Melodrama marks rebirth of Ouray opera house

An all-local cast will perform “Crooks and Skulduggery at the Hardlife Hotel” this summer at the Wright Opera House in Ouray. Enlarge photo

Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald

An all-local cast will perform “Crooks and Skulduggery at the Hardlife Hotel” this summer at the Wright Opera House in Ouray.

What’s that they say about history repeating itself? In the late 1880s, Ed Wright and his well-meaning wife, Letitia, sought to shine a light of culture into the smelter haze of Ouray by building the Wright Opera House. Today, more than 120 years later, the Friends of the Wright Opera House are restoring the historic building to its former glory and once again bringing a bit of culture into the remote reaches of Colorado.

Though the renovations have just begun, the Wright Opera House has a nearly full lineup of theatrical and musical performances for the summer and fall.

In what can only be described as a symbolic tribute to the historic origins of the Opera House, the repertory theaterwill be performing an original melodrama with a cast composed entirely of local actors.

“Crooks and Skullduggery at the Hardlife Hotel” is essentially community theater. Written by former Ouray schoolteacher Melissa Stacy and directed by Michael Ticherich, the melodrama centers on the evil banker Meen E. Moneybank, who attempts to bleed dry the hardworking folks of Ouray – a rather timely plot. Stacy, who now lives in Durango, based the melodrama on similar historic events at the Dawson Hotel in Ouray.

Though neither a fine nor polished production, “Crooks and Skullduggery” is an enjoyable act of community spirit and should be enjoyed as such.

“(Crooks and Skullduggery) is not exactly culture, by any means, but it’s fun,” Dee Williams said, laughing over the ragtime piano in the background.

Williams is chairman of the Friends of the Wright Opera House Board of Directors. Founded in 2007, the nonprofit group has received grants from the Colorado Historic Fund, the Gates Foundation and many private donors.

The entire restoration project will come in at a little less than $2 million, but the renovations, as well as the fundraising, are being conducted in stages. The project will not reach completion until 2020 but eventually include an elevator, new balcony seating and a grand staircase.

“We’ve been searching for a performing arts venue to put in the county, and we finally just figured out how to use this building for what it was meant to be used for,” said Joyce Linn, who coordinates fundraising for Friends of the Wright Opera House.

This summer, the Wright Opera House will host Ouray’s first music series featuring many familiar names – including David Wilcox, Sarah Hickman and Griffin House.

A recently installed high-definition projector and retractable 20-foot screen will transform the theater into a semi-weekly indie film house with the “Almost Every Wednesday Film Series.” The award-winning New Zealand film “Boy” is first in the lineup, to be screened Wednesday.

The Ouray Summer Music Series will be followed by a jazz series and a performance of the “Rocky Horror Show” in the fall.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the Wright Opera House was the center of cultural activities in Ouray, attracting musicians from as far as Denver – a long trip before there was an Interstate70. Though Ouray’s industry is significantly different than that of the early 1900s, Ed and Letitia Wright’s plan to bring the arts to rural Colorado has succeeded.

Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at margaretyh@gmail.com.

Gloria Moneybank (Eileen Stanley) shows her husband, Meen E. Moneybank (Robert Miller), who’s boss after his evil scheme is thwarted. Enlarge photo

Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald

Gloria Moneybank (Eileen Stanley) shows her husband, Meen E. Moneybank (Robert Miller), who’s boss after his evil scheme is thwarted.