Kim Sorensen
Salzburger Echo performs German, Austrian and Swiss music at a pavilion in Murray Park.

In 1985, the Murray Park Amphitheater was built to provide a venue for community theater, ballet and symphony groups.

Five years later, Murray City created the Murray Arts in the Park series, which put all the productions into one comprehensive summer run.

The 2010 series opened on May 28 with Salsa Espreso and continued June 5 with the Paul Burnside Band. The next performance at the amphitheater will be the community theatre production of "Annie" that runs June 17-24. (See accompanying story for schedule.)

Mary Ann Kirk, cultural programs manager of Murray City, has been a part of the 20-year program.

"It all started in 1990, and I was on the Murray Arts advisory board," Kirk said. "We're the ones who decided to put it into a season. My family volunteered and helped doing programs and running the ticket booth."

In 1992, the Utah Arts Council offered a grant that allowed Kirk to join the Murray City staff full time.

Throughout her tenure as cultural programs manager, Kirk has constantly been surprised at the level of dedication and talent that the community ballet, theatre and orchestra have to offer.

"We pay a stipend to the production staff, but it's very little for the amount of time they invest," she said. "Also, (the performances are) a good solid level of what I would consider for community theater. Our 'Beauty & the Beast' last year was a knock out. It's fun to see what people can do in their level of commitment."

The Murray Arts in the Park isn't just for Murray residents, Kirk said.

"While we give our own local people an opportunity to have a venue and audience, we also wanted to have a broader concert series that included other talent and communities as well."

"For example, last year, we hooked in a Polynesian performance with a Polynesian festival," she said. "We try to let other groups come in and connect with us."

During the past 20 years, the number of applications has grown, Kirk said.

"When people call, I have them send a short biography and demo tape," she explained. "I put them in this gigantic file, and when I want to see what they are, I put them into our children's concert series, my lunch concerts or the family-night series.

"When I see them perform, I have an idea of what to expect."

Eventually, the best performances are recognized and receive the opportunity to perform in the Murray Amphitheater, which seats 800.

"We've taken a whole new focus there," Kirk said. "You have the Sandy Amphitheater, and you have USANA Amphitheatre that have big-name groups that are more in line with pop culture. Our niche is the more affordable and good quality entertainment for our community."

Kirk said there are a couple of challenges of running the series.

"Funding is always an issue," she said. "But the most challenging thing, hands down, is the weather because we are in an outdoor amphiththeater.

"We do have Murray High School as a backup venue, but you can't move a musical. 'Beauty & the Beast' was rained out two nights last year. But that's the name of the game."

Another challenge is rehearsal space.

"We practice in a fire station," she said with a laugh. "It's an old fire station that had a library attached to one side.

"The library was turned into a Head Start Program facility, and they use the fire station as a playground in the winter. When they let out on May 1, we (Murray City Arts) move in."

Still, seeing people participate in the arts makes the challenges worthwhile, Kirk said.

"I love people being able to come and enjoy the arts."

In addition to the amphitheater performances, Murray Arts in the Park offers lunchtime performances and other performances that are geared for children in the park gazebo. It also offers performances at the Murray Heritage Senior Center.

The next step is trying to build a performing facility for winter.

"We would be also able to use that as a real rehearsal space instead of the fire station."