In a typical season of productions, Springs Ensemble Theatre offers its audiences entertaining and in-your-face introspection about human nature and timely, provocative topics.
The theater opened its in-person 12th season, fresh off of a COVID-19 shutdown earlier this year, with Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare, a play about the 1665 black plague that challenges class systems. The selection was designed to resonate with theatergoers’ pandemic experiences, as rich and poor faced the same sickness and, in the play, were forced to quarantine in the same home.
“When people come to the theater, it’s this moment where we all gather together and we say, ‘We’re going to experience this moment in time together,’” says Matt Radcliffe, president of SET’s board of directors. “There’s something to be said about … having that energy together in the same room.”
Since its founding in 2009, SET has also served as “an incubator for theater talent,” from Colorado high school and college students interested in the performing arts, to professionals who are between roles, Radcliffe says.
For these volunteer actors, set designers, directors and playwrights, the theater has become more of a lifeline and sole artistic outlet during the pandemic. While other local theater companies were largely non-operational, SET adapted and continued performing and cultivating a community of artists, Radcliffe says.
That energy was on full display — along with a mix of heartfelt and thought-provoking stories — in SET’s recent Holiday Play Festival that ran from Dec. 2 to 19 as a Give! Campaign fundraising event.
Ticket revenue was channeled into SET’s donation total, which reached more than $2,100 by the end of the show’s run, not including matching donations from friends and supporters. Radcliffe, who helped direct the holiday festival, says the theater badly needs donations to recover from the pandemic.
Like many performing arts organizations, SET fell upon extremely hard financial times when it was forced to close, he says. The theater offered ticketed virtual performances for about a year and a half and reopened its stage on East Cache La Poudre Street in October, with half as many audience seats and stringent COVID-19 protocols to prevent spreading the virus in its intimate 27-by-27-foot space.
In 2019, SET’s revenue soared, surpassing any year in the organization’s history, says Radcliffe. 2020, on the other hand, saw one-third of that revenue and the theater is now barely breaking even.
“Looking at our organizational goals, we’re essentially three years behind now because of COVID,” Radcliffe says.
Although fewer people have attended this season’s shows than they had hoped for, the Holiday Play Festival’s numbers did show promise, he says.
As people become more comfortable going out and living with the realities of the pandemic, Radcliffe expects audience numbers to increase. SET is also taking extra COVID-19 precautions, such as requiring audience members to wear masks and verbally confirming vaccination upon entry, to ensure older and vulnerable people feel safe returning to the theater.
“Audiences, at least a certain portion of them, seem to be coming back, albeit slowly,” Radcliffe said. “The focus at this point is making sure that we build up enough revenue this year to make sure we can make it through next year.”