The Butte Theater is run by The Butte Theater Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit committed to enhancing the theatrical arts and growing arts tourism in Cripple Creek, CO. BTF partners with the City of Cripple Creek to produce programming in the historical Butte Theater.
History of Theater in Cripple Creek
Theater got an early start in the district – Cripple Creek and Victor both sported grand opera houses in the 1890s. Both are gone now, but the Butte lives on.
The “Butte Concert and Beer Hall” premiered in 1896, when proprietors Halbekann & Hertz featured nightly entertainment with a Ladies’ Vienna Orchestra. Some time later the theater re-premiered as the Butte Opera House under the management of D.R. McArthur. Within two years, numerous clubs and lodges were sponsoring parties and benefits at the Butte on a regular basis.
The opera house experienced limited success, and over the next several years underwent a series of makeovers; first it was transformed into the Butte Hall Dancing Academy, followed by The Watt Brothers Furniture Company, back to a theater (this time under the name Teller Hall,) on to a skating rink, a secondhand store, a weapons cache (the space was then called The Armory,) an auto garage, and eventually fell into disuse, mainly a storage facility for the fire department located below.
Early in 1999, the City of Cripple Creek brushed aside some of the dust and saw a lost jewel hidden amongst the rubble. The City began extensive renovations to refurbish the Butte with fresh paint, Victorian-era wallpaper, and period chandeliers. A 1,350-square foot stage spans the main room, with seating for 184 guests.
The tradition of presenting classic Victorian melodrama in Cripple Creek dates back to the late 1940s. In 1946, Wayne and Dorothy Mackin purchased the Imperial Hotel and began producing original melodramas in the basement of the hotel. They called their theater The Gold Bar Room. For 60-plus years the Mackins and their acting company, The Imperial Players, performed to summer crowds. In the early 1990s the last Imperial show was performed as the Imperial became a casino and the Gold Bar Room closed.
After a few dark years, the traditional Cripple Creek Melodrama was granted a new lease on life. When final renovations were completed on the Butte Theater in 2000, the summer melodrama moved to its new home. Now in a brand-new theater, the melodrama was conceived and produced not by Wayne and Dorothy Mackin, but by their son and daughter-in-law, Steve and Bonnie Mackin. Later, Stacy Mackin – the third generation of Mackins to produce melodrama in Cripple Creek – took over production.
In 2007, Thin Air Theatre Company emerged as the resident professional company, to carry on the tradition of melodrama and bring additional shows to the Butte. TATC produced 11 amazing seasons of shows.
The Butte Theater Foundation was formed to take over program management from the City with a goal of receiving outside funding to continue the growth and health of the theatre scene in Cripple Creek.
In 2018, BTF hired Mountain Repertory Theatre to be the resident professional company. With outstanding experience, enthusiasm and a great love for Cripple Creek and The Butte, MRT came in with a strong vision and blew us all away with an inaugural season. In 2019, they will be producing a varied 7 shows and 165 performances, including, of course, the classic melodrama.
The melodrama is a fun-filled family outing with professional actors, stunning hand-painted sets, and period costumes. Audiences can boo at villains and cheer for heroes in this traditional form of melodrama, just as audiences have in Cripple Creek since the 1940s!