By Amy Boud
SANDY, Utah — The changes made to Hale Centre Theatre’s location, budget, and casting starting November 16, 2017, have increased the size of Utah’s footprint in the performing arts world and opened up job opportunities for aspiring performing artists.
Hale Centre Theatre (HCT) is a long running performing arts theatre company in the Salt Lake Valley. The theater’s founders, Nathan and Ruth Hale, opened the doors of their first theater in 1947 in Glendale, CA, to just six patrons. Now their legacy lives on in their home state of Utah through a theater that has become one of the nation’s longest running.
The Hale’s grandson, Mark Dietlein, serves as the CEO and executive producer of HCT. On November 16, 2018, Dietlein released a statement to celebrate the first anniversary of HCT’s new location in Sandy. “Our two new theaters are filling to capacity on a regular basis and we have added over 70 additional performances in this first full year,” he said in this statement.
“By the end of this year, our regional, non-equity professional theater company will have staged 800 performances over 10 productions.” According to the same press release, since opening the new Sandy location, HCT has grown from 280,000 to 540,000 patrons and is now one of the highest attended theaters in the nation.
“The public’s support has been breathtaking!” said Sally Dietlein, HCT vice president, and executive producer. “We would not be here today if not for the community’s love and demand for well-produced, innovative, family-oriented theater. We are incredibly grateful to our patrons, sponsors, elected officials, HCT board, amazing staff and performers for helping make our first year in Sandy a positive experience that has exceeded our expectations.”
In Fall 2017, when long-time HCT patron Christian Winder attended Aida, he was amazed by the new updates and was excited to see if the new theatre would contain the same charm as the old West Valley location he had come to love.
The new theatre lived up to expectations. Winder said he was delighted to see some new additions that enhanced the audience experience such as the new screens surrounding the top of the theatre that are used to expand the perceived space and mood of the show.
There are many reasons behind the rising patrons numbers beyond the new building and fancy decor. With the new donor budgets, HCT is able to hire higher caliber and more popular actors. For example, Utah sweethearts, Dallyn Bayles and Lexi Walker, appeared during the 2018 season and have brought with them additional advertising through posts about HCT on their personal social media platforms.
HCT also selected plays for the first season that have shown well in the past. Shows like Aida, Newsies, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and The Wizard of Oz are just a few examples of successful plays specifically selected to kick off the opening season of the new building.
In addition to the 900-seat, 10 row theater-in-the-round Center Stage Theatre, HCT built a smaller, 467-seat theater called the Jewel Box Theatre (JBT). The JBT has a proscenium thrust stage, a traditional rectangular shaped stage with one end open towards the audience and the other ends leading backstage.
The extra stage has allowed HCT to produce two shows at once, a first in the theatre’s history. This way HCT can expand their repertoire to support lesser-known artists, musicals, plays, or interactive shows that require a smaller space, all without losing any revenue from having to reserve the larger stage. This has expanded opportunities for local artists, playwrights, and production teams.
Naturally with two stages, HCT must now also hire more performers. “This growth has made Hale Centre Theatre the largest theater employer in the state, with 62 full-time and 150 regular part-time employees and 500 paid actors,” said Dietlein’s press release, “compared to 40 full-time and 75 part-time employees and 300 paid actors in 2017.”
Working in the performing arts has always been difficult for people who need a consistent income. “There are definitely more opportunities in Utah than there used to be and that’s exciting,” said Katya Wagstaff, a current student at the University of Utah double majoring in Musical Theatre and Communication. As a performer, Wagstaff has dreamed of making her career on the stage but said that any actor in Utah needs a day job as an acting teacher or private coach just to find some financial stability.
HCT is opening up some room for performing artists to grow more in their chosen field without having to leave the state for work. “I definitely want to work at HTC someday when I’m not a student,” Wagstaff continued. “Two theaters gives more job opportunities!”