WEST VALLEY CITY — Show business runs deep in Mark Dietlein’s veins.
His maternal grandfather, so the family lore goes, moved from the family farm in Granger, Utah, to Los Angeles at the end of World War II to be an actor. Nathan Hale wanted to be the next John Wayne or Clark Gable. But he soon found out he wasn’t the only one, and as he stood in line after line at interminable auditions, he seized on the notion that he could play any part he wanted if he owned a theater.
So he and his wife Ruth, an aspiring playwright and fellow acting enthusiast, opened one in the shadow of the Hollywood sign — the Glendale Centre Theatre.
That was in 1947. Nathan died in 1994 and Ruth in 2003, but what they started hasn’t come even close to dying. That playhouse in Glendale is still going strong, the longest continuously running center-stage theater in America, and so are those it has spawned. There are Hale theaters run by extended members of the family in Gilbert, Ariz.; Orem, Utah; and West Valley City, Utah, where Mark is founder and CEO.
Over the years, West Valley’s Hale Centre Theatre has emerged as one of the preeminent community theaters in America. With 23,000 season ticket holders, 65 percent of its seats are guaranteed sold out for the year even before the lights are turned on. The total attendance of 250,000 in 2012 was three times that of any other comparable operation in the country — a situation that prompted the recent announcement that in 2017 the theater will move into a new and more spacious facility in Sandy.
In a conversation with the Deseret News, Mark Dietlein talked about how a theater 700 miles from Hollywood and 2,000 miles from Broadway that stresses family values in its productions has managed to not just survive, but thrive.
Deseret News: How do you account for such extraordinary success for a community, family-oriented theater?
Mark Dietlein: I think there are several factors. Theater is a very fragile business and we’ve been very, very fortunate in this community to have unbelievable support from the public. Seventy-five percent of our budget comes from ticket sales. Twenty-five percent comes from our development efforts, individual donations, sponsorships from companies, foundation grants, and state and county funding, including Zoo Arts and Parks, for which we are very grateful. In 1997 we determined that to meet growing public demand and to have a broader community outreach, ownership of the theater would be given to the community and the theater became a 501(c)3 not-for-profit arts organization. We operate with a much larger board than most nonprofits, and I can’t tell you how important they are in providing oversight and direction. We’re fortunate that we are able to pay a lot of attention to detail in every aspect of the operation, to lighting, to sound, to the business end, to costuming, to our casts. The theater is really several areas of discipline that all come together to create the show. But it really all started with Grandma and Grandpa Hale and the kind of theater they first built in Glendale, Calif.
DN: And what kind of theater was that?
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