History of the Picketwire Center for the Performing & Visual Arts
On April 16, 1968 the following bylaw was adopted, “WHEREAS, there being a group of individuals who desire to produce, direct, act and otherwise participate in a theater group, we do hereby organize and establish ourselves as the Picketwire Players.”
June that same year, “Laura of the Shadows”, was presented to the community under the direction of Mickie Miller and Picketwire’s first President, the Rev. Will Bingham. They performed the melodrama in the La Junta High School auditorium. In March 1977, good friends offered to help organize the Picketwire Patrons of the Theater … The objective of the Patrons is to give financial and moral support to the Picketwire Players… Patron donations are used to make Picketwire Center a better, more attractive and more usable community center for everyone!”
In total over $50,000 has been invested in the Picketwire Center. Heating system repairs, plumbing system repairs, lighting repairs, roof repairs, new stage lighting and extension to the old stage, a new orchestra pit, a new costume storage-dressing room under the stage, remodeling of the old classroom into a Patrons’ Lounge — the list goes on and on. “Businesses, organization, individuals … have always seemed to be there when help was needed … the creation of a Center for Performing and Visual Arts has been truly a community accomplishment.
In late 1975. East Otero R-1 (La Junta) school board first agreed to lease ($1 per year), then approved selling (10-year note for $5,000) an abandoned school auditorium on the corner of Eighth and San Juan in La Junta. Agreement stipulates the building with all improvements reverts back to the school district should the theater organization ever become defunct. (Paid off “mortgage” was ceremoniously burned, on stage, in December 1986.)
It took a full year of hard work by volunteers, two Centennial-Bicentennial year grants, special events by La Junta Lions and Rotary clubs and the Picketwire Players’ own “community auction” to bring new life to a 40-year-old old structure.
Major investments since include:
• 1980, $28 thousand for new 394 red upholstered professional theater seats. Each of the 394 has a donor identification tag on its armrest.
• 1999, $25 thousand for new metal galvatile roof. It took three years of community support before the Picketwire Players were debt free.
• 2003, $10.5 thousand for “Big Red Barn” (just off the alley south of the Center) providing on-site storage of flats, furniture and props.
Thirty years of Picketwire Players ownership has resulted in total capital outlay well over $150,000. Were all incidental improvements accounted for precisely, community investment in its community theater facility could easily be approaching a quarter million dollars.
Even now the work continues as Powering Picketwire continues to move forward. This ongoing fundraising event is an effort to replace the antiquated lights and electrical systems that encompass the building. With each new par light or spot, the stage is equipped to better provide the community high quality performances.
After the the first Picketwire production of Laura of the Shadows in 1968, there have been over 483 performances. Picketwire Players stuck to melodramas and comedies in the early years. The first major musical was Guys and Dolls in the summer of 1971 (at Otero Junior College). “Sound of Music” in 1974 (at La Junta High School) still holds the record for largest company, launching an almost unbroken string of major summertime undertakings.
In 1974, the review by the La Junta Tribune-Democrat said about Sound of Music,
“There are two things certain about Sound of Music. First, it’s taken monumental dedication and work on the part of over 130 people in the cast and crew and second, it’s going to be enthusiastically received by more people than have ever before seen a Picketwire Production.”
Since then, just about all classic Broadway standards have been produced, from Show Boat in 1975 to State Fair in 2005. And in 2014, the great musical Les Miserables is being presented.
All-time box office record belongs to Fiddler on the Roof, first summer musical staged in Picketwire Center. House was all but completely sold out in advance for five performances June-July 1977. Two more performances just before Labor Day were again sellouts. Then Fiddler on the Roof was revived in 1998 for the Picketwire Players’ 30th anniversary summer show. Capacity houses again.
The Picketwire stage has seen its share of comedies, whodunits, melodramas, variety shows and Christmas shows. The Players do tackle serious drama “for ourselves” from time to time. The Lion in Winter in 1977 was the first. Others have included On Golden Pond (1981), A Man For All Seasons (1983), Death of a Salesman (1985), Biloxi Blues (2000), Grace and Gloria (2003) and most recently Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2005).