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BRIGHAM CITY - With more drama behind the scenes than on stage, the Palace Playhouse, a fixture in northern Utah theater for more than three decades, may be facing its final curtain.
Recent changes - made by Box Elder High administrators - have been panned by critics and caused turmoil among troupe players, past and present, who have divided with all the fervor of the Capulets and the Montagues.
Playhouse alumnus Daniel B. Thompson, who credits advanced high-school acting with helping to shape his life, laments those changes - including moving the venue from a downtown Brigham City center to the high school campus. He says the new direction "outraged" student members, alumni and community supporters.
The falling-out began when Joseph A. Batzel retired in June from Box Elder High's faculty after 17 years overseeing the Palace Playhouse group. Principal Darrell Eddington then hired alumna Melanie Day to run the program.
Thompson says trouble started when Day, with "total support" from Eddington, dissolved the playhouse's student board of directors, which managed publicity, budget, technical support, play selection, personnel and more.
On Oct. 12, playhouse members voted 28-2 to separate from the high school and file for nonprofit status. For this new venture, they won the support from alumni, Brigham City's Fine Arts Council and other community members.
Meanwhile, Eddington says his school's drama program will continue to serve students without the former nickname, Palace Playhouse.
Although he was "surprised" and "confused" at the recent backlash, Eddington says he wouldn't do anything differently because, he argues, each change enhanced the program.
"I would still hire [Day] and move the venue here, and I really don't need students' permission to do that," Eddington said. "What the students do in the future will be very visible and it will encourage greater participation. Students now see them rehearsing and the scenery being built. This is all good."
For instance, Box Elder High's drama department will stage "Romeo and Juliet" this week at the school.
The newly revamped playhouse has yet to schedule its next performance. But Batzel fears a strong community desire to keep the troupe alive may not be enough.
"It's probably run its course," he said.
Escalating costs - for equipment, scripts, costumes, sets and stage space - make play production "almost an impossibility," the retired playhouse director said.
"It took a lot of time and effort, a lot of organization. It took a lot of work," Batzel said. "They're trying to make it go on their own. It may last or it may not."
Box Elder High's drama department presents "Romeo and Juliet" Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. in the school's main auditorium, 380 S. 600 West, Brigham City.
The Bard on stage