Evergreen is enamored with Center Stage.
The historic theater on Fireweed Drive in Evergreen, which is celebrating its centennial this year, has a unique charm that enchants performers and the public alike. It is one of the things that drew Graham Anduri to Evergreen to become executive director of Ovation West Performing Arts, the theater’s owner.
“There seems to be a kind of community sense of magic about (the building),” said Anduri, who became executive director in January. “It’s easy to see why that is, but it’s difficult to explain in words. You have to experience it and feel the ambience.”
History is prevalent everywhere you look in the building.
“From the posters on the wall to the old style of construction, the thick beams and bolts that hold the place together,” Anduri said. “The bones of the place are still plain to see. You can see the decades of productions that have been done here.”
The Center Stage building is part of the Evergreen Conference Center, which is a designated historic district by the National Register of Historic Places. The conference center, which includes 23 structures, served as a music camp for decades starting in the late 1800s.
The building, originally known as the Meeting House, was constructed in 1924 by local carpenter and stone mason John Spence, and its construction and architectural features reflect how buildings in Evergreen were constructed more than a century ago, according to area historian Richard Scudder.
In 1990, Evergreen Chorale, the precursor to Ovation West, began renting the Center Stage space. The theater had wooden benches and a wooden platform that could be used as a stage, Scudder said.
“It was pretty basic,” he said. “When Chorale took over, it got a hold of some theater seats, which made a huge difference in terms of comfort.”
Frank Plaut, who joined Evergreen Chorale in 1976, told the Canyon Courier in a previous story about the Chorale’s history: “There was no plumbing, no heat, no lobby, no green room. If we were in rehearsals or performances, we brought in portable toilets. We brought in construction heaters, and people came in parkas.”
Then the renovations began: lobby and restrooms in 1992, patios in 1993, orchestra pit and costume storage in 1994, green room and dressing rooms in 1995, theater seating and a new lighting system in 1997, gardens in 1998 and a 1,200-square-foot lobby in 2004.
Evergreen Chorale finally bought the property in 2009 and recently remodeled the lobby. Plaut figures the group has put more than $1 million into refurbishing the building.
Performers who come up the hill to work with Ovation West talk about how charming the theater is.
“There’s an energy to old theaters and something special about that,” Anduri said. “You can’t replicate it in new construction.”
Anduri wonders if the building might be haunted in a good way. He said performers have had funky experiences with the lights.
“All of a sudden, the stage lights start flickering and nobody is in the lighting booth,” he said. “Whoever it is, it’s a friendly ghost.”
He said one of his favorite things to do is to sit in the empty theater to allow the creative muses to come.
“All of a sudden, I just get ideas,” he said. “Things come to me if I give myself the time. I just bask in the energy of this place. My meditation is sitting in a silent theater.”
Center Stage is filled with dark nooks and crannies, Scudder added. Several rooms below the main floor are used for costumes.
“If any place would be haunted,” Scudder said, “those costume rooms would be it.”
With Evergreen Children’s Chorale, children’s acting camps, Evergreen Chorale and other groups using the theater space, Center Stage hosts performers of all ages.
“From the perspective of Evergreen, you look at the way it’s been part of the community for 100 years, intensively for 50 years, “ Scudder said. “It has been a place where kids get a chance to grow up and learn about musical theater and music through Evergreen Children’s Chorale and then pursue it as adults.”
The building’s historic character outweighs not having all of the technological bells and whistles.
“Center Stage doesn’t have all of the capabilities that a larger Denver Center for Performing Arts theater has, but it has character to it,” Anduri said. “People come back again and again to see plays and concerts.”
Center Stage is a magical place, Anduri said.
“It’s been a mainstay in the theatrical and musical community in the foothills for its whole life,” Anduri noted. “It’s one of the only facilities of its kind in a pretty large radius. This really has stood apart as far as the type of place it is, and the venue it offers to people.”
Center Stage, Scudder added, “is part of the life of the community.”