Paragon Theatre Ensemble will close permanently on March 18, following the end of its run of Miss Julie -- only weeks after celebrating the opening of the same show in its brand-new space. A series of expensive code violations led to the ultimate decision to not just shutter that space but the theater group itself, ending Paragon's eleven-year tenure as one of Denver's most beloved companies.
Though the community's reaction to the bombshell that dropped yesterday has been alternately shocked, confused and woeful, Paragon artistic director Warren Sherrill seems more relieved than anything. "It's bittersweet. It's my baby," he says, then adds, "I think I am ready for something new, because it takes a lot of work. I have a regular day job, too, so I'm looking forward to a break, even though I didn't necessarily want it to happen this way."
The Paragon Theatre -- both the space and the ensemble that inhabited it -- was a dream realized for co-founders Sherrill and Michael Stricker. One of the reasons for Paragon's long tenure as a nomadic group had been its founders' caution; finding a permanent space for the company was a long time coming, because they wanted to be certain the decision was a sound one.
But after they finally found and rented the space at 2810 Larimer Street, they encountered many pitfalls getting it in proper working order; the need to add a new bathroom was among a litany of demands necessary to get the building up to code. When it came time to open Miss Julie, Sherrill and Stricker had to weigh two options: postpone the opening and accept all the repercussions, financial and otherwise; or go ahead with Miss Julie, knowing the building wasn't compliant. On with the show, they decided.
The issues piled on, though, until the weight of them became too much for the ensemble; the members felt it would be impossible to maintain their standard of excellence with such a heavy financial burden -- even were they to return to the itinerant lifestyle at which they'd succeeded for so long. "It would have been like going backwards," Sherrill says. "We've done that, and we feel like now we can end on a positive note." So last week they proposed a permanent closure to their board of directors, who agreed with the move.
Looking at the space, it's difficult to imagine that it caused a host of plaguing problems. It is charming, neatly arranged and artfully considered, with the far wall holding photographs that represent Paragon's endeavors through the years. Speaking in that space, Sherrill looks unburdened as he emphasizes the ensemble's successes, as well as the community of talent that came together to produce the shows. "We were picking the cream of the crop when it came to costume designers or set designers or actors. We were so lucky," he says, crediting that luck to their mission to "make it the best experience for everyone who is helping out, to make it positive, to make it enjoyable, to make it feel like you're learning something."
The powerful Miss Julie, which runs through March 17, is a fitting end to the Paragon's long run; Sherrill had hoped to produce the play for years. "I just thought, Miss Julie, that's the show that's perfect for our brand-new space," he says. "Yes, to open Miss Julie and to close with Miss Julie permanently -- I couldn't ask for a better way to go out. We're not going out with some fizzling little thing."
The show opened February 24 to a warm reception; in her review, Juliet Wittman complimented both the production and the new space itself, noting that the black-box theater "makes possible a cunningly constructed set, adds intimacy, keeps the focus firmly on the actors -- and ensures that we hear every word of this strange and significant play." The last performance will be March 17.
"Of course, it's horribly sad, and I was talking to Michael, my co-founder, and we just can't imagine what life's gonna be like without this," Sherrill says, then quickly adds, "but in a good way." He is conscious of the doors that a change like this will open for him, Stricker and the ensemble, and he's confident that more creativity will come out of it: "I wouldn't say you've heard the last of us."
His real worry, he says, "is letting down the community, letting down our patrons, our donors, our big supporters who truly believe in us." That touching, rueful sentiment speaks to Paragon's enduring commitment, which was always to the benefit of those who showed up at the box office.
But if the comments on Paragon's Facebook page are any indication, no one is let down- -- "heartbroken, yes, but not let down. The most prevalent sentiments expressed are of gratitude; people feel fortunate that a company with the creativity and class of Paragon was ever here at all, let alone for more than a decade.
"We appreciate so much the outpouring of support," Sherrill says. "We want to thank our past volunteers and donors and patrons... it was a dream come true. There are absolutely no regrets. We did what we set out to do."
To buy tickets for the last productions of Miss Julie, go to the Paragon's website.
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