Butcher Shop to Blue Room
Local theater company celebrates its 10-year anniversary
Three years ago the CN&R did a cover story on the Blue Room Theatre. The story of a theater that started as a creative experiment for brothers Denver and Dylan Latimer and their friends via the annual backyard Butcher Shop productions and had, in 1994, moved to its current permanent space in the old Masonic Temple above Collier Hardware was a great one. The offbeat and experimental little theater had slowly gained a following and, after many offbeat productions and extensive renovations, had become a local staple, with sold-out crowds for most every performance.
It’s only fitting, then, that with this past April’s run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch the theater not only celebrated its biggest box office success since opening, but also its 10-year anniversary since the very first Blue Room production, Denver Latimer’s Soup or Salad.
That decade, of course, has seen a lot of different people cross the boards, and all have stories of this place where they created new worlds.
Betty Burns, current Blue Room Company member, has been there on and off since the beginning: “It was the first or second one-act festival, Theatre Loaf. The play I was cast in was called Corned Beef , and I played a cantankerous old man named Papa Dollar.
“At the time of Theatre Loaf the stage was at the back wall near the fire escape,” she said, “and the audience was on rickety old risers with stackable chairs and couches as seating. The light board was on an old folding table at the back of the room, and I believe sound and music was done live, but I can’t off hand remember the name of the band. It was guerilla theater at its best!”
Artistic Director Joe Hilsee has his own take.
“It is more about the people than the plays,” is how he explains it. “We are all dedicated to doing the best that we can for each other and for Chico. It is a bit romantic, but we all truly feel we are making Chico better place to live.”
For Hilsee, who returned to Chico after working in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland to take over the directorship in 2000, there are two stories that underline this group’s commitment to the theater and one another.
“When we did the big remodel in January of 2002—we were all tired, as we were trying to remodel the theater and rehearse a difficult play at the same time. The day before the opening of the play there was a group of 15 of us working at 4 in the morning! I was painting the back wall for the play, and I stopped and looked at everyone just busting their asses to get the theater in shape for the big opening. Many of us slept on the floor of the theater that night, and a few of us didn’t sleep at all, working all the way through the next day up until the doors opened.
“Another story, on the opposite end of the spectrum: The first show I directed here was The Cripple of Innishmaan. At that time I really didn’t know anyone here in town, so I did not know who to call on for help. I distinctly remember being alone in the scene shop at 3 in the morning trying to build and paint the entire set myself. I had the music blasting and I was drinking beer. At one point I just sat on the floor and cried for a good 10 minutes. The next day the cast found me in an emotionally unstable condition, and they all got together and fixed everything that I had screwed up.”
“To see how far the Blue Room has come in the past 10 years is, to say the least, amazing,” adds Burns. “And to have been a part of that fills me with not only pride, but a strong feeling of appreciation. What it all comes down to is this: Without the Blue Room I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I’m pretty OK with that."