Popular Manitou theater makes move to Westside
Opportunities to manage own space override ‘homesickness’ for MAT’s Jackson, De Pree

       It's still called “Manitou Art Theater” (MAT), and its owners still live in Manitou Springs and wish they could have stayed there. Jim Jackson demonstrated a unique way to put on a vest,
scarf and cane during a Manitou Art Theater outreach show
in Bancroft Park two years ago.
Westside Pioneer file photo
       But for now at least, and quite possibly for the next several years, Jim Jackson and his wife, Birgitta De Pree, are bringing their variety of original live shows, programs and workshops to the Westside.
       In an interview this week, the Canon City native and former circus clown said he and De Pree (formerly a Denver theater actor) will be spending the next few months transforming what was originally industrial space at 1367 Pecan Street into a 90-seat theater.
       The changeover will begin June 1, with MAT's performance “season” expected to begin this October. “We have quite a bit of work to do, but we will be able to make it into quite a nice performing stage,” Jackson said. The new space is in a manufacturing zone - part of a string of attached one-story business units just south of Wheeler Avenue and a block west of 21st Street.
       Helping MAT find the 1,850-square-foot space were friends Scott and Lise Hunt, who lease space in the same building. In fact, the tentative renovation plan includes using a portion of their adjoining, same-sized unit- now dedicated to Scott's real-estate office and Lise's photography business - as a kind of theater overflow area, he and Jackson explained. But final plans are yet to be worked out, Jackson noted. Engineers still need to scrutinize the space - a necessary step before a building- permit application can be submitted to the Regional Building Department.
       MAT had been successful at Manitou's Business of Art Center (BAC) for the past seven years. The relocation decision occurred recently after a BAC business decision to increase the theater's rent and share of event proceeds, Jackson said. Forecasting future costs under those increases, he and De Pree came to the unsettling realization that even if their business continued to do well, they would lose money.
       At the same time, they also saw the situation as an opportunity to move out on their own. Unlike at the BAC, where theater space was limited to a a few days every month (because it had to be shared with other performers), having their own location means Jackson and De Pree can have acts whenever they like and for as long as they like.
       Another potential upside is that the Westside location puts them closer to their public. Only about 20 percent of their clientele came from Manitou.
       “A lot of our audience comes from the Westside,” he elaborated. “And on the east side, there's a perception that the Westside is so much closer than Manitou.”
       Still, Jackson admits to a form of homesickness. “We wanted to stay in Manitou Springs,” he said, adding half-jokingly that he'd like to hang a “Manitou flag” outside the front door. “So it was a tough move from that respect.” Also, he and his wife had helped develop the BAC theater inside what was once the city garage when they relocated to Manitou seven years ago.
       But he also realizes that 1367 Pecan can't just be a temporary stop-off till another site can be found in the 80829 zipcode. With the renovation expenses, “we have to commit to a certain amount of time… a few seasons,” Jackson said. “It's a brand new adventure for us.”
       The plan, at least at the outset, is to organize the upcoming MAT performing season the way it was at the BAC. That's October to May, a time arrangement which traditionally has allowed Jackson and De Pree to do “a lot of theater touring in the summer,” he said.
       MAT performances this season (which will conclude with “The Incredible Circus MAT” at the BAC May 2-4 and 9-11) included a range of solo or small-group comedy routines or dramatic presentations, some for adults and some for children. Workshops and outreach programs have also been offered.
       But Jackson sees additional MAT possibilities, stemming from having a privately owned theater. Using some of his contacts from touring and the circus, he'd like to bring in more performers from around the country. Other possibilities are improvisational comedy nights, live musical shows and poetry readings. Also, the summer touring may not be as extensive as in the past. “Our plan is to use the space as much as possible,” he said.

Westside Pioneer article