Open Your Imagination!

Steamboat Springs: home to virtually every form of outdoor recreation. We even surf on the standing waves in the Yampa River each spring. There’s probably not one of you readers that doesn’t have a favorite outdoor recreational activity of choice every summer.  As we all know, if you don’t find something you enjoy outdoors in the winter, you will move away or go mad. Although, I think ice fishing is already a form of madness. “Let’s drink a few beers and stare at this hole in the ice to see if a fish jumps out through it. Better yet, let’s wait until a full-on blizzard is blowing in across the frozen lake, and then stare at the hole.”

Now imagine (cue the John Lennon music here…) if we had a charming outdoor performance venue to complement our glut of outdoor activities. Not the free concert kind of rock and roll and marijuana/alcohol fueled craziness that happens at Howelsen Hill every summer but a lovely quiet spot with a beautiful view of the Strawberry Park valley, just a short distance from the Perry-Mansfield Camp where theatre and dance began in the Yampa Valley over 100 years ago; suitable for small theatre, dance, string instrument, and vocal presentations for local artists as well as the occasional touring acoustic group. Now, imagine that this venue will be built in collaboration with the local school district so students from kindergarten through senior year could have an outdoor education and performance space, too. Of course, it will be open to the public for minimal user fees to hold an outdoor meeting or personal gathering.

This is exactly what Piknik Theatre has been imagining for the past couple of months. After the successes we had this fall with workshops at the Montessori School, the Yampa Valley High School, and a sold out run of Roald Dahl’s Matilda at the Middle School, we’ve been inspired to approach the Steamboat school district about constructing an amphitheater adjacent to the playground on the Strawberry Park Elementary School campus. We arranged for an acoustic engineer, an architect, school administration, and the adjacent property owners to visit the site and offer suggestions. Lo and behold, what came out of the meeting was a shared vision for a 200 seat, covered stage, outdoor performance venue.

More specifically, the seating will be tiered benches configured in concentric arcs that will seat about 100 people; with a grassy area beyond suitable for another 100 or so. The stage will be about 20 feet by 40 feet curved to match the seats and have a covered area to protect against the elements and offer shade for performers and user groups. There will be acoustic panels to minimize the already low level of ambient noise such that a child using an outside voice will be heard without amplification at the back of the tiered seats. No theatre lighting will be included to minimize cost of installation and operation, as well as the environmental impact of nighttime activities. 

Access is available through the Butcherknife Creek trail or ample parking is easily accessible in the school lot. Toilets are already available in a secured area of the elementary school. There’s an existing gravel drive for vehicular access; inexpensive and wheelchair accessible walkways will be simple to construct since the site grading already slopes gently. Even the existing restored one room schoolhouse will have another life as a costume and green room area for the actors.

So, what are we waiting for? Well, the devil’s in the details so a legal agreement with the school district for a long term lease of the property is essential. There’s a long list of other legal issues that need to be addressed concerning operation, maintenance, and scheduling among other things. But the plan is to begin construction in 2022 with use of the amphitheater by the spring of 2023. Fortunately, there’s a huge groundswell of support from local arts organizations including the Steamboat Opera, Steamboat Creates, the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra, as well as Piknik Theatre. The school district is excited to offer a performance venue for student activities and an outdoor classroom for educational activities.

How is all this going to be paid for, you ask? That is a formidable question indeed. Much of the estimated $500,000 will come from local donors like you; local foundations; local government; with regional or national philanthropic foundations jumping on board at the last minute. But let your imagination run riot with the opportunities such a facility will offer our outdoor oriented community: performing arts of every shape and acoustic sound; a valuable educational amenity for our kid; and a beautiful location for your next wedding or funeral. Now, if we can only find a way to include dogs and their owners in the stakeholder mix, it’s a done deal. More details will be forthcoming as the planning unfolds but feel free to offer your input: pikniktheatre@gmail.com.

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