Skip to content

As Jester's Theatre closes, community refuses to give up easily

Member of the Jester's community are raising money to keep the theatre as it is.

The family-owned Jesters Dinner Theatre building will soon be on the market after more than 20 years operating on Longmont’s Main Street. Though the deadline is approaching and the price tag is high, Jesters performers are leading a grass root campaign to keep the legacy alive.

After Jesters' long run at 224 Main St., the owners are ready to close the curtains on this era of their lives, according to co-owner Scott Moore who opened the theater with his wife Mary Lou Moore in 1999. 

The building and theater is up for sale on April 4 for $2 million, but Moore said he and Mary Lou have discussed closing Jesters for about four years. He added that his wife works hard and the couple wants time to do the things they couldn’t while running the busy dinner theater.

“I feel like I owe it to (Mary Lou), frankly, because she teaches voice and piano lessons 38 hours a week. She does all the costumes and all the music direction and plays the piano for all the shows, so I mean it turns into a 60 hour week in a hurry,” Moore said. “So we just hit that point where it's been a great run, and you know, we're tired. And there's some things we want to do.” 

The Moores aren’t retiring, he added, but they want to travel, go to church on Sundays and enjoy the activities in Longmont that work kept them from partaking in. Moore wants to get involved with his sons’ movie industry businesses.

The Moore family has worked in theater long before Jesters. Moore met Mary Lou in 1987 at her sisters’ dinner theater the Wayside Inn during a production of “My Fair Lady.” They raised their twin sons in the theater, where they both met their wives.

For many of Jesters’ staff, the family aspect of the business resonated with them. It’s why there’s a movement to keep Jesters going after the Moores leave the dinner theater.

Amber Sutherland, who grew up in Boulder and Erie, found her second family at Jesters. She has performed or worked for every production over the past year. After learning the Jesters building will soon be on the market, she launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $2 million by the time the building is up for sale.

“Jesters has been such a family place for everybody. It's been a place where we all feel welcome, we all feel loved and we all feel like a family,” Sutherland said. “They took me in instantly and made me a part of their family, and they do that with everybody. Everyone who comes there just loves to be there, loves the people there, and we all get to do what we love while being with each other. And the thought of that, of that going away is just heartbreaking for so many of us.”

At the time of publication, the ‘Save the Jesters” GoFundMe has 63 donations and has raised $10,075. If the grass roots campaign can’t meet the asking price by the approaching deadline, Sutherland said funds will be returned to the donors.

If the $2 million goal is met, Sutherland will become the new owner. She said she’ll work with the Moores to keep Jesters the same and retain the performers and staff.

Like the Moore family, theater has been a part of Sutherland’s family. With her grandparents founding The Upstart Crow Theatre Company in Boulder, she started acting at a young age. But even as a seasoned performer, Jesters pushed her out of her comfort zone and improved her craft.

“This is my first experience doing musicals and it was the scariest experience I've ever had. Singing in front of an audience is really unnerving, and they were so warm, they were so kind, they were so supportive and I feel like they're like that with everybody including the children,” Sutherland said. “My daughter did one of the kids' plays there and she has made lifelong friends in five minutes. Just how wonderful and warming, and I've never experienced anything like that in a theater, ever.”

Moore never expected Jesters to impact the Longmont community in the way that it has or for it to become a second home for other families. He said the fact that Jesters’ staff are rallying to save it because they love the dinner theater, isn’t lost on them.

He commends Sutherland and the people trying to keep Jesters going, Moore said, but he has his doubts about raising enough money to buy the building through fundraising. He said he thinks that they’ll need to find investors eventually. But he would love to see the building continue to be a theater after it sells.

“Everybody who's kind of in this quest to keep it a theater, they've all been wonderful people and people that we've enjoyed knowing on and off stage. I just hope that somehow this can happen that way,” Moore said.

Sutherland also started the “Save the Jesters” public Facebook group which has gained 194 members. There, members have shared updates on the fundraising campaign and shared their personal stories about their involvement with Jesters.

To boost the donations, members of the Facebook group have organized a fundraiser concert in a short period of time.

Along with Sutherland, Loveland resident Jes Hitch has taken the lead on organizing the “Save the Jesters” fundraising concert this Sunday March 20 at The Arts HUB in Lafayette. Jesters performers will sing their favorite songs from past shows at the dinner theater. There’s been at least 60 people who have expressed interest in helping with the concert, Hitch said.

Tickets are non-refundable at $20 for adults, $15 for kids 12 and under and $18 for seniors and individuals who served in the military. However, donations made after ticket sales are eligible for a refund if the $2 million goal isn’t met.

Jesters has been a constant part of Hitch’s life over the last six years, working as a performer, bartender and in the restaurant. She was pregnant with her six-year-old daughter when she started at Jesters. Her daughter's father also performs at Jesters, and they joke that their daughter’s first play was at the dinner theater.

“I've worked all over Northern Colorado with several other companies and Jesters is just really the first place it's felt really like a home,” Hitch said.

Though Hitch isn’t in a relationship anymore with her daughter’s father, they all consider Jesters their home away from home. They performed as a family in Jester’s production of the Wizard of Oz in 2019, where Hitch played the Wicked Witch of the West, her co-parent played the Lion and their daughter played a flying monkey and munchkin. 

Hitch’s daughter recently started rehearsals for the kid classes. Hitch said theater teaches life skills beyond how to work in a play, and she hopes her daughter can continue her lessons.

“I would love to see my daughter grow up and do shows and learn more about all these different aspects of life that theater can teach you,” Hitch said. “I was a stage manager for a very long time, and so because of that I was able to manage in retail and professional settings. It just gave me that experience that I needed to move into management. And so teaching her about life skills, and watching her grow up in the theater would just be so amazing.”

Hitch uses theater as a creative outlet, and doesn’t plan on pursuing it as a career. She said Jesters is one of the only places she’s worked at in Northern Colorado that isn’t exclusive to professionals and where anyone can participate in a play.

With the dinner tables close to the stage, Jesters audiences get to be a part of the performance, Hitch said. Wait staff knows the regular customers’ orders, and audience members have watched Jesters’ staff grow on stage, she added.

“It's a family for the performance, but it's also a family for the audiences and for people who are coming to see the show. They love seeing people that they're familiar with and people that they've watched grow and losing that familiarity, and that sense of family, I think would just be a major loss for the community,” Hitch said.

The $2 million goal may seem unattainable, Hitch said, but she believes saving Jesters is possible. Every dollar counts, whether it's $5 or $5,000.

“I know it seems like a lot, but it really isn't when you break it up among a bunch of people, and that's really what Jesters is about. It's about the community,” Hitch said. “This place is so special and so important and people can be a part of saving it and saving the heart and the spirit of what it is and and really just making a big difference in so many so many lives.”

Though Jesters will run its last musical Guys and Dolls through May, Sutherland set the fundraising campaign to end on April 4, when the building is up for sale. She believes the Main Street real estate won’t stay on the market for very long. 

Unless the “Save the Jesters” fundraiser succeeds or the future buyer continues the business, tonight will be the last opening night for Jesters. The first performance of Guys and Dolls on March 18 starts at 7:30 p.m. with its last show on May 29.

Moore said if the next owner of 224 Main St. keeps it as a theater, he hopes it continues to be a place for local families to come together.

“I think it would be great (to keep it a theater) and hopefully, it would be people who have more resources than we've had over the years in terms of sprucing up the building and making it look nicer and fitting into downtown better. But I would hope that they continue doing things that are really family friendly,” Moore said. “So I hope they just keep it fun and entertaining.”


Ali Mai

About the Author: Ali Mai

Ali Mai is freelance writer and photographer, covering business for the Longmont Leader. She writes the weekly column "Longmont Local."
Read more