By John Moore
Nov. 30, 2012
Add the former LIDA Project warehouse theater to the growing list of former Denver theater spaces.
Over the past three weeks, crews have meticulously dismantled the warehouse theater that housed Denver’s only experimental theater company from 2001-11. It was located next to the Mercury Cafe at 2180 Stout St.
The good news is that, unlike several other recent demises such as the Paragon Theatre, Victorian Playhouse and others, the 18-year-old LIDA Project lives on as the cornerstone tenant of the Laundry on Lawrence arts collective at 2701 Lawrence St. Its next freakout will be “R.U.R./LOL,” an original work based on a 1920 Czech science-fiction play called” Rossum’s Universal Robots,” which introduced the word “robot” into the lexicon. It plays Feb. 8-March 2, 2013.
Warehouse owner Candy Cebula has sold the former warehouse space to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which intends to put up another mixed-use building like “The Renaissance” directly to the west across Stout street. It will feature multi-unit residences including a mix of low income and high-income housing options. The main level will be a health clinic.
The warehouse space was the stuff of sketchy theatrical legend – both on and off stage. Theater crowds weren’t always lined up out the door, but city inspectors were regular visitors. In the end, the city’s decree that Cebula install at least four more toilets sealed the warehouse’s fate.
Even though LIDA Project founder Brian Freeland was the tenant, what that really meant was it would be Freeland’s burden to foot the cost. “And I wasn’t going to fundraise $50,000 to put in four additional stalls in a building we didn’t even own,” he said.
There was always talk of electrical and roof issues. At one point, the city ordered a brief shutdown for improvements. “After we got busted, the city put us in limbo,” said Freeland. “They gave us a chance to fix things. They just weren’t always happy we weren’t fixing things on their timeline.”
Freeland doesn’t claim LIDA was all-legal all the time …. “But we were legal for an awful lot of it,” he said with a smile.
He emphasizes that public safety was never even remotely an issue. His problem — like the one that quickly felled Paragon Theatre after it moved into a new theater space a block away — was toilets. Apparently, in order to make art, you have to have them. How many is based on total square footage and presumed potential attendance — not necessarily on how many actually show up.
Still, Freeland already misses the warehouse. His sentimental favorite production was LIDA’s multi-level staging of Jean Genet’s “The Balcony,” translated by Jean-Claude van Itallie. “Out of everything we did, that’s what the space was most meant for,” he said.
Other Freeland favorites include “365 Days/365 Plays,” “Bingo Boyz: Columbine” and an expressionistic “Our Town,” in which not one person in Grover’s Corner ever directly looked at another. “That was our 9/11 response,” said Freeland. “The expressionistic style emphasizes disconnect. It was presentational in form. So it wasn’t that the characters weren’t allowed to look at each other — it’s that all the action was intentionally going out toward the audience.”
“Manson Family Values” earned myself threats from the wife of imprisoned Manson murderer Bobby Beausoleil (she said my story would threaten his parole) and earned Freeland a personal visit from Manson family member Dennis Rice. His wife worked for an airline, so when he saw my story about the play in The Denver Post, Rice flew to Denver from Arizona the next day to see it. Freeland had Rice lead two wild audience talkbacks — at his request.
“The warehouse was one place where we could take water hoses and hose down audiences,” Freeland said. “We could throw wine and beer and all kinds of viscous fluids all around. There was fire and drumming. It was so wet and raunchy and permissive at times … I don’t think we could have done any of that at a traditional theater.”
LIDA Project’s mission statement:
The LIDA Project is a meta-media art collective with a strong emphasis on live performance. Our goal is to present works that experiment and challenge the structure and presentation of performance while strengthening culture, community, and artistic growth. Working as a collaborative group of artists The LIDA Project intends to promote and present works of the highest integrity and expressiveness without yielding to conventional presentation and stereotypes.
At the Laundry on Lawrence (the theater itself is called work/space), 2701 Lawrence St., 720-221-3821, or www.lida.org