All in the family - Brother and sister at odds over melodrama’s future

“I’m sad,” Jeanne Wheeldon, director of the Diamond Circle Melodrama, said in an interview at the theater last week. Beyond that, Wheeldon would say little more about a decision to close down the Melodrama in its current location next to the Strater Hotel at the end of this season. The decision wasn’t hers.

“The Strater Corporation has a lease on the facility,” she said, “and they have plans that don’t include the Melodrama. We have a set schedule and need a space we can count on, but it’s in their interest to have a more flexible opportunity.”

The mysterious “they” in this case is actually Wheeldon’s brother and his company. Rod Barker, president of the new Strater Corp., said in a separate interview that he leases the theater from the Anesi family, which owns the property. “We, the Strater Corp., have sublet it to Jeanne for years – for the four summer months she needs, but it’s time to move on. Jeanne

may go on with the melodrama in another location. I hope she does.”

In a news release earlier this year, Wheeldon said more pointedly: “Let’s say he and I don’t see things the same way, and he has control of it, so I’m kind of out. I don’t work inside the brain of my brother.”

Barker said he’s considering other uses for the space and will continue to lease it. “This summer, we’re into research and development, and I hope to have a plan in place by September to roll out for next March-April.”

Considering family entertainment with a link to Durango’s history, Barker added: “Something with humor, maybe some cowboy humor – and music, but not melodrama. Something a lot simpler, not with a huge cast. We don’t have the details, but we want to do something that won’t infringe on what the Bar D does, something different.”

Barker leases the facility year round, and he said he’s thinking about ways to fill seats during the off season

and not just the summer tourist blitz.

“The space will be available for meetings, banquets and more local festivals,” Barker said.

The Diamond Circle Melodrama has had interested buyers and many well wishers from all over the country, Wheeldon said, “but you can’t purchase it if you don’t have a spot to hold it. Usually, after 46 years with a viable business, you’re able to sell that business. Now I or any buyer would have to find another space and start over again.

“Ironically, it ain’t broke. We’re going to try and find another venue. This is just the final year in this space, but we’ve learned that anything off Main Avenue is a hard sell.”

Barker said he wishes his sister well: “All things come to an end at some point. Everybody should see the melodrama in its final year. If they haven’t seen it in a while, it’s time to come back and try it again.”

– Judith Reynolds