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By Paula Ann Solis
Eight years ago, a former clown of the Ringling Bros. Circus opened the doors to a unique theater with live, family-friendly stage comedy in Central Texas.
After Saturday, those doors will close.
Grainger Esch, an alumnus of Duke University and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, is the artistic director and co-founder of the Silver Spur Theater in Salado, a town inside Bell County, 50 miles south of Waco.
According to Esch, the decline of tourists in the Salado area is the chief reason for the upcoming closure.
The theater’s actors, known as “Spuradical Players,” act in most of the theater’s productions. This group includes Esch, who plays Slim Chance.
Since the theater’s inception in 2004, it has hosted stage comedies, original melodramas and silent movies with live musical accompaniment. Esch said the theater is a cherished part of the Salado community and its closing is disappointing to more than the Spuradical cast.
“The reaction’s been overwhelming. I get emails and calls – it will be missed,” Esch said. “We have a pretty solid base of customers here in Salado who came regularly to our shows and we’ll miss them all.”
Tony Blackman, the Silver Spur Theater’s technical director and a performer, has been part of the theater since the beginning and said he too has received condolences from the community regarding the closing.
“I’m constantly hearing, ‘Oh, I’m so sad that y’all are closing,’ and a lot of times it’s from people who have been big supporters,” Blackman said. “And then sometimes it’s from people I didn’t even know knew we existed. Had they made themselves known, who knows, maybe we wouldn’t have had to close.”
Blackman said it first became apparent the Silver Spur Theater was facing closure toward the end of 2012. “We knew from the get-go we were going to be relying heavily on tourist traffic and people from other communities and that’s actually been part of the problem,” Esch said. “Tourist traffic in Salado just has not been enough to really keep this going on a year-round basis and then with the overhead expenses, the business is just not sustainable.”
Former President George W. Bush has also visited the hall. Blackman said the most memorable event for him at the Silver Spur Theater was hosting Jenna Bush’s wedding rehearsal dinner in 2008.
A final hint of the fight to stay open remains on the Silver Spur Theater’s website in the form of a petition seeking a financial remedy.
“We’ve been looking for ways that we could continue and so we’re just hoping to get the word out there with this petition and if anybody has any magic solutions as to how we can move forward, we’d welcome their contact,” Esch said.
The last shows the Spuradical Players will perform will be at 7:30 Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $10, $15, and $18 for children, students, and adults, respectively.
The final performance is titled “Schtick Happens” and will include performances by Esch and Blackman as well as the other Spuradical Players.
Esch said all but one act, “Who’s On First,” will be original productions. And while the songs are licensed numbers, their renditions will all be original. The last show at the Silver Spur Theater will also include the screening of the “The Playhouse,” a silent movie by Buster Keaton, with a musical score arranged and performed live by Nelda Milligan.
Esch said Friday’s show is completely sold out and Saturday’s show is selling out quickly. He said he encourages people to call in for reservations because the theater only has 150 seats.
“The show is a return to what we started with,” Esch said. “When we first started we did all vaudeville shows, variety shows and that’s what this is, a lot of slapstick comedy, song and dance. Just good family entertainment. Just all in all it’s been a great ride, I wish it could continue but, I’m optimistic that there will be more in the future,. I’m proud of everything we’ve done, it’s been great.”
For more information or to make a reservation, call the box office at 254-947-3456.