This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Dave Mortensen founded utahtheaterbloggers.com a year ago with two objectives in mind.
First, increase exposure for Utah theater productions.
Second, establish an extra level of accountability in the quality of productions by harnessing a group of lay critics.
So it was perhaps only a matter of time before Mortensen gathered Utah theater producers, marketers and enthusiasts of all stripes in one room to discuss the state of local stage productions.
"We want to see what happens," he told attendees, who spent the evening of President's Day huddling at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Studio Theater. "It could be a flop. That's OK. That's what theater is all about."
Jerry Rapier, producing director of Plan-B Theatre Company, and Tribune features editor Ellen Fagg Weist held court. The results were one part hand-wringing, one part wisecracking and at least two parts admonishment and no-nonsense marketing advice. If Utah theater fans were as passionate about the art form away from the theater as they are in the lobby, arts stories online or in the newspaper might drive the sort of frenzy usually exhibited by sports fans, Weist said.
That, however, may be the least of problems for Beehive state theater. Rapier talked about the importance of social networking tools and how he ran Plan-B's entire marketing campaign from his iPhone. He also beseeched those in attendance to check, check and recheck to make certain that theater company values and productions conform to their company's mission.
A big part of the problem, said Rapier, citing a 2008 National Endowment for the Arts study, is that nationwide the supply of theater outstrips demand. Marketing aside, theater producers must find ways to tie upcoming productions to causes and community groups or risk irrelevance. The good news is that most times a targeted audience and marketing method will coincide, making the job of promotion easier.
The bad news?
"Theater is the most myopic art form," Rapier told attendees. "Too often we're the most selfish, and the least visionary when it comes to expanding our audience. Are we going to fortify [theater] and work together, knowing that some of us will fall away? Are we more devoted to our own aesthetic than our art form? If so, where does that put us?"
Most in attendance said they came away from Monday's meeting with a renewed sense of urgency for Utah theater's future. Some, such as New Works Theater Machine's David Fetzer, said he needed no reminder of just how difficult it is to pull off good theater. His debut production late last year, "Go To Hell" was shut down by the Salt Lake City fire marshal. He's currently in discussions with Tower Theater, hopeful that they might lend him a stage for productions in the pipeline.
"Tonight was great, with lots of great advice," Fetzer said. "But what I really need right now is a venue."