AURORA | Comparing the Aurora Fox theater on East Colfax Avenue to the landmark Sydney Opera House in Australia may seem like a stretch for anyone who’s seen both structures.
The Aurora Fox — built in 1946 for $10,000 as a neighborhood movie theater and renovated in the 1980s as a community arts center — would disappear within Sydney Opera House’s sprawling, 4.4-acre design. The art deco building that’s become an anchor of the evolving Aurora Arts District has a much lower profile than the Australian performing arts complex that’s become an international icon.
Still, Charlie Packard sees a link between the two facilities. Packard, the Fox’s executive producer who won the Aurora Chamber’s Business for the Arts Award last month, says the basic mission and function of the 245-seat Aurora theater isn’t so different from the 5,800-capacity opera house in Australia.
“The people who live in Sydney don’t have to love opera to benefit from the Sydney Opera House. It’s the pride of being a city that has that,” Packard said from his small office above the Fox’s main stage. “The little Aurora Fox is no Sydney Opera House, but when we turn on the marquee, it changes the neighborhood.”
Since he took over as the Fox’s executive producer in 2009 after the retirement of Robert Salisbury, Packard has worked to spread that message far beyond the community around East Colfax in Original Aurora.
“Charlie reaches out and creates networks. He understands that arts are not narrowly focused,” said Aurora Chamber Vice President George Peck. “We were very impressed with Charlie’s facility to wear both of those hats. He still has that very creative side that is necessary to be successful running a theater. But he understands the business aspects as well.”
The Fox has produced shows for summer festivals in the Stapleton neighborhood and for the new Parker Arts Culture and Events Center east of Aurora; Packard has worked to bring in more and more small companies as renters.
Refining the theater’s financial model has been an evolving effort for Packard, a Michigan native whose first gig was working in the creative chaos of summer stock festivals after dropping out of college. Packard worked as a stage manager for a musical workshop in New Bedford, Mass., helping to create new works as creative egos clashed and backers pulled out.
Packard ended up in Colorado, arriving in 1997 and quickly finding work as a freelance stage manager and designer. His duties at the Fox evolved to season selection, design, administration and a long list of other small jobs necessary for running a theater. He stepped into the executive producer role in early 2009, just after the full effects of the economic collapse of 2008 started to hit the local theater community.
“About every day, I was on the phone with my grandfather and my great aunt, begging for them to tell me stories about the Great Depression,” Packard said, laughing. “I wanted to know — how bad can this get?”
Show by show, season by season, Packard and the creative team at the Fox persisted through the worst moments of the economic crunch. Looking back, Packard is quick to point out what he sees as mistakes in show selection or timing — he still winces at the choice of running the musical “Godspell” during the holiday season, a time when well-worn classics like “A Christmas Carol” can be dependable moneymakers. Occasional missteps aside, Packard and the Fox crew have found new ways to bring revenue to the Fox. He’s worked to make it a creative magnet, a building that, like the Sydney Opera House, helps define its community.
“I’ve gotten art awards before, but to have a business guy say, ‘It appears that you know what you’re doing,’ you can’t fake it around those guys,” Packard said. “And that feels really, really good.”
Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at [email protected] or 720-449-9707