Inside the Back Space
New visual arts theater takes off in Durango

by Stew Mosberg

Doug Sitter has always loved movies, particularly independent and foreign language films. The idea of opening an independent theater has been at the back of the former attorney and 16-year local resident’s mind for many years. When he saw a vacant space at the back of what is now the Durango Dance studio, he had his eureka moment.

After naming it the Back Space Theatre, Sitter started fashioning the space into a comfortable environment that would be distinctive and suitable for film, dance, music and a variety of other performance events.

Enlisting the expertise of Tim Kapustka, owner of Cabbage Creative, the next phase was to design the logotype and marketing materials. Kapustka set out to create a simple, yet recognizable visual identity and forged a symbolic black and white geometric “ying-yang” shape. “My goal was to give the theater a clean design that evoked a mid-century feel,” Kapustka said.

During the design process, Kapustka toyed with the concept of the “back space” key on a computer keyboard and envisioned the resulting logo’s positive and negative arrow going both backward and forward. For some, the icon may also be seen as a pyramid that appears to be half in light, half in darkness. The metaphor is enlightenment as much as it is the darkness of the theater.

Sitter enthusiastically refers to the space’s new interior as a black box theater. The apt allusion harkens to Thomas Edison’s early Kinetoscope, “the little black box,” and also to the inventor’s Black Maria film studio in Orange, N.J.

The core of The Back Space boasts dance-hall flooring, a limited number of movable stadium style and casual seats, plus comfy sofas with convenient cup holders. The atmosphere feels more home theater than commercial enterprise.

That feeling reflects the theater’s mission, which reads, “... to provide audiences with a pure human experience, with the least amount of technical elements; a versatile and easy to change venue (and) a personal unstructured feel to enhance the intimacy of the art.”

Sitter has applied for nonprofit status in order to provide educational programs, field trips and hopefully scholarships, as well as a setting for corporate, private and nonprofit organization functions.

Film lovers familiar with the Durango Film Society and its spawn, the Durango Independent Film Festival, will recognize the name of Jane Julian on the list of The Back Space’s staffers. Julian, a passionate film professional, will be developing the movie schedule for the Back Space. She is currently serving as program director for the Port Townsend, Wash., Film Festival and is just back from being a juror of documentary films for the prestigious Nashville Film Festival. She first met Sitter when he briefly was part-owner of the Abbey Theatre and discovered they shared similar philosophies, so the decision to work together at The Back Space was easy to make.

Having opened its doors just a few weeks ago, the theater has already experienced sold-out performances with the screening of documentary and independent films such as “I Am” and “Biutiful.” The first scheduled live event will be a performance by the Durango Dance Co. on May 12-13.

Although the occupancy of the building maxes out at 99, seating in the theater is best capped out at 70. “It’s not about packing the numbers,” said Sitter. “It’s more about the experience.”

With the availability of wine, beer, refreshments and all-important popcorn, patrons can kick back and enjoy watching a motion picture or performance the way a Hollywood producer might. As to foreign films, The Back Space is possibly the only theater in the area where you can see sub-titled fare.

Screenings of documentary films that are theme-focused is another anticipated component, and movie-goers will have as much chance to see independent films from all around the world as they will documentaries about the environment, diverse cultures and socially relevant and politically charged subjects. In addition, Sitter hopes to present experimental theater in the not-too-distant future.

Margy Dudley, owner of the Open Shutter Gallery, was quick to recognize the new facility’s advantage. As such, she rented the venue May 14 to provide National Geographic photographer David Alan Harvey with an exceptional lecture venue. The event will be open to the public, and Harvey’s personal adventures are akin to Indiana Jones and should make for great entertainment as well as the chance to learn about his personalized approach to photography.

Meanwhile, Sitter is working toward establishing a membership plan to help finance the theater’s altruistic endeavors, and he is also finalizing his Foundation Board.

One remaining phase, however, is the already overdue “Grand Opening.” Sitter remarked that he just hasn’t gotten to it because of the rush to open and start the ball rolling. It is unknown, he admits, as to when the curtain will rise on the opening gala, but it promises to be a night to remember.

Asked about probable competition from the several theater options in Durango, Sitter graciously suggests that “competition is good for the community.” •

The Back Space Theatre is located at 1120 Main Ave. and can be reached by visiting or by calling 259-7940.



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