Investing in the future of performing arts in Western Colorado begins with rebuilding the Robinson Theater to create a regional cultural destination
University of Colorado Mesa The William S. Robinson Theater can be moody and quirky – always warm and welcoming, sometimes squeaky and grumpy. It has its moans and moans, its quirks and idiosyncrasies, and so many stories to tell.
Since 1968, the Robinson Theatre, housed in the Moss Performing Arts Center, has hosted generations of music, theater and dance students, and sold out productions in its 600-seat auditorium. After more than half a century, it’s time to move up a gear.
A rich history
The original structure, the Walter Walker Fine Arts Center, was built in 1968 and 1969 at a cost of $865,000. Thirty percent of the money was raised by the university and the rest came from state and federal funds.
The Mesa Home of Art, Drama, Music, Fine Arts, and Speech Majors was dedicated on November 21, 1969, in a ceremony in which Justice of the Supreme Court of USA Byron “Whizzer” White was the keynote speaker and was baptized with a production by Thornton Wilder The skin of our teeth, featuring actress Eulalie Noble, an off-Broadway star. Mesa students paid 25 cents for their tickets and community members were charged $1.
The play was directed by the late William (Bill) Robinson – the beloved performing arts teacher who gave the theater its name in the 1992-93 school year.
In November 2002, the Walker Fine Arts Center was remodeled, expanded, and renamed the Moss Performing Arts Center, in honor of CMU benefactors John and Angie Moss. Fine arts students at the university moved the same year to a new building, now known as the Jac Kephart Fine Arts Building. Additional upgrades to the Moss Performing Arts Center were made in 2009 and 2012, including the addition of the Music Wing, Dance Studio, and Costume Shop.
“It is a structure that has been well used and much appreciated. But the reality is it’s time for us to modernize,” said CMU President John Marshall.
Marshall believes a strong performing arts program at a university can play a crucial role in the well-being of the surrounding region and stressed that Grand Junction and the West Rim need such benefits. He has also seen the arts help bridge cultural and urban-rural divides in addition to preparing students for future success.
He reiterated the power of the arts during a presentation last December to lawmakers on the state capital development committee for $39 million to help cover part of the cost of replacing the Robinson with a larger theater and ultramodern compatible with current standards. for theaters.
“We are quite optimistic about our ability to bring this facility into the 21st century,” Marshall said.
Additional dollars will be needed to complete the project, Marshall said, but the university will cover any balance through various fundraising initiatives, most of which will be led by the CMU Foundation, which it has done in the past.
Ready for retirement
A teardown of the current Robinson Theater and construction of a brand new facility is long overdue for multiple reasons, according to those who use the space every day.
Theater Department Head Maurice “Mo” LaMée was impressed when he first saw theater as a young student at Evergreen High School, Class of 1981.
“I’m sure that was one of the highlights of the campus 54 years ago when it was built. But when I came to CMU (as a faculty member), I think what horrified me the most was the acoustics,” LaMée said. “It’s a difficult space, partly because the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is quite old. It’s very noisy at best and still takes a lot of work to overcome.
But the auditorium was likely designed more for theater than music, said Darin Kamstra, 18-year-old faculty member and head of CMU’s music department. Kamstra was the principal timpanist of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra and performed with professional orchestras, jazz bands and musical theater companies throughout Colorado, Illinois and the Pacific Northwest.
“The new building will likely be a lyric theater with full theatrical lighting, backstage technical support and the ability to accommodate a wide range of musical performances – from a symphony to a rock band,” Kamstra said.
The new facility is expected to become a permanent home for the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra, Marshall told state lawmakers at their December meeting.
In its current state, the theater is unwelcoming to orchestras.
“Our [orchestra] the pit is very uncomfortable, very limited in size and without good access,” Kamstra said.
And in recent years, the pit has inexplicably filled with water, a frustration that has forced the postponement or cancellation of many shows.
“It’s a shocking moment: you’re getting ready for a show and you hear someone say, ‘Hey, your pit is full of water,'” said Lauren Knight, a junior majoring in design and technology ( which puts her behind the scenes), and acting and directing. “And if something goes wrong, we are often unlucky. A flood in the pit can immediately ruin a production.”
The new theater would feature a pit that can be raised, lowered, or moved with hydraulics, allowing an orchestra for some performances and more stage space for others.
The Robinson also has other flaws, some visible, others hidden from the public, including the building’s antiquated electrical system which is reputedly quirky.
“If you’re a tech, you’ll probably notice that all the wiring in the building is 50 years old, but I think at times we felt like the late Bill Robinson was playing tricks on us,” Kamstra said. CMU’s theater community often jokes about poltergeists whenever something in the archaic infrastructure goes haywire.
The backstage area is insufficient for dressing rooms, rehearsals, storage, technical staff and large castings. These issues not only challenge CMU’s performing arts community, but also make the venue unsuitable for touring shows – comedians, rock bands, dance troupes – a limitation that negatively impacts the entire CMU community. western Colorado.
“There really isn’t a space within 150 miles of Grand Junction like the one that’s envisioned here,” LaMée said.
This fact, according to the president, is one of the main reasons he thinks Colorado lawmakers should approve funding for the project.
“It’s one thing to build a college theater — it’s another to build an asset for an entire region,” Marshall said. “We would put a flag in the ground that would help bridge the gap between rural and urban, left and right, black and white…we really see this theater as an important part of that.”
The capacity of the new theater has been tentatively considered at 800-900 seats, an ideal size, according to preliminary studies commissioned by the university.
“Our analysis tells us that, in the performing arts sector, there is a sweet spot in terms of the ability to bring in outdoor shows traveling between Denver and Salt Lake City,” Marshall said. “If you go way over 900 seats, your efficiency starts to drop. If you go below 900, it’s the same problem.
A new theater is also likely to become an important asset for student recruitment to CMU and the Grande Vallée, not only because it would improve the quality of life on campus with its entertainment value, but also as an attraction. for students interested in the performing arts. The latter is a crucial consideration, as several universities along Colorado’s range front have recently built new theaters.
“I did some recruiting in Texas, where a lot of high schools have better theater spaces than we do—so the Robinson Theater isn’t a big attraction,” LaMée said. “I think a new theater will make a huge difference.”
Bridging the divides
The performing arts have traditionally been a magnet for diversity, attracting people of all colors and nationalities, income levels, gender identities, cultural backgrounds and political leanings. .
LaMée said he ran a theater in a remote, ultra-conservative area of southwestern Colorado, where he witnessed the impact of the performing arts firsthand.
“People there were isolated, almost scared of people who were different from them,” he recalls. “We did all kinds of events, but our improv group seemed really popular. People could come for an hour, have a beer, laugh and have fun.
“That’s where I really saw the power of the arts — bringing people together who otherwise might not choose to be in the same room,” LaMée said. “They were able to have a shared experience that was connective and healing, and emotionally and spiritually beneficial.”
Kamstra says music has the same kind of unifying effect on a diverse population.
“Clearly music is something that can bring us all together,” he said. “Politics and ideologies have no real place in this performance space.”
Diversity might be why LaMée was drawn to theater in the first place, he said, and it’s one of the main reasons his passion for the performing arts grew as that he has matured.
“I watched Darin perform with the symphony the other night, and it was clearly a place where your ideologies and beliefs didn’t matter,” he said. “It’s a place where we can have a shared experience that transcends those things.”
A new performing arts theater will better prepare students for their careers, help bridge cultural and urban-rural divides, and be a regional asset making CMU a premier cultural arts center in western Colorado .
A funding decision is expected from the state legislature in March or April.