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Springville's Little Brown, the little theater that could, to reopen

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 29 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

SPRINGVILLE — The directors of the Little Brown Theatre — showing the same determination as Tillie in “The Little Engine That Could” — were able to declare, “I knew I could, I knew I could” as the theater reopened Oct. 28 — as the only live theater venue in Springville.

The re-establishment of the black box-style theater comes just as the Springville Playhouse ends its 47-year history of performing in the basement of the former Springville Civic Center, which is about to be demolished.

“I love theater and what it does for a community,” said Bill Brown, Little Brown owner. “Theater does so much for young people. I look at theater akin to playing sports. Theater builds self-esteem, young people become part of a team and they learn that the show is only as good as the individual players on the stage.”

Brown is partnering with Sara Harvey, newly named stage manager and technical director, whose professional background includes her current work in the same capacities for the Odyssey Dance Theatre.

“We both have a passion for theater,” said Harvey, reached while Odyssey was performing “Thriller” in Logan. “He likes acting and directing, and my experience is on the production and technical side, so we make a good team. And we both hated to see Springville without a live theater.”

And live theater is part of Brown’s and Harvey’s DNA.

Brown owned and operated the city’s Villa Theatre for nine years and the previous Little Brown for seven years before he was forced to sell both buildings because of health reasons. Harvey’s family had previously owned and operated the town’s Villa Theatre, which Brown purchased, where he continued producing live theater.

Brown earned a theater arts degree, at age 60, from BYU, and Harvey is a Southern Illinois University graduate in theater design and technology.

The inaugural production is “The Assassin’s New Friend,” a thriller in the style of Agatha Christie plays, by Shelter Island, N.Y., playwright John Kaasik.

“It’s a very well-written play, said Brown, who directs the show. “It’s got a lot of twists and turns to it. It keeps the audience mesmerized.

“And it’s really a thrill to sit there so close to the stage and you’re part of the action” at the 50-seat theater, Brown added. “It’s a unique theater experience.”

But the objective to the team effort includes not only producing theater but making the space a true community asset.

“The Little Brown Theatre will be used by other area groups, and we’ve been actively extending invitations for them to consider using the theater,” Harvey said.

Provo’s Zion Theatre Company will be producing three shows at the theater in the spring, and plans include a weekly night of improvisational comedy, to be called “Theater Games,” and perhaps a weekly performance from such groups as the Utah Lyric Opera.

Also in the works is a small-scale summer theater camp for teenagers. Management of the Springville Playhouse, reputed to be Utah’s longest continuously running community theater group, is also eyeing the theater as a possible venue until Sprngville is able to complete its current fundraising efforts and then renovate Main Street's Rivoli Theatre, formerly known as the Villa Theater.

Following “The Assassin’s New Friend,” Little Brown plans a reader’s theater production of “A Christmas Carol.” The next show is “On Golden Pond,” which has been an audience favorite, with Brown performing the lead role of Norman Thayer.

“People in town have told us that my husband’s performance in ‘On Golden Pond’ is every bit as good as Henry Fonda’s in the movie version,” Marilyn Brown said with pride.

Like other family-focused operations, the Little Brown will call upon the managers’ spouses for support. Marilyn Brown, lyricist of “Thy Servants Are Prepared,” a song included in the LDS hymn book, and the author of 14 novels, is wardrobing the theater’s first production, and Brent Harvey has been active in converting Main Street’s former Gift of Grace Christian Supply retail store into the Little Brown. The new theater, housed in a building constructed in 1898, is across the street from its former location.

Like all community theaters, volunteers and donations are needed. Because Brown established VIP Arts, a tax-exempt, nonprofit 501(c) corporation, gifts to theater operations may be tax deductible. For more information on donations, call 801-489-4980 or send an email to harvey.pts@gmail.com.

If you go ...

What: "The Assassin's New Friend"

When: Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays through Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Little Brown Theatre, 248 S. Main St., Springville

Cost: $10; $2 discount for students (with I.D.) and seniors

Advisory: May not be suitable for children younger than age 10

Info: 801-602-0478

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