Theater impresario, innkeeper, restaurateur, brewery and distillery owner—Teresa Dahl-Bredine is the straw that stirs the drink in the heart of Silver City.
Above: Teresa Dahl-Bredine.
TERESA DAHL-BREDINE IS DANCING. In a German barmaid dress and stockings, this Silver City entrepreneur and theater troupe leader kicks her legs high to the beat of a festive jig. Octoaderfest—an annual street party she puts on at her Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery—is the one time each year the Yale theater grad performs, rather than directing from offstage.
The crowd cheers when the dancers—Dahl-Bredine’s employees, friends, and fellow actresses—conclude their choreography with a curtsy. Then, when everyone else moves on to the life-size foosball field and keg-toss competition, Dahl-Bredine goes back to work. She puts out any figurative fires in the kitchen, serves a few pints from behind the bar, and checks on the bouncer. A type-A creative whose colleagues describe her as tough as nails yet kind and gentle, she is clearly in her element.
Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery is a spin-off of Little Toad Creek Inn and Tavern, 30 miles outside Silver City. Soon, Dahl-Bredine and her husband, Dave Crosley, will open a third establishment, a downtown brewery. The beer will be distributed by Little Toad, New Mexico’s third-ever craft distillery, which produces spirits and liqueurs.
As if all that weren’t enough to keep her busy, Dahl-Bredine’s nonprofit Virus Theater recently purchased El Sol Theater through a partnership with El Sol LLC. Built in 1934, it closed in the sixties and has been boarded up ever since, save for a stint as a cinema in the nineties. Despite a leaky roof and damaged electrical wiring, the building’s in good shape and retains the original murals on its walls. The plan is to create a dynamic performing arts center for local and traveling acts that also works as a meeting hall or festival site. But first they have to erect a catwalk, expand the stage, replace the electric wiring and fixtures, create a usable backstage, and install HVAC and a sprinkler system, at an estimated total cost of $800,000. Silver City MainStreet manager Lucy Whitmarsh says El Sol will boost downtown’s economic vitality by attracting theatergoers who’ll dine and shop in the area.
It’s a good thing that Dahl-Bredine has the wherewithal to match her ambition.
“I don’t think she has any concept of ‘impossible,’” says Kristen Warnack, who’s been Dahl-Bredine’s friend since they were “itty-bitty girls” and has participated in Virus Theater from the get-go. Dahl-Bredine started the troupe upon returning to her beloved hometown here in the far southwest corner of the state nearly 20 years ago.
She belongs to a close-knit family of well-educated and multilingual musicians, photographers, teachers, and construction workers—but not necessarily entrepreneurs. Her intro to business was a book she and Crosley found at the public library: So—You Want to Be an Innkeeper?
“We read that whole book from start to finish, and we were like, ‘Okay, no, this does not sound like something that we’re probably qualified to do. But, oh well, let’s try it anyway,’” Dahl-Bredine recalls of their decision to buy the hunting lodge that became Little Toad Creek Inn and Tavern in 2012. “We didn’t necessarily want to run an inn,” she says. “We just loved that rural spot on Sapillo Creek in the middle of the Gila National Forest.”
She focused on what she did know how to do and transformed the derelict cabin into a handsome chalet. “We both have lots of experience in construction, and carpentry is one thing I really love. We used lumber from the closest sawmill to create beautiful ceilings and trim,” Dahl-Bredine says.
Her let’s-put-on-a-show mind-set came in handy, too. “In theater, I’m always the director, and running a business is like putting on a giant event—all of this attention to all these details—and when we started out at the inn, events became the way we’d bring people out to the middle of nowhere,” she says. “It was just my natural inclination to create these big events and publicize them well and have different aspects that are somewhat theatrical—music and themes—and make them as fun as possible.”
In addition to Octoaderfest, the Toad hosts Halloween costume contests, a New Year’s Eve party, and Mardi Gras carnivals and throws an annual Spring Toad Fest: New Mexico Brewers Guild Tap Takeover. The party-oriented approach is working. “The invitation to the public to be a part of what we do has been focused around our events,” she says. Crosley’s brews only enhanced the Toad’s popularity. “When we realized it was bringing so much traffic out there, we thought we really needed to be—I can’t call Silver City ‘urban,’ but—in a slightly more populated area,” she says. The downtown watering hole is now a live music hub, as Dahl-Bredine brings in acts every weekend. “It’s hard to pay musicians what they are worth in our little town, but we try to make it up to them with good food, fun, and lots of respect,” she says.
These days, the so-called Country Toad opens only for special events. “You have to follow the money or follow what’s working. Luckily, that’s the part that’s most exciting for us—developing the brewery and distillery,” Dahl-Bredine says.
The new brewery is in Silver City’s old skating rink. “When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted that place to be a theater, and I contacted the owners like, ‘Will you just let me have it, make it into a theater?’ Of course, they said no,” she says. “Twenty years later, it’s like, ‘Hey, would you consider selling us that to be a brewery?’” Today, the Toad brews around 300 barrels a year, but this industrial space will house a streamlined system allowing them to eventually produce 9,000 barrels a year.
Even though Dahl-Bredine and Crosley are having fun, there were times they wanted to quit. “We could have walked away a million times,” she confesses, “and that’s another way that my theater training has helped: The show must go on.”
Above: Dahl-Bredine is reopening El Sol Theater as a performing arts
venue and home for her Virus Theater company.
Dahl-Bredine has always worked just as hard at theater as she has at the bartending and construction jobs that paid her bills. Virus Theater has produced plays and retained a core group of talented actors for two decades, but the troupe has never had a permanent home.
“Just about every season, we’ve moved locations,” Dahl-Bredine explains. But rebuilding stages annually “has gotten a little tiring as we get older.”
So Virus Theater became a nonprofit and purchased El Sol under Dahl-Bredine’s direction. “The goal is to bring people from different backgrounds—young and old—downtown, watching performances and being in performances,” she says.
Known for its original plays, Virus Theater creates productions over months of “playing together in structured games, exercises, and improvisations,” Dahl-Bredine says. “It produces an eclectic style of performance, because instead of a single voice creating the story and structure, there are so many points of view all coming together.” The style—called devised theater—engages audiences and guarantees well-cast productions, because the players create their own characters.
Warnack says Dahl-Bredine is dedicated to expanding the theater’s reach and appeal. “That’s an issue,” she says. “How do we reach not just the usual suspects? How do we bring in the people who wouldn’t be enjoying this music or going to see plays?”
Dahl-Bredine says they plan to work with kids and actively recruit across social and cultural boundaries. “We find that youth are an entryway and permanent connection to every community,” she says. “In my experience you just have to get one or two people involved, then suddenly their mother or cousin is coming to see the show, then they want to help with costumes, or be in the next show.”
El Sol will seat about 200 after renovations, which will progress as Virus Theater raises money. The community wants to see El Sol open just as badly as Virus Theater’s founder does, and supporters have lent their own time, talents, and money to the vision. “All of this energy that I never thought was possible is lending itself to my own energy and quadrupling the power going forward,” Dahl-Bredine says.
“Teresa just has incredible heart and imagination and initiation,” says Virus colleague Jessa Tumposky. “Those three things combined create a firebomb of amazingness for every project she works on.”
—Contributing writer Jennifer C. Olson is featured in Storytellers.
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