Ridgway’s Historic Sherbino Theatre Is Born Again
by Leslie Vreeland
Oct 11, 2012 | 2273 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TURN ON THE LIGHTS – Sherbino boardmembers Pat O'Leary (left) and Brian Scranton prepare for this weekend's grand opening of the freshly restored theatre in Ridgway. (Photo by Eric Ming)
TURN ON THE LIGHTS – Sherbino boardmembers Pat O'Leary (left) and Brian Scranton prepare for this weekend's grand opening of the freshly restored theatre in Ridgway. (Photo by Eric Ming)

The establishment of a formal facility for the performance arts marked a community, at least in its own estimation, as having reached a significant plateau in the struggle for stability and sophistication, regardless of what type of entertainment such facility might present.

From the introduction to the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties

RIDGWAY – In the 97 years of its existence, the Sherbino building in Ridgway has been a dance hall, a movie theatre, a skating rink and a bowling alley. It has housed a café and the Ridgway Post Office. This weekend, the simple, one-story building at the corner of North Clinton and Cora Street returns to its roots: as a performing arts center for the entire community. There will be not one, but two grand opening events to mark the occasion: with a performance by the band SHED Friday night, and a cocktail party on Saturday, both at 7 p.m.

The idea for the Sherbino’s rebirth was hatched late last year, when a cadre of several friends – led by Ridgway’s former mayor, Pat Willits – began meeting to see if they could revive the old theater, which had been dark off-and-on since 2009. When the Sherbino’s owner, Shannon McCarthy, remarked in a meeting with Willits and his colleagues that she didn’t have enough money to make that month’s mortgage payment or keep the heat on (this was in December), it “catalyzed us to spring into action,” as he puts it in the Sherbino’s business plan.

The group quickly organized an “Emergency New Year’s Eve Party” (its motto: Think Globally, Party Locally). Three liquor stores donated wine and tequila, two liquor stores donated beer, two bands played for free, and more than 200 people turned up. The event grossed over $4,000, and allowed Willits & Co. to bank enough to plot their next move: to not only re-open an aging building, but to revive, re-energize and re-think the Sherbino theater for the entire community.

This they have done over the past 10 months. With a start-up budget of about $40,000 and a crew of dozens of volunteers, including local lighting expert John Allen, who designed the stage and sound system; local graphic designer Traci Schalow, who created a logo with a “clean and simple retro feel,” and committees to advise on music, movies and marketing, the New Sherbino has gotten up and running.

Its first turn under its new stewards, who have incorporated as the Ridgway Chataqua Society – a nod to the popular movement which brought speakers and entertainers to rural communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – was last May, with a performance by the Ridgway High School Drama Department. In recent weeks, film series for both children (in the form of Saturday afternoon matinees) as well as adults have been introduced with the help of Erika Moss Gordon, who works with Chicago International Children’s Film Festival organizer (and Telluride Film Festival Board Member) Milos Stehlik to bring high-quality movies for all ages to the Sherbino. The theatre hosts big-screen NFL football on Sundays (all ages, free admission), and recently simulcast the Jon Stewart-Bill O’Reilly debate, dubbed “Rumble in an Air-Conditioned Theatre.”

In two weeks, it will put on its first annual Halloween Show, “a huge costume party with music, where men get to dress like women and women get to dress like prostitutes,” Brian Scranton, one of nine Sherbino board members, said. “And isn’t that the point of Halloween?”

On Tuesday morning, volunteers double-checked the Sherbino’s new surround-sound system, and polished the new bar. Scranton, managing director of the strategic branding firm GrahamSpencer by day, noted that most have regular “50-hour-a-week jobs,” yet have spent hundreds of hours making the Sherbino, now known as the New Sherbino, shine again. Now the goal is fund-raising: the total cost to buy and refurbish the place is estimated to be $400,000, less than half of the $1 million-plus it will cost to refurbish Ouray’s Wright Opera House, Scranton pointed out.

The Chatauqua group hopes to raise that amount by not only bringing in entertainment, but also through donations and by selling memberships. A $50, entry-level membership “gets you into events,” Scranton said, “and a $1,000 benefactor donation gets your name on the wall.” Of the theatre’s restoration, Scranton said, “It’s cool, it’s important, it’s exciting. We’re overwhelmed and overworked.” He added that there is still a long way to go to bring the theater, and all its new programs, completely up to speed. In the meantime, “Gemba Kaizen,” he intoned. It’s a Japanese phrase, “a way of life,” which means the art of continuous improvement.

Next Saturday at 3 p.m., the theater hosts a collection of award-winning short films for children including Confection (USA), Domo-Kun and the Egg (Japan), and The Magic Lion (Canada), curated by the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. To receive an email newsletter about upcoming events at the Sherbino, visit http://eepurl.com/oPNhn. 

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