By Alissa Smith
Published in The Healthy Coloradan (August, 2015)
The award-winning Millibo Art Theatre, a dynamic and intimate performing arts center, is newly rooted in the heart of the Ivywild neighborhood in downtown Colorado Springs. The building is emblazoned with a red exclamation point, fanciful mosaics, and an important snippet of the theatre’s mission statement, “Creating new theatre for the Pikes Peak Region.” This is only one aspect of the organization that has been changing the performing arts scene in Colorado for fourteen years. Their imaginative productions and bright ideas have inspired children and adults through unique programming, exciting classes, and consistent community outreach.
The art directors at The MAT, Jim Jackson and Birgitta DePree, have always believed that theatre is a conversation. Because theatre is performed “live”, the relationship of the performer to the audience is more immediate, more personal and demands more engagement. This engagement in a deeper dialogue builds healthy communities. When they started The MAT they knew there was a need in the region for this kind of conversation.
This dream was first brought to life in a small space inside the former Business of Art Center. Since then, the theatre that has grown from that seed has exceeded their plans, expectations, and wildest dreams. Their current venue seats 109 in an intimate, warm setting. Speckled with mosaics and artwork, the space is inviting and inspiring.
The venue is not the only thing that has expanded. Though The MAT began as a children’s theatre, they discovered when they created their “Premiere” series that adults in the Pikes Peak region had been hungry for the same kind of innovation. Adding an adult series and monthly improvised comedy has increased their reputation for fresh new theatre in the area.
The greatest challenge for the MAT, as with most theatre companies, is remaining relevant and compelling to modern audiences with their ever increasing demands on time and resources, and their instant access to downloadable entertainment. To meet this challenge, The MAT has pushed theatrical boundaries and compiled exciting cabarets and circuses. People return to The MAT because they create theatre that celebrates uniquely human experiences, theatre that challenges, inspires and entertains the audience. More than a show, it is an experience.
This experience begins on stage. The audiences that visit the MAT come because they want something new. Any plays and performances that are not created by Jackson and DePree are submitted by friends of the theatre who share a similar vision. When they do bring in outside work, the MAT makes it fresh. Between heart-wrenching productions like 2015’s “K2” and hilarious clown performances such as Jackson’s ever-popular “Big Bubble Circus” audience members of all ages come away with something profound. “Everyone involved is also warm, friendly and kind,” says Pam Hauptly, a patron of the theatre. “I laugh my cheeks off, lose my breath, and at times, even my heart aches.”
For everything that happens on stage, there is something just as inspiring behind the scenes. The MAT’s camps and classes focus on learning by doing—being interactive. Children create, grow, learn and perform under thoughtful guidance. Classes range from “Messy Fun” to “Shakespeare on the Street,” including a well-loved circus camp that Jackson teaches throughout the year. After learning to juggle, walk on stilts, tumble, and clown around, these students become performers in the annual “Circus Millibo,” giving them a chance to take the stage alongside professionals.
The fun isn’t just for kids, either. During the run of certain shows, the actors teach a weekend master class for adults. This gives people in our own community access to high-quality theatrical training, as well as a chance to meet people who have worked on Broadway or in Cirque du Solei.
Not every theatre can boast the same personal touch, but the directors and staff of The MAT are passionate about people. As a non-profit, the MAT has often relied on the support of the community, and they are determined to return that support wherever they can. The philosophy is that everyone should have access to wonderful theatre, education and fun. To that end, The MAT has kept ticket prices low, including offering discount Thursdays and special prices for students. In addition, scholarships to classes are offered for children whose families need financial assistance. Anyone can become part of the MAT family, and the MAT loves its family.
Far from being simply a place for plays, the Millibo Art Theatre is a place to play. “Creating new theatre for the Pikes Peak Region” only goes so far in describing what the MAT does, and what the MAT is to the community. The MAT embodies this “conversation” of theatre, and they invite everyone to contribute.