About six years ago, Nathan and Ruth Hale stood before a full house at their theater in Glendale, Calif., and with a few tears running down their cheeks and slight tremblings in their voices, they announced that after more than 50 years of writing plays, building and maintaining a theater, managing productions and directing and acting in plays, they were going to return to Salt Lake City and rock away their senior years in the Grandpa and Grandma rocking chairs they received as retirement gifts from their family and friends.
But it didn't work out quite that way.They turned the Glendale theater over to their daughter and son-in-law and moved to Salt Lake City, as planned. But the rest of their dreams began quickly to fizzle out.
"For a while we were happy and content with nothing much to do," Nathan said. "Fact is, it was a great relief and pretty nice life being rid of all the headaches in theater management and production."
"Yes," Ruth agreed. "But doing hardly anything more than staring at each other day after day got to be pretty boring after a while."
"We began to have big disagreements around the house about the slightest little things," Nathan confessed. "And for a while we really didn't know why."
In time, though, he said, they reasoned that undoubtedly they had been held together during all their past years by working as a team to be successful in writing, producing and acting in plays.
"Quitting show business brought on problems we just weren't equipped to handle. Like too much leisure time," Ruth said. "There just isn't anything more of a drudgery and less satisfying than giving up what you've been doing all your life and not doing it any more."
"That's right," Nathan agreed. "Without theater work and with little or nothing else to take its place, seems like we were just sort of drifting aimlessly along."
"Not a happy situation for old folks like us," Ruth said.
Both Nathan and Ruth Hale are pushing past their middle 70s.
Finally one day, they sat down and seriously discussed the whole turn of events. Retirement, they concluded, just wasn't for them. It simply did not provide the lifestyle that gave them the kind of happiness and fulfillment they needed.
They talked about going back to work in the theater as an actor and actress, with acting as their only jobs. Or doing TV commercials. But that, they felt, had drawbacks. They considered the pains and troubles that might be ahead if they decided to get a building and put on productions as they had been doing in Glendale. That, they knew, would take much work and sweat in their waning years. Yet, they figured there was compensation to it that they probably couldn't find elsewhere.
Finally, they made their crucial decision.
They acquired a building at 2801 S. Main in South Salt Lake and turned it into the Hale Center Theatre for the production of family-oriented plays.
HCT is approaching its third anniversary and is now pretty well known to the many Salt Lakers and Wasatch Front residents who enjoy live stage performances geared to the tastes of all ages.
Built originally to handle a capacity of 200 in a theater-in-the-round arrangement, the HCT burst its seams during the past summer. So the south wall was knocked out to enlarge the capacity by 120 more seats. The extensive interior and exterior remodeling was completed recently.
Nearly all the plays at the HCT were written during the past 30 or 40 years by Nathan and Ruth Hale. That the plays still appeal to and hold the attention of audiences is ample testimony of their enduring quality.
Nathan and Ruth take leading and supporting roles in many of the plays. Sometimes together. Other times, separately.
Members of their family particularly Sally Swenson, their daughter, and Sally Dietlei, their granddaughter, along with their grandchildren are frequent cast members.
Bob Swenson, a son-in-law, and Mark Dietlei, a grandson-in-law, are also frequent performers in the plays. Together with others in the family, the Swensons and Dietleis helped in planning for the building of the HCT and its renovation.
When the family members, including Nathan and Ruth, are not acting, they tend to the various theater management chores, such as maintenance of the building, booking reservations, stage management, scene construction and other miscellaneous tasks.
Ruth keeps busy off-stage by sewing and mending costumes. Handy with his hammer and saw, Nathan spends a large portion of his spare time altering and repairing the building and stage.
An "adopted" daughter, Ann Madsen, manages the office and is a cast member or alternate in many of the plays.
According to Nathan and Ruth, a big plus of the HCT is that it provides the opportunity for local talent to get a start or gain more experience in live stage performances.
"We've had some of the best talent in the area to work with," stated Nathan. "And, that, after all, is the secret of successful plays."
Recalling the past summer productions, Ruth stated that "San Juan Outpost" is a good example of a play that featured the dramatic abilities of several local performers.
"We wrote the play many years ago," Ruth stated. "But for the production last summer, it was updated with music and dancing. That gave our granddaughter, Sally Dietlein, the opportunity to compose the music and lyrics and Deanna Walker, a gifted singer and dancer from the Sandy area to choreograph the numbers and take a leading role."
Ruth noted that Gordon Jump was cast as Dartmouth, the villainous outlaw, when "San Juan Outpost" played in Glendale.
That part was taken last summer by Richard Wilkins, a Brigham Young University law professor, who drives back and forth from Provo for all the rehearsals and performances. Wilkins has become a regular performer in HCT productions. He's played the part of Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" and is an important character in the current production, "The Curious Savage."
Other performers and new talents in "San Juan Outpost" included a local school counselor, Spencer Anderson; a housewife, Linda Herzog, and six young elementary school children, Melanie Keefer, Cassidy Osborn, Amy McClellan, David Spicer, and Quinn and Jessica Dietlein
Jared Shaver, an employee of an electrical appliance company, performed as a leading song-and-dance man in "San Juan Outpost" and as the harried professor in "A Bundle of Trouble," a subsequent play.
"A Bundle of Trouble" gave a first-time acting opportunity to three young girls from the Salt Lake area. Josie Scothern, age 9, alternated with Katie Hale and Ashley Rodebaugh, both age 5, in the role of the child who complicated the life of the college professor.
Another first-time performer in "A Bundle of Trouble" was Kris Roller. In real life, Kris is an interior designer. Theatrically, she is currently a hit comedienne in "The Curious Savage."
HCT plays generally contain a fairly large quantity of lines that tickle the funny bones of audiences. But, sometimes, unexpected incidents add a touch of extra on-the-spot comedy.
To illustrate, Ruth said that last summer, Nathan had surgery during the run of "San Juan Outpost." He missed one performance, she said, but couldn't stand being away any longer. When he was not on stage, he would lie down and rest on a backstage couch while waiting for his next entrance. One night, the cast reached the point where Nathan was to enter and play an important scene.
But Nathan didn't appear.
For a few moments, the cast was nervous and apprehensive. Gaining some composure, however, the cast members ad-libbed a few lines waiting for Nathan to enter on stage.
Still no Nathan.
The cast then moved on to the next action lines, and some of the players left the stage as though their departure were a part of the actual play.
They found Nathan fast asleep backstage on the couch.
"It was all Ruth's fault," Nathan recalled, jokingly. "She promised to wake me up, but she forgot."
Another evening, Nathan said, the power failed and the theater went totally dark during a "San Juan Outpost" performance. For a few seconds, all was silent. Then Ruth said loudly for the benefit of the audience, "Sit still, folks. I'll go get a lamp." Then quickly, she stated, "They didn't have electric lights in `San Juan' days, anyway."
The audience roared with laughter.
When they quieted down a bit, Ruth said, "Lamps will make the play all the more real."
Again the audience broke down.
When the laughter subsided again, Ruth stated, "What you're getting now is a little taste of what life was really like in old San Juan days."
Ruth continued with her spontaneous humor until the power was restored and the play resumed.
Over the years, Nathan and Ruth stated, they have shared many cherished moments that resulted from their acting and production of plays. They fondly recall one recent experience when they made a trip back to Glendale to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the theater that grew up with them. While there, Ruth stated, they were pleasantly surprised by a communication from President Regan congratulating them on their many years of theatre work and wishing them continued success.
"Things like that can just make it all seem so much more worthwhile," Nathan said.
Usually an HCT production runs for approximately seven or eight weeks. Play days are Monday evening and Thursday through Saturday evenings. Occasionally, afternoon matinees are scheduled, particularly on Saturdays.
There are no lapses of time between productions. While one play is running, another is in rehearsal to take over.
Currently playing is "The Curious Savage," a rib-tickling comedy in which Ruth Hale plays the part of a rich widow who foils the schemes of her family and relatives to get her money. Comedy is provided by the antics of five institutional residents as they aid the widow in her efforts.
In rehearsal is "Hopsville Holiday," a new Hale musical with a 1920 flavor, scheduled for April 14 through June 13.