'A dream fulfilled': Lindon couple closing doors of beloved community theater

Published: Friday, Dec. 20 2013 11:48 a.m. MST

Ashton Renstrom checks himself out in the mirror prior to the show "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at the Valley Center Playhouse in Lindon on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Owners Keith and Jody Renstrom are closing the playhouse on Dec. 21 after 38 years of community theater.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

LINDON, Utah County — Green velvet folding seats surround the small stage at the Valley Center Theater. The fabric is worn around the edges and the wood finish uneven in some places.

To Jody and Keith Renstrom, those chairs represent the beginning of a 38-year journey — one that will come to an end this month when they close the theater's doors.

In 1975, the Renstroms moved from California to Utah with their seven children. Jody Renstrom said she thought it would be fun to be in a play, but she was told there wasn’t a community theater.

She told her husband, "There needs to be a family theater in this area," Jody Renstrom recalled. He agreed but asked her who would open one.

"Probably no one," she answered. "Why don’t we?"

Days later, she received a call from her husband.

"Well, I found your seats," he told her.

Those green seats were in the Renstroms' possession before they had a theater to put them in.

On Saturday, the community theater will put on its final show with a performance of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

"It’s been a lifetime of fun … and miracles and nice people to work with," Jody Renstrom said. "We have no regrets. We’ve loved every minute of it."

Son John Renstrom said he grew up doing plays with his siblings and parents.

"We could almost run an obituary in the paper that says the theater’s been a part of the family for 38 years," John Renstrom said with a laugh, "survived by…"

He sat in the back of the theater in one of those green folding chairs after a performance of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," recalling hundreds of memories about the playhouse.

John Renstrom remembers coming home one day in high school to be handed a script from his mother. She said, "You’re going on tonight," to which he replied, "Mom, I’ve got a date!"

With two minutes to show time, John Renstrom left his date to "get something from the car." Instead of rejoining his date, he came back onstage.

"The show must go on," he said, saying that only two plays were canceled at the theater in 38 years.

Daughter Julie Day said it was normal to be handed a script if a cast member was unable to perform.

"That goes across the board to anything in life," Day said, stating one of the life lessons a childhood in theater taught her. "You gotta keep going. Don’t give up. Just keep pushing through."

Day said her mother, who turns 80 this month, and father, 92, have had an amazing journey.

"Their lives have been so rich," she said.

They've also enriched the lives of others, Day said, as hundreds and maybe thousands either performed or visited the theater over the years.

For one couple, the Valley Center Playhouse has been a haven throughout the early days of their courtship and their 24 years of marriage.

"We loved the family feeling, and so we just came back year after year," Dan Higinbotham said.

Dan and Barbara Higinbotham's children have acted in plays at the playhouse for 18 years; Barbara Higinbotham has directed "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at least five times, she said.

Day and John Renstrom say the Valley Center Playhouse and the journey it has been for their family could be described as "a dream fulfilled" and "lives touched."

John Renstrom said the best thing about community theater is not knowing what’s going to happen on stage, and that comes with the untrained actors.

"These are people that just want to do it," he said. "They have given so many people such great opportunities over the years."

Sally Dietlein is a granddaughter-in-law to Ruth and Nathan Hale, longtime friends of the Renstroms.

Dietlein, one of the founders of the Hale Center Theater, said the Valley Center Playhouse has been a home for many actors — and one that cannot be replaced.

She applauded the Renstroms' mission to provide a family-friendly environment for the arts.

"We wish them well and say three cheers for years and years and years of wonderful theatrical efforts," Dietlein said.

John Renstrom said the green velvet seats that came from the church administration building will be sold after about 100 years of service, and the costumes will be donated to Mountain View High School.

The theater was sold to a neighboring music studio, and the existing building will be torn down, Day said.

She said she will especially miss the theater in October.

"It doesn’t feel like Halloween until you see 'Hotel Frankenstein,'" Day said.

But most of all, regulars at the theater will miss Keith Renstrom dramatically welcoming audiences.

"Welcome to the Valley Center Playhouse," he announces, drawing out each word with gusto and a wave of his arms.

"I think it was my mom's dream to do theater," Day said. "It was so amazing because my dad, even though he didn’t have a lot of theater experience, he just supported her, and they did that dream together."

Jody Renstrom said it’s been a "delightful life."

"Working in the theater and meeting all of the wonderful people that we’ve met, it’s just been a delight," she said. "We’ve had many, many spiritual experiences and many miracles take place, and we have such fond memories. We have no regrets."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: EmileeEagar

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