During my time in New York, Montana and Tampa Bay, I found the majority of professional theatre companies were either without a home of their own or couldn’t afford the building they occupied.
I have always wondered why more theatre companies didn’t pool their resources together and share space. If so many theatres are struggling and, dare I say, lamenting about their lack of income and rising expenses, it seems quite logical to downsize and get a roommate. Splitting groceries, utilities and household chores always benefitted me and my college buddies. Shouldn’t the same principle apply to non-profit organizations? Better yet, why don’t more businesses reach out to local 501(c)(3) organizations to host their donors at special events and increase their exposure to individuals who are generous with their money?
Companies feeling the strain should follow in the footsteps of the locals of Cherry Creek in Denver. Mark and Maxine Rossman, theatre enthusiasts and Cherry Creek residents, knew they wanted a theatre in their community. But in this upscale neighborhood, real estate is prime and renting is not a reality for a budding charitable organization. The Rossmans and a group of friends, who later became the Founding Board of Directors, started to brainstorm. One board member approached Shaver-Ramsey, the high-end Oriental rug company with a 5,000 sq. ft. showroom only used during daytime hours, and it was a match made in heaven. Or in Denver, at least.
And thus, Cherry Creek Theatre was born. As Shaver-Ramsey employees are wrapping up their shifts for the day, the production crew and volunteers for CCT pour in, prepped to transform the space in one hour. The blinds are drawn, risers and chairs set up, the cash counter becomes a wine bar, and the front entrance becomes a box office. The Cherry Creek team, led by Producer Pat Payne, connects the light board, braces platforms and dresses the stage ready for an eager public.
Instead of a drab black box, Cherry Creek Theatre uses rugs to block out sunlight (or night street lamps) creating an intimate and exotic atmosphere. The show begins and one forgets they are in a rug store. During an opening night performance of “Vigil,” a dark comedy by Morris Panych, the audience roared with delight and enjoyed delicious snacks and coffee at intermission generously donated by Brio Tuscan Grille and Peet’s Coffee & Tea, local food establishments. As the actors take their bows, the team stands by, ready to disassemble everything. An hour later, the trappings are loaded out and CCT leaves no trace behind. The situation may not be ideal, but it is far better than the alternative: a non-existent theatre company.
Shaver-Ramsey and CCT embody the true spirit of collaboration. A young theatre company in their 3rd season is relieved of its worry about high overhead, thus allowing them to pay their artists and crew a decent wage. It doesn’t have to exhaust its staff with constant mediocre programming just to pay the electric bill. A premier rug company that doesn’t get much foot traffic suddenly welcomes 300 art appreciators into its home every weekend. This is smart business and gives a community a unique experience to discuss with friends. Shared resources and partnerships should be a part of every nonprofit’s strategic plan. Nurture those community relationships or one day, you may find the rug pulled out from under you.