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Craterian renamed for donor

The Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in downtown Medford is shedding its old name to become the Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for the Performing Arts. The re-christening honors long-time Craterian supporter James Morrison Collier, who this month gave the theater an undisclosed amount of money.

The Collier Center's stage will be known going forward as the Ginger Rogers Stage. The theater's presenting arm, Craterian Performances Company, will keep its name, as will the James and Valerie Root Auditorium, which was also named for longtime supporters.

Executive Director Stephen McCandless said the donation comes with no strings attached.

"It's an unrestricted gift," he said. "We think it's largely because of the confidence he has in the hundreds of individuals and businesses that support us. That support remains important."

While the amount remained undisclosed, McCandless said it was the largest single donation ever received by the theater. The previous largest amount was $200,000.

Collier, 74, taught English in Delano, Calif., for 31 years. He moved to Medford, where he lives at the Rogue Valley Manor, in April of 2003. He had begun visiting southern Oregon to see plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and he soon became a major benefactor of the arts here.

The center will be Collier's second namesake. In February of 2010 he gave $300,000 to Camelot Theatre in Talent when the theater was raising money for a new venue. Camelot's new 164-seat facility was named the James Morrison Collier Theatre as a result.

Collier said McCandless originally offered him naming rights to a space inside the Craterian.

"He offered me a price tag," Collier said. "I told him I didn't want to be upstairs in the back corner. I wanted to be out front.

"We discussed numbers and negotiated a few weeks and hit upon a sum."

Collier supports the Rogue Valley Symphony, the Rogue Opera and the Rogue Valley Chorale, which perform in the Craterian, and other arts groups.

"I'm not sure who he isn't supporting," McCandless said.

The Craterian Theatre was originally built in 1924 and first presented plays and vaudeville acts on its stage. It was later converted to a movie house but was eventually closed before being donated to the Rogue Valley Art Association and restored into a performing arts theater.

The restoration came after a community fund drive that raised $5.2 million from local people and businesses as well as foundations and a variety of government sources. Renovation and construction began in 1996 and the reborn theater opened in 1997.

The new theater was renamed at that time in honor of actress and singer Ginger Rogers, who had danced there in 1926 and who had lived in the Rogue Valley off and on since 1940.

McCandless said he discussed the name change and stage naming with the executor of the Rogers estate, who had no objection. Rogers left no money to the theater, so there was no requirement that the name remain.

"But we want to continue the association," McCandless said.

Collier previously gave the Craterian its Yamaha grand piano and the new LED marquee that can be seen from Central Avenue.

In the high-stakes world of nonprofit arts it is a standard practice for groups to name their facilities or parts of them for big donors. The Collier Center also has rooms and lobbies named for individuals.

McCandless says there are no plans yet as to how the money will be spent or invested.

"It will mean opportunities we wouldn't have otherwise been able to pursue," he said. "It's an exciting future."

The new name means that some dates on the Center's calendar will feature Collier-supported groups playing in the Collier building.

The agreement calls for the name to be in force for 20 years.

"I consider Camelot my first-born child and the Craterian my second-born," Collier said. "I'm probably a frustrated performer, but I didn't have dramatic or musical talent."

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.

Following James Collier’s unrestricted donation, the Craterian Performances Company has renamed its Medford theater building in his honor. - photo courtesy of Craterian Perf