Theater 29 is closing its doors after facing financial struggles from both the pandemic and personal matters, according to owner Lisa Wagner Erickson.
The theater had been closed since the pandemic started when Erickson's dad passed away in 2021. After assessing monthly bills, Erickson, who also teaches a composition class at Community College of Denver and manages two properties with her husband, quickly realized she wouldn't be able to invest her efforts full time into keeping the theater open. The theater officially closed July 21.
Erickson opened Theater 29 at 5138 West 29th Avenue in 2018 as a black-box space meant to give Colorado independent playwrights a place to tell their stories and produce whatever sort of show they wanted with creative freedom. While the theater has never been a primary income generator, she says it was doing well in 2018 and 2019, with people continuously using the space for plays and events until the pandemic stopped the momentum.
Like many creative operations, Erickson launched virtual endeavors to keep the theater active, including an online gallery where artists could showcase their past and present work. And in October 2020, Erickson and artists Ellen K. Graham and Tami Canaday launched Project Playbox, a theatrical experience where audiences would receive paper cut-out characters through the mail and email, and use them to immerse themselves in three short plays.
But Erickson says none of these online efforts generated enough money to keep the theater going.
Although the theater is closing, its playwrights and artists are left with good memories of the artistic community they built there. "I produced my own play there in March of 2019, which was a lot of fun," Erickson says.
"We did have kind of a close little coterie of people," adds Graham, whom Erickson says helped her to create connections in the theater community as well as produce a play. Graham produced her own play there, too.
Theater 29 allowed local playwrights and visual artists to completely run their own shows, giving them control over all of the production elements.
"We did all local work — mostly local playwrights, but also local performing artists and visual artists," Erickson says.
"At Theater 29, having that sense of liberty to have creative control was incredible," Graham says.
In 2018, playwright Dakota C. Hill mounted a show about a poor family whose son has a skin disorder and the mother has a form of Alzheimer's. The play turns into a mystery when a doctor comes to visit and his intentions become unclear. And in 2019, Erickson wrote and put on play called The Mrs. Wheatland Pageant, about a restless couple living in Wheatland that turn to acting sitcom scenes to pass the time. She says that was a year the theater tried out a lot of new work, hosting some staged readings as well.
"A lot happened in that space in that relatively short period of time, so I think there’s a lot of sadness," Graham says. "Whenever a venue closes — even if you’ve never been to the venue — there's a sadness there."