Nearly three months since Longmont’s theater mainstay Jesters Dinner Theater closed its curtains for a final time, the building remains on the market. Though the family-run business has ended, its former performers are keeping its spirit alive on a new stage as a new theater company, The Arts HUB Players.
A little under a month before the Jesters building at 224 Main St was put on the market on April 4 for $2 million, its performers and patrons leaped into action. A “Save the Jesters” campaign was launched early March, raising $11,580 on GoFundMe. An additional $5,000 was raised through a benefit concert on March 20 at the Arts HUB in Lafayette, estimated one of the fundraising leaders Amber Sutherland. If the $2 million was raised, Sutherland would have been the new owner of the building.
The community effort was admirable, but not enough to meet the asking price. Though the theater building is rented out for shows while it stays on the market, the Jesters staff said their goodbyes at the end of May with a production of "Guys and Dolls."
Sutherland said the last shows were full houses and full of energy. A bittersweet conclusion to more than 20 years of business.
“It was sad, you know, it definitely was,” Sutherland said. “We worked really hard to try to stay there and try to really keep that there, so it was a little, a little disappointing to not be able to do that and to feel like we had really good traction and things were going really well. And then the time came from going to put it up on the market and shows ended and it just kind of put like a big halt on it.”
But the Jesters performers still had hope, she said, knowing they would perform together again soon. The nonprofit community theater the Arts HUB — where Jesters held its fundraiser concert — has taken in Jesters’ performers as its new resident theater company.
Mekenzie Rosen-Stone, director of theater programming for the nonprofit community theater the Arts HUB, performed at Jesters for its "Legally Blonde" and "Guys and Dolls" productions. She helped the Jesters crew with the fundraising concert.
When they realized it wasn’t in the cards to buy the Main Street building, Rosen-Stone came up with an idea: creating an semi-professional acting troupe.
“It was through Jesters that I’ve grown really close to this crew. More important than anything, I realized how inclusive and accepting of a group they were. How passionate and talented everyone was. It really felt like a family,” Rosen-Stone said. “So to feel so supported and held by this group, so, so quickly really inspired me to kind of help them find a new spot.”
The acting group, now known as the Arts HUB Players, is made up of about 15 former Jesters performers. They will offer shows every season, and open up productions for auditions outside of the core group. Rosen-Stone said this will mark the launch for the Arts HUB’s adult community theater program. Funds raised for “Save the Jesters” were repurposed to fund productions for the Arts HUB Players with permission from the donors, Sutherland said.
“We're very grateful to everyone for their support and for allowing us to use the donations for this venture,” said Jes Hitch, a long-time Jesters performer and one of the lead organizers of the benefit concert. “We have really really big cool things planned and we're very excited about it.”
Hitch said the Arts HUB Players already have multiple seasons planned. They are kicking off their first production Friday Aug. 19 with “Disney's Descendants,” a musical based on the adventures of familiar villains and heroes such as Maleficent and Jafaar. Shows run through Aug. 28, with tickets going for $25 for adults and $10 for kids.
“Disney’s Descendants” is followed by a Halloween classic “The Addams Family” from Oct. 28 to Nov. 6.
Hitch said the new stage at the Arts HUB allows the former Jesters performers to flex new muscles. In the six years she was at the Longmont establishment, she was mostly found on stage or managing the restaurant front of house. Hitch will be serving as stage manager for “Disney’s Descendants.” Sutherland, who was also a Jesters actor, assumed the official role of director for current and future Arts HUB Players productions.
Alex Colin, who plays Evie in “Disney’s Descendants” along with set design, said she was one of the first people to learn about Jesters closing. She was a key player in the “Save the Jesters” campaign, and worked as a server along with working in every production since 2017. Colin said the first play goes out to the Longmont community who was just as big a part of the “Save the Jesters” effort as the staff and performers.
“I'm very excited and happy and humbled personally, again, as someone who has looked at the basis of every single person that has donated and, seen what we've given them, and to know that what we've given them made them want to give us dollar amount was very special,” Colin said. “So this is for them. This first show was for them.”
Jesters created a family, she added, and now that family is just moving to a new home.
The new home will have both familiar faces and spirit. Sutherland said the Arts HUB Players plan to have food trucks, drinks and outdoor seating during the shows so the audience can have the dinner theater aspect that Jesters was well known for.