creede Repertory Theater ran its first four plays in June of 1966—“The Bat,” “Our Town,” “The Rainmaker,” and “Born Yesterday.” A different play was shown every night to inspire patrons to come back.
“Steve wanted to make sure that we had at least one serious drama every year, a couple of comedies, a classic,” says Steve Reed, one of the original cohorts who went on to head the theater. “That was his vision from the very beginning.”
The repertory format remains to this day, a wonderful asset. Every year, company members boarded up in a “former house of ill-repute.” The company took different roles and different jobs to promote the stage productions. Slowly, actors and stagehands bled into the local community.
“We would go to the Golden Nugget bar after the show and all these miners and their families and friends would be talking about Chekhov and Tennessee Williams and Stephen Sondheim,” Mandy Patinkin says. “Unbelievable.”
Over the past fifty years, the theater and town have grown to be essential to one another’s success. No matter where one is, if they are in Creede, they will run into a cast member. Even food stops may shut down for an hour to attend CRT board meetings.
Credit: Sunnyside Chapel
Creede Repertory Theater performance in 2021. Credit: Ramsay de Gives.
Much like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the American Players Theater, and the Ogunquit Playhouse, Creede Repertory (often referred to as Creede Rep) has become a location for theater lovers across the nation. From the months of April to September, the theater’s permanent staff of eight balloons to 90 contracted employees to host around 37,000 students. Though apprehensive of the lack of commercial spaces initially, guests grow to fall in love with Creede.
For a town of 350, the theater’s annual bidge of $1.3 million is impressive. What’s more impressive, however, is the fact it sells over 25,000 tickets a season. As a major employer of the area, the theater is heavily relied upon by the locals financially and emotionally. When the coronavirus hit in 2020, Creede felt the theater’s absence.
“Without the theater,” county commissioner Scott Lamb says, “it just wasn’t summer.”
In 2021, the town found some semblance of normalcy again, though there are three plays instead of the usual five with tiny casts. To keep everyone as safe as possible, the plays are being performed al-fresco on a hilltop next to the town cemetery, while cabaret and improv shows take place under a tent at Creede Hotel.
Though Colorado summers are sweltering, in a way, the outdoor setting only brings the town and the theater closer together. Despite the often more conservative townsfolk and the more liberal performers, the Creede Repertory Theater allows them to have a more open dialogue and connect in ways others can’t.
Stephen Quiller, a local painter, agrees. “We have all walks of life here, but when it comes down to it, everybody loves the theater.”
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