"Life upon the wicked stage" left people with a variety of memories about the opening years of the Diamond Circle Theater.
Now we continue on with the interviews of Linda Sprague, Dennis Johnson, Nancy Geerlings and Roger Middleton.
Here is Linda, looking back on how she came to Durango:"I was going to the University of Denver. Orvis was a guest director in one of the summer theater department plays. They were doing different styles of drama. He was to teach us about melodrama. We did the show 'Our American Cousin,' the one being performed in Ford's Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was shot."
Continuing on, she offered high praise for Grout. "He was a great teacher, and he said 'Do you want to come to Durango,' and I said sure, wherever it was. As a young actress to get paid for something was a thrill. I was thrilled to do it, and it probably was one of the thrilling high points of my life."
Roger concurred. "Orvis was precise about the direction on stage where a character moves from one spot to another spot. You have to keep people moving on the stage to create a picture, to create a scene where everything flows."
Linda pointed out, however, "It is the tedious part of rehearsal. You have your little script, and you have cross left, cross right. The director, watching as we do our left and right, has to fix his brain on you to tell you which way to go."
A young Rod Barker had fond memories of those days as well. He had fun watching the actors, but laughingly remembered, "Specifically, there were a lot of great-looking young women." Rod went on to say, "They were beginning actors back then at the start of their careers, but they were so good. They really brought a level of professionalism."
There were always some questions about what plays to use. Nancy recalled, "We did 'The Tavern' (George M.
Cohan play), but pretty much tried to stick to authentic 19th- century plays because, for one thing, there are no royalties on them, I think, however, there were royalties on 'The Tavern' and 'The Pursuit of Happiness.' Those plays are good plays, and they fit right in, and they're good draw-ers."
Linda added a comment, "I liked 'The Tavern.' I had the best role and one of my favorite lines, 'I hate, loath and despise you.' That was my favorite." Then she commented on the man who made the olio's "swing" and the audience sing.
"Our piano player was Rinaldo Capaluto, he was a New York City man. Cappy, we called him. He choreographed everything and played the piano. He had this tremendous energy, and we were cast because we were actors, of course. And I couldn't sing. We did the can-can, and I would come off the stage and die. It was the altitude, but, by the end of the summer, I was can-canning all over the place. Cappy pulled it out of us, he made it work. He did not have much to work with."
The heart and soul of the melodrama are the actors, but not everyone had a leading man or woman's role. Dennis remembered Frank Tally, who joined the original company at Cripple Creek and came down with it to Durango. He did "character work, the side kick, for instance." Dennis himself always enjoyed doing the same thing. "Good stuff, actors love it!"
All good things must come to an end, it seems, and the Strater melodrama closed with the end of the 2007 season. After 45 years of entertaining Durangoans and visitors alike, the curtain fell for the last time, closing an era in Durango's theatrical history. Perhaps it is fitting to conclude with a few observations from the Bard himself, William Shakespeare:The actors are at hand; and by their show, You shall know all that you are like to know.
- A Midsummer Night's DreamAll the world's a stage,And all the men and women merely players:They have their exits and their entrances;And one man in his time plays many parts.
- As you Like It.
Duane Smith is a Fort Lewis College history professor.
Reach him at 247-2589.