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Amid pandemic, after fire, Camelot Theatre ready for its big return in Talent

Courtney Crawford, left, Kristen Calvin and Mia Gaskin star in Camelot's "Spotlight" production, "Bette Midler: The Divine Miss M." Photo by Steve Sutfin
Camelot Artistic Director Shawn Ramagos, left and Dann Hauser, executive director, on the Collier Theatre stage in Talent. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune

Audiences returning to Talent’s Camelot Theatre will see more than an edifice that survived last year’s devastating Almeda fire largely intact. Improved audio, visuals, lighting and even air quality are the result of Camelot’s 19-month shutdown, precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The sound’s gonna be incredible,” says Camelot Executive Director Dann Hauser. “The projections are going to be phenomenal.”

These state-of-the-art upgrades underscore Camelot’s upcoming 40th season, which isn’t just a testament to longevity but also endurance in the face of adversity. A community that lost so much Sept. 8, 2020, still stepped up to carry Camelot into Talent’s next era, says Hauser.

“We really are feeling grateful,” he says. “A lot of things went right.”

Wind-whipped flames that devoured structures between Highway 99 and the east side of downtown Talent came perilously close to the James Morrison Collier Theatre at the corner of East Main Street and Talent Avenue. Firefighters drew a line at the stucco-sided landmark as the wind shifted in their favor, says Hauser. And just the day before, he adds, the owner of vacant property behind the theater mowed 3-foot-tall grass, little realizing the cleanup would constitute defensible space against wildfire in mere hours.

“That stucco can go up pretty fast,” says Hauser.

But the theater’s metal roof shrugged off wind-borne embers, says Hauser, and the site’s only visible losses were landscaping and a bit of the entryway’s left column, which was slightly scorched. After a day of worrying over rumors and how the theater fared — including possibly being looted — Hauser navigated back roads from Medford to downtown Talent.

“There were embers still flying,” recalls Hauser. “I was half expecting to see half the theater there.”

Hardly comprehending how the Collier Theatre was all but unscathed, Hauser navigated inside the pitch-black building to retrieve its database as a precaution. Camelot staff and volunteers spent the next year cleaning and organizing to make way for new equipment and technology while Hauser “did grant writing like crazy.”

“The government put a lot of money into helping small businesses and the arts,” he says. “We also got a lot of donors; the funds came from all over.”

Hauser himself created the “Theatre Strong” campaign, which collaborated locally with Oregon Cabaret and Randall theater companies, as well as live theater groups nationwide, to sell bracelets with the slogan. That effort raised $25,000 for Camelot alone, says Hauser. And many ticket holders for the 2020 and 2021 seasons “donated back” refunds that Camelot offered, he adds.

“I’ve seen it ushering — how important live entertainment is for the community,” says Mary Jane Morrison, an avid Camelot volunteer.

The community’s return on its investment is Camelot’s 2022 season, celebrated with crowd-pleasing musicals and Camelot’s signature “Spotlight” look at the lives and works of beloved musicians. The season opens Jan. 6 with an exclusive presentation of American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, impressionist and actor Bobby Darin. Camelot’s musical finale, “Matilda,” runs Nov. 23 through Dec. 31, 2022.

In between, audiences can anticipate the musicals “Honeymoon in Vegas,” “Catch Me if You Can,” “Legally Blonde” in collaboration with Oregon Conservatory of Performing Arts and the theater’s namesake “Camelot,” reimagined in a modern-day metal foundry whose knights and nobles are blue-collar workers. Spotlights pay tribute to Roy Orbison, Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

First, Hauser says he hopes to pull off this season’s final Spotlight on Bette Midler, set to open Sept. 30, and wrap up 2021 with the musical “Elf,” staged Nov. 24 through Dec. 31.

Showtime vocals and instrumentals emanate from a new column of speakers on each side of the stage, says Hauser, explaining that the addition remedies “dead spots,” despite state-of-the-art technology when the Collier Theatre was constructed a decade ago. A new digital projector complements new LED lighting, which also keeps the theater cooler and cuts costs for climate control, says Hauser.

Camelot realized even more savings by organizing its backstage areas, allowing the theater to end rental agreements for storage, he adds. The building’s air filtration also is more robust.

See details for subscribing to the 2022 season at camelottheatre.org/season-subscriptions/