When Albuquerque’s historic KiMo Theatre shut down early last year—along with every other public venue in the state—longtime theater manager Larry Parker thought, “Maybe we close for a month.” By April the theater was forced to cancel all of its upcoming events: concerts from local promoters Neal Copperman and Joe Anderson, high school and police/fire academy graduations, Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico performances. By May, Parker and his staff saw the writing on the wall: “OK, we’re gonna be empty. Now what?”
The staff at KiMo started working on cleaning up the nearly century-old venue. They started replacing the amps, fixing the sound system, making any basic improvements they could. But by summertime, much of the staff had drifted off to other jobs or been reassigned to other city positions. Parker found himself transferred to the city’s Emergency Operations Center, helping coordinate a program of “COVID hotels” in Albuquerque to house vulnerable people who had been exposed to COVID-19 but did not have a safe place to recuperate with hospitals pushed to capacity.
Adding insult to injury, the late-night riots in Downtown Albuquerque following peaceful civil rights protests on Civic Plaza last summer resulted in damage to several businesses—including the KiMo Theatre. Repairs had to me made to the venue’s broken windows and damaged lobby. Permanent security shutters (which had to pass muster with a historic review panel) were installed. With untold months still to go before health restrictions allowed bars, restaurants and indoor entertainment venues to open, several key people in our city’s government started looking at the possibility of using the downtime to give the KiMo a bit of a facelift. Parker, who has worked at the KiMo for 15 years, contemplated what it would take to “bring the old boy back in good shape.”
City Arts & Culture Department Community Events Manager Bree Ortiz was instrumental in allocating resources and helping money flow toward the KiMo’s wish list of restoration projects. With the city cancelling big public events like Freedom 4th, SummerFest and the Twinkle Light Parade, there was a sizable amount of unused money sitting around the department. With the KiMo dark, its ghost light still burning on stage, Parker returned last fall and began spearheading the work—often with paintbrush in hand. The theater’s stage floor was resurfaced. Antiquated dressing rooms were updated. The proscenium arch was retouched. Albuquerque’s Zeon Signs helped spiff up the historic neon “blade” out front. Nearly everything got a new coat of paint (much of the historic colors recreated, a paint-studded Parker says, with invaluable assistance from Sherwin-Williams). Cameras and monitors were even installed to capture live performances on stage. The audio/visual equipment represents a new partnership with One Albuquerque Media’s GOV TV, which will hopefully be able to broadcast performances in the future.
The way Parker looks at it, he’s got two clients to please these days: the audiences (who want to see concerts/movies/shows/lectures in a tidy, up-to-date environment) and the performers (who in the soon-to-be post-COVID world will be demanding rigorous sanitation clauses in their contracts). Among the new additions the KiMo’s backstage dressing rooms are touchless sinks and towel dispensers. A modern upgrade to the building’s HVAC/filtration system—following a much-needed resurfacing of the building’s aging roof—is the next on Parker’s wish list.
New changes to the state’s health restrictions now allow indoor entertainment venues to open to limited audiences. When exactly KiMo opens its doors again to the public remains to be seen. But thanks to the work of the city and the staff of the KiMo, we can rest assured that, when it does, the venerable venue will be looking its best.