By Elliot Jackson
Every community gets the community theater – if it gets one at all – that reflects it in some way. Its beginnings, its tenure, the choices it makes along the way in which plays to produce, which performers to feature, what sort of audience it is trying to attract and, finally, its exit from the community stage, all say something about the nature of the community itself.
Salida’s Stage Left Theater Company has made the decision to close its doors after its September 2017 production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, and this decision reflects an ironic fact about Salida itself: that despite its growing reputation as an “arts town” – its status as one of the original Colorado Creative Districts, for example, its numerous arts and crafts festivals, or its many galleries featuring local potters, painters, sculptors and photographers – many of these artists are noting that it is getting more and more difficult to produce their art here.
The reality that theater is a collaborative process, dependent on many people working together in tandem, who may or may not be getting paid for their efforts (mostly not), compounds the difficulties that theater artists face. The other reality is that with the best will, or the best volunteers, in the world, running a theater company is hard work. “I ran myself into the ground trying to keep financial flow going, and then keep everything else going,” says Devon Jencks, the current Creative Director of Stage Left. “We needed more people who knew how to tap into the community – we were exhausting resources everywhere.”
Jencks stresses that money to put on productions never seemed to be as much of an issue as finding enough people to do everything that needed to be done, whether it be acting, providing backstage help, or serving on the Board of Directors. “The young people don’t have time – they’re working three to four jobs just to try to make a living. The retirees say they want to help, but then when you call on them, they’re out of town!”