Singer-songwriter Griffin House (above) will play the Sherbino Theater on Nov. 8 in what is likely to be the venue’s final performance until at least January of next year. (Courtesy photo)

All summer long, just as soon as it was permitted to open once again for the public, the Sherbino was “on.”

Which is to say, Ridgway’s premier arts venue not only fulfilled its role as a space for performing events, but the people behind those myriad cultural get-togethers, in essence, performed. They did their jobs: booking live musical acts, theatrical performances and art exhibits into spaces crafted not only to come alive in the alpenglow but designed to keep visitors and, most importantly, the Sherb’s intensely local audience, healthy and safe.

Cue the carefully strung, twinkling wheat lights; the judiciously spaced, socially distanced tables; the no-contact canned beverages (pinot noir never tasted more delicious than in the Sherb’s Courtyard, post-quarantine).

Designated a Colorado State Landmark in 1991 “for its significant role in the social and cultural heritage of the Town of Ridgway,” the Sherbino’s history goes back well over a century. It has always been a lively gathering spot, not only as a venue for musical performances but as an illegal gambling hall, and even a roller skating rink.

All during the state’s stay-at-home orders last March, the Sherb’s staff prepped for summertime, mindful — as all nonprofits had to be — of ever-changing state and local health orders. Ultimately, the 610 Courtyard was able to host 91 musical and other events in line with its mission to stage entertaining, edifying, family friendly fare.

About the only adults-only programming you would ever find at the Sherbino is the annual Halloween costume party — dubbed SherBOOno — which has been canceled this year. The New Year’s Eve bash, also aimed at ages 21-and-up, which does (by definition) stretch past midnight, is very likely be tabled this coming season as well.

“What we had this summer was wonderful,” programs director Trisha Oakland acknowledged a little ruefully.

Just three part-time staffers have been working all year “to maximize opportunities and minimize expenses,” a news release for the Sherbino and its sister nonprofit, Weehawken Creative Arts, states. “But we will likely have no revenue starting in November 2020.”

Virus cases are on the rise, and “We’re seeing a tightening up of restrictions, in the state and across the U.S.,” Oakland said. “We made the assumption early on that we wouldn’t be able to run the Sherb (this winter) in any sort of meaningful fashion. We ran the numbers. We’ll see how things go with Griffin.” The Nashville-based folk-rock singer-songwriter Griffin House is scheduled to play the theater’s last regularly scheduled event for this season on Nov. 8. There will be two seatings — which has been the Sherb’s pattern these past few months, the better to uphold social-distancing requirements — at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

“There’ll be spaced out tables,” Oakland said. But the truth is, “this is not something we can do enough for it to be profitable, especially if the winter moves in more. There’s the cost of heating that space; operational costs eat away at profits, even in the best of times.”

So the Sherb is “taking a hiatus from programming from mid-November through at least mid-January,” Oakland concluded, “and we’ll see where we are then. We’ll probably start small, with Art Bar” events that patrons can attend either via Zoom, or in person. “They’re easy to run, we space people out, masks are required,” Oakland said. “Because everyone is working on their own” — sipping a beverage and focusing on creating a piece of art work to take home — “it doesn’t have the same ‘gathering’ aspect,” where a crowd comes to clap and laugh and cheer and the event threatens to get (let’s just say) a little less healthful for all. “It’s difficult to have members of our community come together and not be able to connect,” Oakland said frankly. “We don’t want to create a situation where people are being irresponsible or unsafe.” At the same time, “We also don’t want to supervise people. We don’t want that role.”

The result is that “we’re looking at a really hard winter” when it comes to revenue, Oakland added. “Winter historically is one of our biggest months: people are looking for things to do indoors, and we’ve got a good reputation for staging events they want to see. There’s a line out the door for the new Warren Miller film each November” (the film will premier online this year). The revenue shortfall will be felt as soon as this weekend: last year’s Halloween event was a production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” “not a shadow cast performance to the film, but a staged musical,” Oakland said. “It sold out every night. People raved. So many have come up to me and said, ‘The Sherbino’s events have made such a difference in my life. I was in a bad place, and I joined the theater company’ or ‘I’ve started coming out to hear live music, or lectures.’ We’re so lucky to be in a small, rural community that has created this space. The Sherb has evolved into a beautiful creature. So many other performing venues have had to close.”

Have no fear for the Sherb. Its shell at least is secure: “There’s no chance the building will be sold,” Oakland said. “The Ridgway Chautauqua Society does own the theater, and the space next door. It puts us in a good, safe place.” The catch is, “We want to keep our staff on,” those responsible for bringing “these high-level productions to town. We’ll open our doors again. But the key to making the programming happen is retaining the people who make it go. Kathleen O’Mara,” who helms the Sherb’s highly popular theater productions, “has inspired an amazing level of camaraderie and devotion,” Oakland said. “She’s one of a kind. And Ashley King, our executive director, has 20 years of experience in arts programming. She’s distilled what’s she learned in the Vail Valley and the Gunnison Performing Arts Center and brought it here. It’s a win.”

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