A theatre near you: New owners hope to breathe new life in historical Colfax Theatre
Special to Prospector
In 1939, epic movies such as “Gone With The Wind,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and “The Wizard of Oz” made their way to the big screen, including to a brand-new movie house called the Colfax Theatre.
Since that time the theatre has changed hands a few times and has gone through several renovations, the latest underway now as new owners Anna and Adam Morton and their sons, Sloan and Gabe, are working to find a way to turn the historic theatre into a viable community treasure.
The Morton’s moved to Nevada County and began looking for a venue that would serve the arts community, primarily thinking about children’s theatre. They saw a need to fill the niche left when the Center for the Arts closed for renovation, leaving the Nevada County Performing Arts Guild without a home. The guild historically brought three productions a year to Nevada County which served several dozen youths.
“We were looking for a venue for theatre when a friend mentioned the Colfax Theatre was for sale,” Anna said. “We met with a realtor the next morning and did a walk through and put in an offer that day.”
Adam added, “We didn’t have to look at it too long. We could see this is a great opportunity to entertain a community and fill a need for the community.”
After taking ownership last August, the Mortons began making improvements and almost at once began offering theatre to youth. They have hosted private parties and are working to develop a consistent schedule. Ultimately, they plan a multi-use venue with live theatre, live music, private events and of course, movies.
“We are just learning so much about how to do this,” said Anna. “We need to be patient and not rush this, but we bought it, closed escrow, and opened the doors. We did some events and realized that we want things to function differently and we ran into some functional building issues.”
The theatre last went through a major renovation in 1989. They plan to improve the lights and update the sound system. They are remodeling the concession area as well as the restrooms and are looking at innovative ways to use the space as it is now, with lots of ideas to continue to improve.
One charming aspect is the giant drape that hides the big screen. One can imagine audiences from generations past, watching the curtain lift in anticipation of an upcoming movie.
Practice makes perfect
Adam admits they may be a bit hyper focused on having everything perfect.
“We want it to be as safe and comfortable and as perfect as we can get it,” he said.
“It is easier than ever to have a home movie theatre, but there is something really nice about walking into a theatre and having a larger screen, and movie theatres turn their volume up louder than you ever would at home, making it a different experience,“ nineteen-year-old Sloan said.
Anna is navigating the world of film licensing, bookings, and all that goes with gaining access to repertory movies like old westerns, black and whites, and possibly some first run movies. Clearly, there is a bit of a learning curve.
“We are at 132 seats right now,” she said. “There are not a lot of small theatres like this anymore. We are competition to the larger houses. I have access to some fabulous films, but we need to make sure they would be popular also.”
The Mortons understand the need for collaboration and even tied their children’s theatre classes to coincide with a local ice cream venue that offers a dollar scoop night.
Redmoon Community Children’s Theatre was formed rather quickly and currently has about a dozen students ranging in age from 5 to 17.
“We wanted to fill the gap of having mixed aged groups and opening up theatre to older kids as well as the little ones,” explained Anna. “It’s instruction and separately there is rehearsal and performance training, currently three days a week.” The group will present “Broadway Favorites” March 30 and 31 at 2 p.m. and again on April 6 and 7.
“We realized we could offer a variety of events,” said Adam. “We can rent the theatre, we can bring festivals, concerts, improv, comedy, magicians … pretty much anything.”
Anna and Adam have identified the need to reach youth and provide extracurricular activities.
“We are trying to make this affordable. We want to stay open, and we truly just want to have this accessible to this community,” added Adam.
They are developing a sliding scale rental rate to help smaller organizations have access to the venue while still being able to pay the bills.
The family is working to complete their own renovations while working out a more consistent schedule.
Anna said, “Right now, Tuesday and Sunday would be the days to have regular films leaving Friday and Saturday open to live music, live theatre or special movies.”
Adam added, “(During) summertime we want to run a double feature matinee when it’s smoking hot outside.”
One challenge is getting residents of Grass Valley and Nevada City to take the 20-minute drive to Colfax. The Mortons live in Nevada City.
“It’s just not that far,” Anna said. “We drive 20 minutes to do just about anything.”
They are working on signage to get people off the freeway and into Colfax. They also want to attract people from other communities and have them get to know the real Colfax. “We are here hoping to fill a gap and we want to be inclusive.”
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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