By Jeffrey V. Smith
Get ready to heckle, boo, hiss, laugh and cheer for the actors on stage at the annual Mill Creek Valley Historical Society melodrama. Don’t worry, it’s encouraged.
The group, which formed in the early 1980s to save the Dumont Schoolhouse, has been telling tales of good versus evil to raise money for its preservation work since 1999. It’s the organization’s biggest fundraiser, and everyone is invited to join in the fun, Oct. 14-16 and Oct. 22-23. A sing-along begins each presentation, and a “boisterous” auctioning of bakery items by the “local ladies” follows each performance.
“We began doing melodramas in the 1990s as a fundraiser, and, except for a couple of years, have done one every year,” Society President and Melodrama Director Larrice Sell said. “This year, being an election year, we decided to do one written by D. Chapelle entitled ‘Peril at the Polls.’ It, of course, centers around a political convention of a party. We have of course added jabs at our currant races and issues, and there is plenty of fodder available.” The melodramas are ultimately fine-tuned with local flavor and local names.
“For those who have never been to a melodrama, they find they are as important as the cast, and are pulled in and urged to heckle, boo, hiss, and hurrah those on the stage,” Sell said. “Sometimes the actors pull people into the plot. It is not professional acting, so there is plenty to tease about. At times, we even have had to carry the lines on stage because the actor didn’t get his lines learned, but it just adds to the fun.” Walk-ons by actors in character from other performances are also planned, which are always “good for a few chuckles.”
The melodramas are so much fun, many audience members become dedicated attendees after their first experience with the Mill Valley Players. “A lot of our audience, who had never been to the play before, come back year after year, after coming once,” Sell explained. “One year, when I wrote the play, one couple came to every performance. Now that is stamina. I always tell people they can do this because no performance is the same. This year, I have been told that some of our members are coming out from Illinois to see the play, their first time.”
The Historical Society was successful in gaining ownership and saving the schoolhouse, built in 1909 and used as a school until 1959, several years ago. The building’s oak door frames, arched windows, sideboards and ash wood floor have been restored and are now the setting for the melodramas. It is now listed on the State and National Registry of Historic Sites. The work, however, continues.
The group is currently working to restore the Coburn Cabin given to them by the town of Georgetown in the ’80s. The small cabin was located at one time in the town of Lawson, until the building of Interstate 70 forced it’s removal. Georgetown used the building for a visitor center until a larger one was built and then offered it to the MCVHS. The society’s president at the time, Joan Drury, just happened to be the great-great-granddaughter of the building’s original occupant, Margaret Coburn, so it was an easy building to accept. The cabin was placed in the Dumont Schoolhouse yard and eventually got its own permanent foundation. Work is on-going to return it to it’s original appearance.
In 1989, the Mill City House in Dumont was given to the group. Built in 1858, the building is actually two one and one half story log cabins which were attached and used as a roadhouse in the 1800s. The building has been added to the National Registry but work to restore it is “a daunting and expensive task” for a small community.
The Mill Creek Valley Historical Society is also the “guardian” of the Dumont Cemetery and the Mill Creek Arastra site, one of the very few arastras still preserved in Colorado. Usually placed near water, a horse or mule would walk around a stone to grind rock that would be washed in a sluice in the search for gold.
They also have a chance to save Dumont’s old train depot, but a parcel of land is needed along with the funds to move the building. They have about three years to make it happen or the depot will be lost.
Attending the annual melodrama is not only one of the best ways to support the hard work of the Historical Society, it’s also an entertaining night out and great way to get a few laughs. Tickets are $15 or $10 for seniors and children 12 years and younger. On Oct. 14, 15 and 24, show time is 7 p.m. Matinee performances at 2 p.m. take place Oct. 16 and 25. No reservations are required, but there is very limited room. Audiecne members are encouraged to get there early, “or face being put in the front row, something no one wants as they get harassed by the actors,” according to Sell, “but the more involved the audience the better the performance.”
The Dumont Schoolhouse is located at 150 C.R. 260. Visit mcvhs.org to learn more.
Originally published in the October 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly