Lake Dillon Theater Company opens impressive new facility

Theater folk are often used to working in less-than-ideal conditions, and most of them have a trove of anecdotes about dank dressing rooms, faulty lights, noisy plumbing and other indignities that, nonetheless, make up a life in theater.

But what if your small theater company, housed for years in an old, cramped building, suddenly had millions of dollars for a brand-new facility? And what if your little mountain town, dismissed for decades as just a gas stop on the way to the ski areas, had the chance to morph into a cultural hub with the help of said theater?

For the Lake Dillon Theater Company and the Town of Silverthorne, it’s become reality, the result of a whirlwind relationship that started with a phone call in 2013 and which culminates June 23 when the summer season kicks off in a brand-new, $9 million facility along the Blue River.

Launched in 1994 and based out of the old town hall and amphitheater in Dillon, LDTC has grown from a community theater with an active children’s program into a full-blown professional theater, with actors from around the country coming to spend time in Summit County to perform big-name musicals. Up until now, they’ve had to do it in a space with a max of 70 seats in a building not even remotely designed to be a theater (actors used to have to run to the gas station next door to use the bathroom). Now, they have a new, 16,000 sq. ft. facility boasting two main performance spaces — the Flex black-box theater with seating capacity up to 160 in various configurations; and a 70-seat Studio theater. There’s also a couple of “Lab” areas for smaller performances, one of which opens to a lawn along the Blue River for summer music and theater shows.

Quite the space

On a recent tour, artistic director Christopher Alleman and executive director Josh Blanchard showed off the facility with the town’s recreation and cultural director Joanne Cook. Less than a month from opening, there was still plenty of construction and landscaping work under way outside, but other than some last-minute details, the interior looked ready to go.

It is, quite simply, a stunning facility. Designed by Denver’s Oz Architecture, the glass, stone and wood building is state of the art, built from the ground up as a high-tech, modern theater and with Alleman and Blanchard involved every step of the way. The tour reveals details ranging from all-new lighting and sound systems to acoustically balanced performance areas and an integrated communications system. Spacious dressing rooms, a full set-construction shop with garage doors opening to each theater and a mercilessly quiet HVAC system are just a few of the other enhancements over the old facility.

“Our wish list wasn’t this grand,” said Blanchard. “We really just wanted a larger venue with things like more bathrooms, running water at the bar, adequate dressing rooms — the basics.”

They got that and a lot more when the town’s leaders determined the theater was key to Silverthorne’s decades-in-the-making desire to create a walkable town center with attractions beyond the outlet stores and, yes, the gas stations. Now dubbed the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, the area at 4th Street and Blue River Parkway also includes the town’s Pavilion facility, a growing collection of shops and restaurants and even nearby residential construction Cook said was spurred by the new theater.

“It’s all about the intersection of two organizations to do something pretty bold,” Cook said. “The theater needed to expand and our town council had clear priorities to create a more vibrant downtown.”

Originally the town’s ideas didn’t go much beyond creating some public art, but when, for a variety of reasons, remaining in Dillon didn’t appear to be an option for the theater, the pieces started falling together.

Now, it’s full speed ahead for the theater, whose upcoming season includes performances of ‘Sister Act,” “Ghost,” “Noises Off,” “Murder for Two” and a variety of smaller performances ranging from one-person shows to cabarets. The theater’s educational programs continue as busy as ever, with a full lineup of classes and workshops through much of the year for children and adults. The building is also meant to accommodate other local groups, art exhibits and more.

An evolution

On opening weekend, the theater will host a reception for town VIPs, donors and others, and special guests will include some of the original members of LDTC. Lennie Singer, who founded the theater along with B.J. Knapp, now lives in North Carolina but hopes to come out for the opening. Reached by phone, Singer recalled fondly the early days of the theater.

“They’d just built the first part of the Dillon Amphitheater right after we moved to town,” she said. Singer had done some theater education previously and asked the town if there was any interest in doing a children’s program at the new facility.

“It started that summer of 1994 with 15 kids and a two-week program,” she said.

Talking to the children, she realized many of them had never seen live theater before and the idea for a bigger program took root.

“So we started doing shows, started writing grants — it grew from there,” she said.

Programming morphed from original shows to more mainstream fare. In 2002, Alleman came on as the artistic director, and Blanchard joined soon after as the education director and, later, executive director. With arts degrees and experience as actors and directors, Alleman and Blanchard saw the potential for something bigger. They grew the programming gradually over the next 15 years, making the switch to an all-professional theater a few years ago. Despite the upcoming big leap in location, they both say the change isn’t as jarring as one might think.

“We’ve grown very strategically, around 13 percent a year since 2008,” Blanchard said. “It was very aggressive growth but very steady and controlled.”

Alleman sees the new facility as an exciting opportunity but one that simply matches their plan.

“LDTC has been producing theater for 22 years in a facility not designed to be a theater,” he said. “Flipping the switch to something bigger is challenging, but it also makes it easier because now we’re in a facility that’s designed to do it in.”

This story originally appeared in the Denver Post.