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Playwrights group opposes Utah Performing Arts Center

Published September 14, 2011 4:56 pm

They say Performing Arts Center would ignore needs of smaller companies.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A group of prominent Utah playwrights have read Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's script for a proposed 2,500-seat "Broadway-style" theater on downtown Main Street, and they don't like the plot.

In a statement sent Tuesday to the mayor's senior adviser , the recently formed Utah chapter of the Dramatists Guild of America calls the prospective theater "an echoing and unrealistic, airplane-terminal of a building." The group, comprised of 15 Utah playwrights, contend the project will be dependent on a small number of touring Broadway shows, even as it ignores the needs of smaller theater companies.

"It just seemed amazing to me that no one in the dramatic arts community I knew was asked to talk about this project, or meet with anyone in the city," said Kathleen Cahill, an award-winning playwright whose work "The Persian Quarter" recently played at Salt Lake Acting Company.

What's needed instead, Cahill said, are more theater venues on the scale of those already available at downtown's Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on 300 South. Its smaller theaters — which host works by Plan-B Theater, Pygmalian Theatre Co. and others — provide the scale of facilities that can accommodate works by the state's burgeoning number of emerging playwrights, Cahill said. Those productions already serve capacity audiences.

The local chapter of the Dramatists Guild of America includes playwrights such as David Kranes, University of Utah professor emeritus and former artistic director of the Sundance Playwrights' Lab, and Julie Jensen, a longtime Utah playwright whose works include "She Was My Brother."

"I wish the heads of those in the city would turn to recognize what's already taking place in the local theater community, rather than imagine what might happen," Jensen said.

Another perspective is offered by Mark A. Dietlein, president and co-founder of West Valley City's Hale Centre Theatre, who issued a letter to Becker's senior adviser Helen Langan supporting a Utah Performing Arts Center (UPAC).

Dietlein stressed that his letter represented his personal view in favor of the new venue, and that he'd yet to discuss the matter with the theater's board. He said in his letter that the growth of his theater in past years demonstrates that a venue such as a performing arts center would be well received by Utah theater audiences.

"I have always said that 'good theatre begets good theatre,' so we welcome high-quality theater venues in town," Dietlein said in a Sept. 2 letter.

Langan said she welcomed all perspectives in the run-up to UPAC's possible construction, which is currently estimated to cost $100 million. While Salt Lake County officials recently expressed caution about using its taxpayer funds to pay for the venue, city officials plan on using funds that will become available when bonds from the EnergySolutions Arena are paid off in 2015.

"We're working on scheduling an informal meeting with playwrights who oppose the project to see if they have suggestions about the design of the building before it's built," Langan said. "We want to understand where their suggestions should be on the list of priorities. There may be points where we agree to disagree, but we can certainly have a conversation."



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A downtown performing arts complex?

O Read Ben Fulton and Derek Jensen's special report about the proposed Utah Performing Arts Center project at http://bit.ly/q2Phem. For more about plans for the Utah Theatre, visit http://bit.ly/rsikuX.






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