Fifteen years ago, Joe and Paulene Rizzo and Chris and Carla Jenness toured a vacant room in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna, hoping they could turn it into the new home of their nonprofit community theater organization, Triumvirate Theatre.
“Because that’s where you go to put a theater, you go to the mal," said Joe Rizzo, speaking at a 15th-anniversary celebration held June 30.
The space was big but not promising. There was stuff hanging from the ceiling. Garbage was piled on the floor. There were no internal walls or anything useful, really. But the price was right, in that it was cheap, though not cheap enough that they could pay the rent just with admissions from shows.
They decided to turn half the space into a used bookstore. And who better to run a bookstore than someone with the last name Reeder. They recruited Rosie Reeder for the job.
“And I said, ‘I don’t know how.’ And they said, ‘We don’t, either, that’s why we’re asking you,’” Reeder said.
Rosie and the bookstore kept Triumvirate afloat and even gaining financial ground for the nearly 10 years is operated in the mall.
It was the most fun. I told them I would do it for one year and I ended up doing it for eight. And it was like three. I mean, they are such a joy to work with, so fun. And the bookstore, I love — well, my last name is Reeder, I’ve got to love books, right? I loved handling the books and seeing people coming in and out and, of course, the theater part, too. It was wonderful, just wonderful.”
The space produced a lot of shows for the public and a lot of memories for the Triumvirate crew. One of their favorites was during a political season satire show, which they do every two years. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was running for reelection and rumor had it she was in Soldotna that night and might just make a cameo during the show. There was no sign of her until Rizzo finished a scene where he was a nosy journalist attempting to dig under a fence at Sarah Palin’s house and was chased offstage through the curtain into the bookstore, holding a shovel like a spear in front of him.
“There’s Lisa Murkowski. (And I’ve got) like a spear in my hand. And I see her and I go flying past her and I fall down on the floor. Good evening, senator. Have a seat,” Rizzo said.
The mall location wasn’t going to last forever, so the founders purchased a building in North Kenai with the goal of renovating it into a permanent home. It was a tossup whether their grand plans would work or whether the building should have been demolished on the spot.
“When we walked in there was insulation hanging from the ceilings and there was snow drifted in the building and I said, 'This is a great place to build a theater.' So for the next five or six years we worked away at it. Many, many contractors would come in, they’d shake their heads, they’d walk right back out. They were like, 'There’s something wrong with that Rizzo guy. No way is that place ever going to be a theater.’ Well, they were wrong,” Rizzo said.
The building, which used to be an auto shop, eventually became home to a dedicated theater with artwork covering the walls, custom stained glass and even a fireplace.
The layout was still a little makeshift, though. The was no space for a green room, which meant actors had to crowd themselves into a tiny backstage area to stay hidden from the audience. Triumvirate pulled together another round of grants and donations for a two-story addition to the backstage space, with a green room downstairs and an office upstairs. Part of the anniversary celebration was a ribbon-cutting for the addition.
Much to Rosie’s surprise, she opened the door to find a sign declaring the new space the Rosie Reeder Room.
“All these people to hold this for all this time. Evidently everybody’s known but me. And I didn’t get it for probably the first hour I was here, hour and a half. I just thought all these people love Triumvirate as much as I do, that is so cool. And they do, they do. Everybody does,” Reeder said.
Coming up for Triumvirate is a kids show, “Pirates Past Noon,” the last two weekends of February. The Disney musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” will be performed at the Glen Massey Theater in Palmer this weekend through Feb. 22. And Triumvirate’s annual fishy movie spoof dinner theater fundraiser will be March 27 and 28 and April 3 and 4 at Mykel’s Restaurant in Soldotna. This year’s title is “Jurassic Carp.”