WEST VALLEY CITY — The Hale Centre Theatre is being criticized for receiving $185,000 in state funding while its top executives earn more than $100,000 a year and its actors are paid less than $60 per performance.

"It's a huge disparity, what the top administrators are making as opposed to what artists are compensated," says Scott Phillips, director of the Utah Shakespearean Festival. "It's discouraging and not very fair in the eyes of the artistic world."

The actors who successfully audition for the 350 roles in Hale's well-attended productions are paid $30 to $60 per performance with no health benefits, according to Mark Dietlein, Hale president and CEO.

Some legislators behind the appropriation say they were unaware of how much the theater's executives are paid. Together, the top five managers were paid $530,000 annually, according to the most recent public tax records.

Additionally, two top Hale officials own a leasing company the theater paid $500,000 in the past four years through an exclusive contract.

Utah House Budget Chairman Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, said he pushed for the ongoing grant to the Hale Centre Theatre because it provides family-oriented entertainment. He said he was unaware of the Hale executives' compensation and acknowledged "it is a concern."

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, who is a Hale Centre Theatre board member along with political figures such as Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, says she is proud of the wholesome entertainment the theater offers. But Jones also said she was unaware of the executives' compensation package.

The taxpayer money came in the same session lawmakers turned down the Utah Arts Council's request for additional arts grants funding. The state agency distributes $1.3 million among more than 220 arts groups through a long-established peer-review process.

Hale's most recent tax records show the theater's four top executives each were paid more than $100,000 annually and provided with personal automobiles. Many producers say the theater's compensation is too high for leaders of a nonprofit community theater that relies on volunteers, contributions and taxpayer money.

In the 18 Utah companies that have signed Actors Equity agreements, which establish minimum salaries based on the number of performances and the size of the theater's regular audience, minimum weekly wages range from $792 at the Shakespearean Festival and $728 at Pioneer Theatre Company to $473 at Salt Lake Acting Company and $325 at Park City's Egyptian Theatre. Equity contracts also dictate health and pension benefits.

Dietlein says actors perform at Hale because they want to be a part of the "magic of theater."

"It's a wonderful thing," Dietlein says. "There is almost a family feeling among actors. It is a very tight group."

But actor Annette Wright says a living wage is needed.

"I got to the point where a T-shirt and pie ain't going to cut it," Wright says.

Bigelow says the funding, like all grants, will be re-examined next year.