Sandy—After years of work and an $80 million price tag, the Hale Centre Theatre at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre has drawn up its curtain. Thursday night, the theatre began its inaugural performance in the 900-seat center stage of Tim Rice and Elton John’s Aida, to a crowd of thrilled patrons including Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, Gov. Gary Herbert, as well as many of the theatre’s biggest benefactors.
The night represented the culmination of the dreams of many, said Sally Dietlein, vice president and executive producer of the theatre.
“It’s the dreams of all of the people we have the privilege of working with, the patrons, and the actors who come in. It’s their dream,” said Dietlein. “It’s been a dream come true for all of them. I’m happy, because we now get to break ground and discover new things that were just never before possible in theatrical presentations.”
Some of those new explorations will surely be due to the theatre’s new stage, built by renowned live events technology company TAIT Towers, who have created installations both permanent and traveling for stars such as The Rolling Stones and Beyoncé, the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremonies, and in such places as the Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas. The stage the company created for the Hale Centre Theatre is currently one of the most technologically advanced stages in the world, with 120 motors and weighing 80 tons. The entire stage floor moves, and can lower and raise objects and actors into the basement, and has extra strength capacity so it can be filled with eight feet of water. In order to accommodate all of the technology and machinery that makes its stage work, the Hale Centre Theatre building goes almost as far deep into the ground as it stands above it.
“It’s funny. Of course, you pick the colors and the woods and the surfaces. You try to scale it, but you never imagine it’s going to be this,” said Dietlein. “But then you add to it beyond the beauty, all of the technological advancements involved in both of the theatres and especially the center stage. We get more legroom. We get a better rise. We get comfortable seats. We then have a flying system and a stage system unlike anything else in the world. And then you add it to the supreme storytellers that are in this area, the artisans who live and breathe it. … They’re all together working in a sandbox unlike anything else in the world.”
The theatre also has an assisted listening system that interacts with cochlear implants and 80 percent of hearing aids, said Dietlein, which opens the world of the theatre to more guests. “That direct feed direct into that ear has made grown men weep. To be able to hear every syllable, every note—I watched a man with an avalanche of tears, who had been a volunteer of ours for 20 years, just fall apart. That makes me really, really happy, that we’re inclusive of those kinds of wonderful people,” she said.
The theatre’s two stages—the 24-foot, 900-seat center stage and the 467-seat proscenium thrust stage, called the Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box Theatre—will allow the Hale Centre Theatre to “never go dark,” said Dietlein. Productions will instead volley between the two stages. The Jewel Box Theatre opened in September with Forever Plaid, and will soon be home to a production of A Christmas Carol while the center stage continues with Aida. Dietlein believes that the theatre will see about 500,000 patrons a year in the next few years—up from the current figure of 280,000—and become an economic driver for the area.
“The economic benefit isn’t just for the people hired and working here—being able to hire actors and directors and full and part time workers—but also the whole south end of the valley,” she said.
For Governor Herbert, the theatre represents the pride Utah takes in its artistic community. “It says that we care about the arts. We understand how important the arts are in our life. It gives us time to reflect, it inspires us, it motivates us,” he said. “The arts in many forms help elevate life, and guess what our slogan is? Life elevated. So it fits very well with our culture. This is a reflection of art at its best here in Utah.”