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Wharton: Community theater could leave a legacy

Published November 27, 2012 11:32 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Centerville •

The term "community theater" conjures up visions of actors trying to perform plays in old churches, rented schools or tiny abandoned retail stores.

That's why visiting the $14.5 million, 62,000 square foot CenterPoint Legacy Theatre for the first time produces so many surprises.

The state-of-the-art facility offers the kind of amenities many professional theaters would love. These include a 525-seat main stage theater, a smaller black box space, rehearsal and audition rooms, a costume design area, dressing areas and a large set storage space. Everything about it is first class.

The theater that was built with a bond taxpayers in Centerville and Bountiful supported plus money from Davis County and private donations calls itself community theater with good reason. It only has four full-time staffers and relies on thousands of hours of donated time from dozens of volunteers for its existence.

"We are focused on the community," said CenterPoint Executive Director Jan Davis, a friendly man with a background in printing who helped found the Stage Right Theater Company with his wife and has always loved the theater. "Our main focus is to present theatrical productions and manage the space."

Productions offers few surprises. "A Christmas Carol," which opened this week, capped a 2012 season that included "Noises Off," "The Drowsy Chaperone," "South Pacific," "All Shook Up," "Little Women" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel." Next year's productions include "Arsenic and Old Lace," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "The Secret Garden," "Fiddler on the Roof," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "Into the Woods" and "White Christmas."

Davis said picking which shows to produce can be a long process, though there is an informal formula. The theater attempts to find one "blockbuster" each year, tries to produce one non-musical on the Main Stage, seeks out one or two shows that provide opportunities for youth, a Christmas show and a production many patrons might not have seen before.

"Joseph" is a local favorite that promises to be next year's blockbuster, while "Into the Woods" is a lesser-known Stephen Sondheim musical that offers a different take on some traditional fairy tale characters.

Smaller shows, mostly non-musicals, are performed in the 90-seat Black Box space. This month, for example, while "A Christmas Carol" is on the Main Stage, two small, locally written holiday plays, "5 Carols" and "Jingle Jacks" are being offered in the smaller space. The play "5 Carols" is a story about five friends named Carol who get together every year to do a show at a junior high, while "Jingle Jacks" is about four Canadian lumberjacks who produce a Christmas video blog.

While the actors and many behind-the-scenes workers—including ushers and designers—volunteer their time, these live shows are not inexpensive to produce. For example, Davis said it cost the theater almost $145,000 to stage the recently concluded "Scarlet Pimpernel," a local favorite.

"It can be a challenge," said Davis. "We look to individuals and foundations for financial support. Our mandate is to offer something at a reasonable rate so as many people as possible can participate not only as performers but as patrons. We try to maintain a high quality, with a great experience for everybody."

Ticket prices reflect this. The least expensive season adult tickets go for $89 with individual show prices starting at $19.

The formula seems to work. Davis said the shows play to about 80 percent of capacity.

Staging productions is quite a process. While one show is being performed, the next production is in rehearsals and a third show is auditioning actors. The fact that the facility has rehearsal halls as well as storage for sets and a place where costumes can be sewn or recycled means it is easy to accommodate these needs.

"We want people to be moved and to have something that is thought-provoking," said Davis. "Theater allows for that. It allows us to take a look at human nature, at what we are, to make some choices."

That's what theater has done for generations and community theater is at the grassroots of that experience, though few can equal the facility enjoyed by the patrons and performers who use the CenterPoint Legacy Theatre.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton