Julie Harris Theater at Perry Mansfield

Julie Harris Theater at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp

Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp and Historic Routt County (HRC) have partnered to preserve the historic Julie Harris Theatre on the Perry-Mansfield campus. The theatre was built in 1956 and is an iconic and historically significant part of the Perry-Mansfield National Historic District. The theatre is the main classroom and performance space for Perry-Mansfield’s nationally renowned summer theatre programs and hosts performances and meetings for numerous community organizations in the non-camp season.

After 65 Routt County winters with an average of 200’’ snow annually, the long, low-sloped roof of the Julie Harris Theatre was in danger of collapse and in urgent need of reinforcement. Over six weeks during spring 2021, crews from Spectrum General Contractors and Steamboat Steel are working to cleverly slip steel beams (some of which are 48 ft long and 3,000 lbs each) and columns into the theatre interior to reinforce the roof framing system and stabilize the building. It is a challenging puzzle to move steel into the building, while making every effort to cause minimal damage to the existing building fabric. This six-week stabilization project is the first and most urgent phase in what is anticipated to be a multi-year, multi-phase effort to rehabilitate the historic theatre and make accessible and more functional for Perry-Mansfield’s programs and for other community and performing arts groups.

The Julie Harris Theatre is one of the most unique buildings in Routt County. It was designed by Willard Sage, an actor who attended camp at Perry-Mansfield. Willard Sage was also a trained architect. He studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, whose influence can be seen in the design of the Julie Harris Theatre. The six-sided theatre building is approximately 5,600 square-feet. It is believed to be the first theater in the U.S. with a stage that could be configured as proscenium, thrust, or in-the-round. This versatility is still a hallmark of the theatre; productions still use varied and innovative set and stage designs to enhance the experience of attending a play in this intimate setting. The theatre room can accommodate 160 occupants during performances.

This project is made possible by strong community partnerships and generous donors. The stabilization of the theatre is paid for in part by a History Colorado State Historical Fund grant, a grant from the Routt County Museum & Heritage Fund, and generous gifts from community members. Financial support from the community has been especially imperative during the pandemic. Perry-Mansfield was unable to hold camp in person in 2020 for the first time in 107 years, resulting in a $100,000 loss. Summer 2021 will see limited programming return to the historic campus. Friends of Perry-Mansfield, Inc. are currently fundraising to make up revenue loss due to COVID-19, as well as for future phases of the Julie Harris Theatre rehabilitation project.

Thanks to Spectrum General Contractors, Steamboat Steel, RATIO Design, Kramer & Brown Structural Engineers, the History Colorado State Historical Fund, and many others for helping to bring this dream to reality!

About Perry-Mansfield

Founded in 1913 by Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield, Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp is the oldest continuously operating performing arts summer camp in the United States. Perry-Mansfield offers nationally renowned summer performing arts training in theatre and dance for students ages 8-21. More than 250 students from across the United States and internationally enroll annually in our day and residential camps including 50 or more students from Routt County. Perry-Mansfield is a National Historic District, with 55 buildings contributing to the district, including the Julie Harris Theatre.

The Julie Harris Theatre building was named for Julie Harris, who attended the camp as a teenager from 1940 to 1942. Harris was one of the first campers to achieve fame. She had her 1945 Broadway debut in the comedy “It’s a Gift” when she was only 19 years old. Harris later played opposite James Dean in the film “East of Eden.” Julie Harris was a five-time Tony Award winner, won three Emmys, a Grammy, and was nominated for an Academy Award. She is the most honored actor in the history of Broadway’s Tony Awards.

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