Canyon Theater: a deeper dive into the project

By: Mindy Schiller, Staff Writer/Page Designer
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Editor’s note: This is the second part of an article we ran last week on the proposed Canyon Theater in Colfax. Last week we looked at the project itself and some of the pros and cons voiced by Colfax residents. Now, we look at the mayor’s perspective, as well as more details from the Canyon Theater Partners. To read last week’s issue, go to

A presentation for an outdoor amphitheater project at Colfax's old town dump was met mixed feelings at last month’s City Council meeting. The project, tentatively titled Canyon Theater, would host local orchestras, college troupes and touring groups from May through September. A temporary structure would be erected for this coming summer so that both the developers and the town residents can decide whether to proceed with the project  — and what sorts of challenges they face.

One concern at the forefront is the noise volume of concerts.

From the mayor

For newly elected Mayor Joe Fatula, a self-proclaimed lover of solving problems, challenges are easy to investigate, and should be treated as such.

"I have sympathy for the residents nearby," Fatula said, "but there's a lot you can do with sound reflectors. Is it sufficient? We won't know until we try it."

To do so, Fatula suggests bringing in a PA system and testing it at the decibel the performances would produce. "Then you have some actual data for under $1,000."

Alternatively, said Fatula, maybe the neighboring residents can be compensated for the sound pollution with free tickets to higher-profile concerts.  

Whatever the case, Fatula advocates for bringing the project out of the concept stage and into the planning stage.

"When you have a plan, there are actual points to discuss. Right now we're at the 50,000-foot-level, with a lot of unanswered questions. Let's get it out of the gray mush and get some numbers."

But planning takes some money, because it requires studies, data collection, and time invested.

"Where's the money going to come from?" Burruss asked.

And is it money well spent?

"I don't know for sure that people will want to come to Colfax," Burruss said. "the Colfax Theater has been empty for years. The city shouldn't invest a dime in this unless someone proves it's worth it."

From Fresh Air Media

For Fresh Air Media's Greg Flessing, who presented the proposal, the split reaction to his project is anticipated. But he stresses that that's OK — he's not trying to convince anyone of anything. He's just trying to test out an idea.

"We're knocking on doors," Flessing said, "and as long as they're open, we'll keep knocking. If the doors close, we'll stop knocking."

Flessing said he has no secret agenda, that he's not trying to "ramrod" anything. If the community doesn't want the amphitheater, he will "bow out gracefully."

"Those at the meeting somehow thought that this project was mysteriously moving forward, and it's not," he said.

Flessing and his partner, Lorin Miller — who co-presented at the Dec. 12 meeting — have a combined skill set that’s ideal for executing a project like this. Flessing has numerous years of experience working with broadcast television, multi-camera event coverage, and marketing. Miller, the artistic director at the Placer Pops for the last 15 years, has myriad experience conducting and performing. Both are passionate about classical music — the kind of music they want to bring to Colfax.

"We're not just looking at touring groups, but local talent: the Placer Pops, William Jessup (University), local drama departments, the Reno Philharmonic — high quality, pretty music. Not the latest rock band," Flessing said.

Miller reiterates Flessing’s vision. “We’re symphony and Broadway people,” he said. “Nothing raucous. Beautiful music, Shakespeare plays. Not rock concerts.”

The partners cite other small towns that have succeeded at venues like this: Red Rocks, Colo.; Tanglewood, Mass., and Ashland, Ore. Before the Shakespeare Festival started in Ashland, few had heard of the town. In 2017, a total of 381,378 tickets were sold to the festival, generating $21.9 million in ticket sales — to say nothing of the dollars those tourists spent locally during their stay in Ashland.

“If little Ashland can bring in so many visitors,” Miller said, “so can we. We’re just as beautiful.”

According to Abbott, though, it’s unfair to draw these parallels. Red Rocks was founded in 1906 and the Shakespeare Festival in 1935.

“Apples and oranges in so many ways,” she said.

But Miller reiterates that it’s too early to tell.

“This is just a little kernel of an idea that has no legs yet,” Miller said. “If the town wants to germinate it, great. If not, we’ll go somewhere else.”

Could Colfax be the next Ashland? Or is this merely building castles in the sky? There's only one way to find out.

"Change always causes problems," Fatula said. "Some want it, some hate it. The question is, how do we change Colfax without changing its character? We need to get our key questions on a list, get answers to those questions, and then the decisions become easier. When you get past the emotion stage and get to the facts, 99 percent of people will make the same decision."