Hale Centre Theatre tells West Valley City it needs to expand
Arts • After a year of sold-out shows, venue requests city's help in planning for a bigger future.
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Based on ticket sales, Hale Centre Theatre is the biggest community theater in the country, and company producers are asking its landlord, West Valley City, to help it plan for the future.

"We've got to expand in some way, but we don't know how as of yet," said Sally Dietlein, the theater's vice president and chief administrative officer. "We're literally turning away thousands."

Hale Centre's current lease on its West Valley City facility, which seats 613, expires in 2016, Dietlein said.

"It's a remarkable success," said Rob Brough, Hale Centre Theatre's board chairman and executive vice president of Zions Bank. "The time is now for us to have these conversations."

On Feb. 21, theater vice president Brent Lange and board member Roger Henriksen, a local attorney, briefed West Valley City Council members on ticket sales and attendance figures as proof of the need for more space.

The city built the facility for Hale Centre Theatre in 1997, adding more than 50 seats in a 2009 renovation.

Dietlein said the theater has operated at 99 percent capacity for the past seven years, hitting 100 percent last year. More than 15,000 potential ticket holders were turned away for recent productions of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," she said, with 10,000 turned away for "My Fair Lady."

The theater boasts an annual operating budget last year of $6.4 million with 23,000 ticket holders. According to figures from the American Association of Community Theaters, that makes Hale Centre Theatre the nation's largest community theater. "They call us the theater from Mars," Dietlein said. "Audiences are dying out, but not in Utah."

By comparison, Utah's professional regional theater company, Pioneer Theatre Company, has an annual operating budget of $4.5 million with an annual season ticket-holding base of just under 7,100.

"Hale Centre Theatre has long been a jewel of our community," said West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder. The theater is an economic asset, bringing significant business to surrounding restaurants. He wouldn't comment on the possibility of the city helping fund construction of a new theater.

Brough said that with 396 live productions last year, with some morning matinees starting at 9 a.m., the company can't possibly expand its season.

"There's really no period when it runs dark," Brough said. "The logical next step is expansion in terms of size."

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