SANDY — Hale Centre Theatre has done a lot of growing in its 32-year history.
The company got its start in a South Salt Lake lingerie-factory-turned-theater, which first opened in July 1985 and served as HCT’s home for 13 years before the organization made a move to its current location in West Valley City in 1998.
But after 19 years on Decker Lake Drive, HCT has outgrown the 42,000-square-foot building, which theater representatives say has run at full capacity since 2004, and is about to embark on a new adventure in Sandy with the upcoming opening of Hale Centre Theatre at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre.
The new location at 9886 Monroe St. boasts 130,000 square feet, which more than triples the space theater administrators, staff and actors currently have to work with.
“This theater is by all standards a world-class venue because we incorporated all the ideas of a creative team that involves all our set designers, lighting designers, costume designers, all the people that have been involved with us, some well over 25 years,” said Mark Dietlein, HCT’s president and CEO, during a media tour of the facilities on Aug. 9.
The facilities include two stages: the smaller Jewel Box Theatre, which is set to open Sept. 1 for a production of “Forever Plaid,” and the larger Centre Stage Theatre, which is slated to be completed in time for the Nov. 17 opening of “Aida.”
The project as a whole carries a price tag of more than $100 million, $80 million of which is allocated to the theater itself, and $20 million of which is allocated to create the “stage magic” of theater-in-the-round Centre Stage Theatre.
“I’m so excited to see (the patrons') faces after the first show, after their first experience because, honestly, it’s going to hit them,” Dietlein said. “I think it’ll knock their socks off.”
Centre Stage Theatre
HCT production designer Kacey Udy has an opportunity not many in his field can claim.
“It’s very unique as a (production) designer to not only be designing sets, but you get to design the space that your sets will inhabit,” said Udy, who has worked on more than 90 shows at HCT and played an intricate role in designing Hale’s new location and specifically the Centre Stage Theatre.
The 900-seat theater-in-the-round Centre Stage Theatre is the centerpiece of HCT’s new facilities and employs the expertise of Tait Towers, a company with a portfolio that includes work on the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremonies and stage design for The House of Dancing Water in Macau.
“We’ve been told by the company that designed and fabricated the stage that there is no stage in the world with as much stage technology as this,” Dietlein said. “It’s part of our effort to create the ultimate live theater experience.”
The oval stage has 11 lifts that rise out of a 65-foot pit below the stage space. A retractable slip stage made of two 20-ton pieces can take its place so the show can continue uninterrupted. The new stage space is also 6 feet larger than HCT's West Valley stage.
“We weren’t trying to make it too much larger, just grow it a little bit more to give us a little bit more room for actors, scenic elements and dancing,” Udy said.
The stage wasn't the only thing to grow in the move. But while the Centre Stage Theatre has almost 300 more seats than the West Valley theater — as well as 6 inches more legroom between seats — the seating is contained to 10 rows, compared with nine rows in West Valley, which Dietlein says maintains an “intimate and cozy” feeling in the theater.
Several large LED screens — some up to 55 feet wide — are affixed to the theater's exterior walls and will show both static shots and video, helping “create the magic of our scenes as we go from one scene to another with just the click of a button,” Dietlein said.
Above the stage is a lift system — referred to as a bogie by theater representatives — that includes eight winches and dozens of moving pieces with technology that senses the proximity between objects and people being lifted by the system.
“Instead of just happening on a flat surface, you’re going to have action that’s taking place above you, in front of you, below you and around you to truly make this theater in the round in the highest sense,” Udy said.
Jewel Box Theatre
The selection of the name for the smaller theater at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre was deliberate.
“When you have a little jewel box, you open it up and you know there’s something good inside, and that’s what’s here,” said Sally Dietlein, vice president and executive producer.
The 467-seat, 11-row proscenium thrust stage is a new feature for HCT, as its productions traditionally have been shown in a theater-in-the-round setup. It also allows for “nonstop entertainment opportunities,” according to information from the theater, as a show will be available on at least one of the stages year-round.
Much of the building will be blocked off with a temporary wall while "Forever Plaid" runs Sept. 1-Nov. 14, but patrons attending the production will get a sneak peak of the new facility before its official opening in November.
HCT’s new facilities boast many other amenities beyond the stages themselves.
There are two greenrooms with fully stocked kitchens, one for each theater, providing a place for actors to eat and relax between shows, especially on Saturdays, when HCT has been known to do five shows a day, Sally Dietlein said, along with six dressing rooms for the Jewel Box Theatre and six for the Centre Stage Theatre.
“We took the space that our actors use right now and doubled it and created that for our new space,” Udy said.
The backstage areas for both stages have the capacity to hold large set pieces, especially the Centre Stage, which can bring in pieces from the four side entrances or “voms” (short for vomitorium) and from below stage level before the stage rises into place.
“You get choices,” Sally Dietlein said.
The backstage area for the Centre Stage will also include colored lights, patterns on the floor and signs to help orient actors as they come off stage and prepare them to be in the right spot for their next entrance.
“A lot of thought has gone into signage and how not to confuse our actors,” Udy said.
A 40-foot-long concession stand in the lobby will serve both the Centre Stage and Jewel Box theaters, and 32 women’s restroom stalls are included, compared with the dozen or so at the West Valley theater. Hearing loop technology, which allows patrons with cochlear implants and hearing aids to hear the production as the sound is projected directly to their hearing devices using magnetic fields, is also available in both theaters.
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Outside the theater will be a plaza built by the city of Sandy, with large fountains and a 17-foot-tall bronze jester bronze sculpture, as well as a 1,700-stall parking structure built by Mountain America Credit Union for its corporate offices that can also be used by theater patrons.
“People will be able to come in and park and not feel a raindrop or a snowflake, and it’s going to be free parking for them,” Sally Dietlein said.
Hale Centre Theatre still has two productions that will be performed at its current West Valley location: “The Heart of Robin Hood,” a regional premiere of a Robin Hood origin story, which will open Aug. 25, and “A Bundle of Trouble,” an original comedy by theater founders Ruth and Nathan Hale, which opens Oct. 21.