All the World's an Empty Stage

For the locked-out founder of Eulipions, the playís still the thing.

"That really set up the whole environment of 'What are these guys talking about?'" Keel says. "When we opened [the letter], everyone's mouth hit the floor."

Nulan says the letter speaks for itself and declines to discuss it. When asked why he didn't attend the meeting, he points out that he had been "invited by people I didn't know from a membership I didn't know existed. It didn't seem like it would be a friendly meeting."

Keel's group met again, and Keel then sent a letter to a Coldwell Banker agent notifying him that the sale of the building would be contested. The letter and the meetings were enough to convince the board that Keel was a liability, and she was fired.

An unhappy exit: Eulipions founder Jo Bunton Keel.
An unhappy exit: Eulipions founder Jo Bunton Keel.
Unreal estate: Eulipions' current building, the former El Jebel Shriner Temple.
David Rehor
Unreal estate: Eulipions' current building, the former El Jebel Shriner Temple.

"They felt like I mau-maued them," she says. "Maybe I did."

But that worked both ways. On July 29 Keel held another meeting of the Friends of Eulipions, this time to elect a new board of directors, only to discover that the locks to the building had been changed. This board was elected on the steps of the temple during an open meeting in which fifty or so people showed up.

The Friends of Eulipions filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against Eulipions Inc. on August 23. But their request was denied, leaving Eulipions free to sell the building. In a final move to stall the sale, Keel and company in late August filed a notice of pending litigation, which attorney Maynard believes will prevent the building from being sold before litigation is resolved. It would be, Maynard says, "very stupid for anyone to buy it or for a title company to insure over it."

Hipp says the injunction filed by Friends of Eulipions has already sunk several potential deals to buy the building.

Some Eulipions members try to put a positive spin on this sad story. Former boardmember Benavidez says buying the building was not a bad move. "I think it was a great deal because of the purchase price and the facility itself. Even now, selling it, the increase in value would be enough to pay off debt, and they should have enough to have some money left over. I wouldn't say it's all a bad thing."

"You can always second-guess your decisions, but at the time, we thought they could make that building work," says Bill Lysaught, head of the Mayor's Office of Economic Development. "If they could have, it would have been very good for Denver." He calls Eulipions' financial quagmire disappointing but says he still would have made the same decision. "We're in the risk-taking mode. We're prohibited from using the HUD dollars if there isn't some risk. You're gonna have failures when you try and improve the neighborhoods."

But no one can calculate the lost value of nearly two seasons with virtually no theater, and Hipp admits that maybe Eulipions wasn't ready for the bright lights of Sherman. "I don't think they ever realized how bad the crisis was they were in," says Hipp. "In hindsight, it was unrealistic to think any community theater group could raise the money to do the repairs needed and raise money to operate the building without subsidies." The Community Development and Planning Agency gave Eulipions a $150,000 grant for improvements to the building in 1999 -- but it was a conditional grant and will have to be repaid if the building is sold.

And reconciliation between the players doesn't seem likely. "We don't have an artistic director, and we're reluctant to fill that position," Nulan says. "It's been hard fundraising. [Keel] was our point person at identifying stuff. Folks would like to see the organization get its financial house in order."

Which may be the only thing everyone agrees on. "It's gonna take two years to get any credibility," says Davis. "They're pretty much dead in the water for a few years, because nobody's going to look at them for any serious funding."

"You can't write for season support when you're not having one," Walker adds.

Neither Vinson nor Nulan caught The Black Nativity, presented by the Friends of Eulipions at El Centro Su Teatro.

At the end of that show, the audience gave the cast a standing ovation -- which wasn't too loud -- and the cast applauded itself, and the band kept playing, and the theater was flooded with sound.

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