We closed our tenth season with Ugo Betti’s Crime on Goat Island and opened our eleventh with All My Sons by Arthur Miller. As I think back on those plays what I most vividly remember is the sets we were able to build for both of them. Look back at the photos we posted for Tobacco Road and Macbeth, and at the photos here for All My Sons and Goat Island. And look at Thieves’ Carnival.
We don’t build sets like those any more. It’s not that we’ve lost the talent or the skills to design and build sets like that; it’s that we’ve lost the time and the space.
We were leasing space in a warehouse building at 4840 Sterling Drive in Boulder. We got it at a price we could afford partly, I think, because the company that owned the building was glad to able to rent it at all. The rest of the building was industrial warehousing, and we often heard heavy equipment working in the rest of the building, but only during normal work hours, never during the evening and weekend times when we performed.
But then one morning, in our third season there, Joan Bell and I went to the theatre for some reason I can no longer remember and found, taped to the door, a notice that the city was shutting off the water to the building because the water bill had not been paid for some months. We had a show (The Importance of Being Earnest) playing that night. So, of course, we drove right downtown and paid the water bill. It was not too bad. Nobody but us had been using water, or, for that matter electricity or gas, for some time, so we were really only paying for what we had used. It turned out we were the only tenants.
We continued to pay rent for our part of the building for some time after that but, crooks and thieves that we were, we found ourselves in a huge empty warehouse and we were paying rent for only a small portion of it. We used the whole building: we now had rehearsal space and shop space, not somewhere across town, but in the same building, a few feet away from the theatre we were performing in. And it was not just The Upstart Crow; all the theatre companies renting from the Guild had the same opportunities and could rehearse and build there.
That’s how we were able to build some of those sets.
And one of our actors actually lived in the building for a while.
Worst of all, the city thought the building was unoccupied. That had worked to our advantage for some time, but one day we learned that the police were planning a swat team exercise in the building and would come in and shoot the place up some. We managed to talk them out of it. We were performing that day.
Finally, McGuckin Hardware bought the building and that kept us out of all that free rehearsal and shop space we had enjoyed, but we could not have asked for a better landlord. They kept our rent at the same level. They placed their small engine repair facility in that building, but they made sure no one would be repairing a lawn mower engine during a performance. And, when our lease with McGuckin ran out, they let us stay a couple more years till we could move in to the Dairy Center.
Best of all, they gave me a job. I’ve just retired from 21 years in the bolt aisle at McGuckin’s.