SANDY — Sally Dietlein, vice president and executive producer for Hale Centre Theatre, has found herself using one word a lot in the past year: wow.
“Wow! I didn't think that would happen so fast.”
“Wow! I didn't know we could do that on the stage.”
“Wow! Look at what you've come up with.”
“There have been so many ‘wows’ for me,” Dietlein said looking back on the year since HCT moved into its new home at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre in Sandy. “You can't believe how humbling it is to see people working tirelessly and so loyally with each other for this common cause.”
Friday marks the first anniversary since HCT celebrated the grand opening of its new $100 million theater in Sandy — a year that, according to theater officials and members of Sandy’s government, has exceeded expectations in its economic and artistic impact.
Pre-opening projections estimated somewhere between 400,000-420,000 tickets would be sold in the first year between the two theaters at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre, Dietlein said — what would have been a dramatic increase over the 288,000 tickets sold in HCT’s last full year at its old home in West Valley City.
In reality, HCT will have sold approximately 540,000 tickets before the close of the year.
“We have more seats and that has been delightful because the pressure on the house in West Valley was crazy,” Dietlein said. “Now, having said that, we're getting pressure on the house again, which is amazing to me.”
And the momentum is anticipated to keep going. According to Kacey Udy, HCT’s production designer, between the theater’s soon-to-be-opened productions of “A Christmas Carol” and “The Wizard of Oz” — with each show’s many already sold-out performances necessitating the addition of more matinee performances — the theater is slated to do over 90 performances in the month of December.
“We are so far beyond even our wildest imaginations,” said Sandy City Councilman Chris McCandless. “It is a tremendous asset for the community.”
A year of growth
Before moving to its new Sandy location, HCT generally produced seven shows a year.
But right now, the theater has seven shows currently in the works between the shows playing (“The Scarlet Pimpernel” in the Centre Stage Theatre and “Wait Until Dark” in the Jewel Box Theatre), the two about to open (“Christmas Carol” and “Wizard of Oz”) and the three in rehearsals or auditions (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” “An American In Paris” and “Steel Magnolias”).
“It’s taken a lot more people to operate — a lot more full time … and a lot more regular part time — than we thought to operate this because there are just constant work loads to make sure that we're not only keeping the shows going that are on but getting the shows ready to come up,” Dietlein said.
In the past year, HCT’s staff has grown to include 62 full-time employees — nearly double the number employed in 2017 — as well as 150 part-time employees and approximately 500 paid actors each year, making HCT the largest theater industry employer in Utah, according to a news release from the theater.
On top of that, the theater also employs 150 part-time employees and approximately 500 paid actors each year.
“It's been fun to see my crews grow this year … and it's great to see local Utah artists and craftsmen who the theater has now made available a career for them,” Udy said. “I grew up here in Utah and I'm grateful that I can work in the state, and now with the success of this theater, so many others are having that opportunity.”
Not only has the impact of the new Sandy theater been felt by way of employment, but theater and city officials estimate millions of dollars have flowed into Sandy’s economy thanks to the theater.
"It just keeps going on and on and on how great Hale Centre Theatre has been this first operating year. I believe I speak for all the City Council and administration, I don't think we could be happier,” said McCandless, emphasizing the “unique package of a private public/partnership” that was formed when Sandy City provided a $42.7 million bond to build the theater, which the theater is to pay back as part of a lease.
“We're quite proud of it, and it's kind of the keystone of the Cairns area master plan — our downtown environment — and it just seems to be catching fire,” he continued.
Based on a previous study from Americans for the Arts that said every arts patron spends approximately $24.60 in gas, restaurant and other retail sales beyond the cost of event admission, HCT estimates that approximately $14.3 million will have been generated by theater visitors by the end of the year.
“You know hindsight's always 20/20, but it helps when your vision was right on,” McCandless said. “And I think the city's vision was right on as we're looking back.”
Udy and his family built a house a few years ago, but he said the experience of contributing to the design and construction of HCT’s new home was like building a house — one with hundreds of thousands of neighbors peeking in to see.
“I feel like (with the theater) that I built a house, but every day, I'm having people come in to tell me what they like and don't like about it, what I should do differently and all of that,” Udy said with a laugh. “It's very interesting how it's very much for the public, and their feedback has been great. We're learning and figuring this out together.”
Perhaps the most distinguishing and memorable characteristic of the new theater is the Centre Stage Theatre’s automated stage, which includes 11 lifts that rise out of a 65-foot pit below the stage space, a retractable slip stage made of two 20-ton pieces, more than 130 motors and two crane trolleys overhead that can move up to 16 performance pieces, according to previous Deseret News articles. HCT contracted Tait, 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, to design the unique space.
“We designed it, we dreamed, we drew it up, we drafted it, we worked with people to make it, and now figuring out what are the best ways to use it has been a great fun challenge,” Udy said.
With so many moving pieces — literally — HCT’s first year in the theater hasn’t been without its hiccups. As some patrons may have experienced, a few performances in the Centre Stage Theatre have been forced to pause due to technical issues.
“For most of (the stops), it's been silly things that are not really big, but I always say my No. 1 priority is we want to have a great show, but there's no one behind the scenes who will ever sacrifice (their) safety in order to keep the show going,” Udy said.
“Sometimes one of the safety mechanisms will trip, as they should … so we're grateful that it all works properly, the way it should, and we're learning how to make sure that ship flies flawlessly,” Dietlein said.
That being said, Udy emphasized that the number of shows in the first year that have been forced to stop is quite low. Based on his record of show reports, out of the nearly 850 performances held between both theaters in HCT’s first year in the new location, only 14 have had to pause or stop for anywhere from 2 to 25 minutes, and they’ve never had to cancel a show.
“It has been a whirlwind of a year and 99 percent of the time, we have been able to make things happen exactly as planned,” he said. "Sometimes we'll have a hiccup in order to create great things."
Udy added that Tait still sends technicians monthly to do “tune-ups and fine-tuning.”
“(The Centre Stage is) a mechanism that very, very few in the world can operate well because there's so much to it, but we've got an incredible team, and Tait has been great,” Dietlein said. “Even when we've needed them in their middle of the night — it's not the middle of the night for us but it is for them — they're right there. It has been a great partnership working with them.”
‘Still more surprises’
Although HCT is now a year removed from its time in its West Valley Theater — which had been its home for 19 years — the theater will always hold a special place in Keith McKay Evans’ heart.
The actor, who currently stars as Percy Blakeney in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” met his now-wife while performing with her in the 2014 production of “Catch Me If You Can”; he even proposed to her onstage on closing night.
But even with those fond memories, Evans can’t deny the excitement he’s felt performing at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre in the last year.
“It's kind of hard to describe for a performer what it's like to do our craft on that kind of stage and in that kind of space,” said Evans, who also starred as Harold Hill in HCT’s “The Music Man” in the spring and as Francis in “Forever Plaid,” the first production in the Jewel Box Theatre. “… What's really exciting about the new space is the prospect of all those memories that will be built for so many people in the valley to come — the idea that how many other proposals will happen, how many other relationships will be formed, and how many other lessons will be learned and exciting opportunities will be presented to people in this new space.”
With one year down, HCT’s staff plans to continue challenging themselves and pushing the boundaries.
“I think the level of talent that Hale Centre Theatre utilizes — and not just the performers, but the production teams, the choreographers, the directors, the administrative teams, the tech people, the designers — I think they finally are in a space that can handle all of their talent, where they can use all of the tools that they would ever want to,” Evans said.
Although audiences have seen a wide array of bells and whistles from a technical standpoint, HCT still has more surprises up its sleeves, including a 42-by-32-foot LED backdrop screen in the Jewel Box Theatre that will debut during “A Christmas Carol” in December.
“We still have not shown everything (the stages can do), so there (are) added pieces still coming into play and extra surprises that we'll be rolling out even over the next year,” Udy said. “That keeps us kind of engaged in constantly learning this new thing and figuring out better ways to use it.”2 comments on this story
And as the whirlwind of a year comes to a close, Udy can’t help but look to the theater’s future with hope.
"More than anything this year, I'm very humbled with how amazing it is to live in a state that supports us and to be a part of something great here,” he said. “I don't know that we realize the greatness we have here in Utah at Hale and at all the other theaters. There’s so much great art happening.”
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated that Hale Centre Theatre spent 13 years in its West Valley City location. It spent 19 years in West Valley.