Wasatch Front theatergoers will soon have two new venues and companies to pick from in the area's ever-growing theater community.
After the Overture Productions will premiere this week with "Eden Creek" in the intimate Grand Hall Gallery at 721/2 W. 400 South in Salt Lake City, and the new Mark Shipley's Music Box Theatre, an in-the-round space at 410 N. 200 West, Provo, officially opened this past weekend with a production of "Grease."Sharee Hughes, who has acted in and directed shows for companies throughout the area, is founder and artistic director for After the Overture Productions. She anticipates that her new company will fill the niche created when Theater 138 and Walk-Ons Inc. ceased operating a couple of seasons back.
AOP's first production, "Eden Creek," is a heart-warming, intimate play written by Dwight Watson, a teacher at Wabash College in Indiana. Originally, the work was written as a one-woman show for his wife to perform, but when Weber State College produced it four years ago, it was suggested that the piece be expanded into separate monologues for six different actresses - which is the version that will be staged at the Grand Hall Gallery.
M Troy Klee is directing the play. His cast includes Donna Johnson as the narrator, with Valerie Trupp-Vilatta, Alexandra Mika, Chris Johnson, Missy Birdsong, Faye Barron and Carlene Desmarias. Some roles in the show are double-cast, with different performers on alternate nights.
"Eden Creek" depicts the lives of five women in a small Ohio Valley town during the 1930s.
Performances will be on Fridays and Saturdays from Friday, April 12, through May 4 at 8 p.m. (except for an 8:30 curtain time for the performance on Friday, April 19, due to the art community's late-evening Gallery Walk that night). All seats are $8, and tickets may be purchased at the door or reserved in advance by calling 363-2215. There will be a reception following the opening-night performance.
(Shows on the third Friday of each month will probably be delayed half an hour for the Gallery Walk activities, at least when it's warm enough to hold the monthly event, sponsored by art galleries in the vicinity.)
If there is sufficient demand, Thursday evening performances may also be added to the schedule.
Hughes graduated summa cum laude with a degree in theater from BYU-Hawaii, where she also directed several productions, including "A Man for All Seasons," which was the first student production to be reviewed by a major Honolulu newspaper. She also did graduate work in directing at the University of Utah but admits "I learned more about directing by working as Dennis Ferrin's assistant at Promised Valley Playhouse."
She notes that the Grand Hall Gallery space is small but very versatile. (Theatergoers familiar with the Art Barn in Reservoir Park will have an idea of how even a small space can be very flexible and exciting.)
Hughes has also worked with Opera West, Bountiful Community Theater and the Vine Street Theater.
After the Overture Productions' second offering will be Cindy Lou Johnson's "Brilliant Traces" (see audition notices in today's Sunday Arts & Entertainment section). This is scheduled to run from May 24 through June 22.
Other productions being considered for the new company's first season are Tennessee Williams' "Orpheus Descending" (recently revived on Broadway with Vanessa Redgrave and Kevin Anderson and later filmed for cable TV), A.R. Gurney's "The Dining Room," "The Rainmaker" and "Burdens of Earth," an insightful piece by Susan Howe of the Brigham Young University English department about Joseph Smith in the Liberty Jail. This latter work, according to Hughes, is not a schmaltzy "Mormon musical," but a serious drama and one that she feels is among the finest LDS Church-oriented plays ever written.
Klee will be technical director for After the Overture Productions, with Grand Hall Gallery proprietor David Rishton as producer.
Hughes added that free Sunday evening recitals or concerts may also be held at the gallery/theater, probably once a month, after the company obtains a piano.
- MARK SHIPLEY'S MUSIC BOX THEATRE, a new arena-style theater featuring musical productions and family-oriented shows, has just opened at 410 N. 200 West in Provo.
Mark and Jeanne Shipley, who were involved in theater and other entertainment endeavors in Southern California for nearly 25 years, are operating the Music Box, a 127-seat theater they've established in a building that reportedly once housed the Provo Daily Herald.
The seats the Shipleys acquired for their new venture are wooden chairs with beautiful wrought iron armrests from the Backstage Theatre. The chairs, they were told, were originally from the Brigham Young Academy.
Their first production is "Grease," which is playing on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through the end of May. Admission is $5 per person. To reserve seats in advance, call 375-5405.
The Shipleys moved to Provo last fall from the Ontario/Upland area. The parents of six children (one attends BYU and two younger ones are in high school and junior high), they have traveled to Utah on several occasions during the past few years and decided that it was time to move out of the Southern California gridlock and get into an area that was more family oriented.
The Shipleys' oldest daughter, Angela Shipley Fowler, who also lives in Provo, was choreographer for "Grease."
Mark was under contract for several years to 20th Century-Fox as a performer, mostly in commercials and bit parts on TV. His wife also recorded professionally for Capitol Records using her maiden name, Jeanne Black.
While living in Southern California, the Shipleys operated the Gallery Theatre and were involved in children's shows and theater geared especially to the needs of "special education" youngsters. They plan on starting similar programs for Utah County children.
Their production of "Grease" will be followed by their own adaptation of "Peter Pan" during the summer, then a production of "The Boy Friend."
(Mark Shipley won an Atlas Award from the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego for his performance of Tony in "The Boy Friend" in 1960.)