The Children's Theatre and School of the Arts has been fulfilling its mission of “Inspiring children to cultivate creativity through the theatrical arts” since being founded by Tom and Joanne Parker in 1986.
Tom Parker was involved in community theater in Seattle, Washington before moving to Salt Lake City to be the General Manager of the Promised Valley Playhouse. The Parkers established a small stage at PVP, named Plum Alley after the small alley behind the theater. Their son, James Parker, recalled, “...it was Plum Alley where my brother and three sisters called home for next few years. We loved to perform on that little stage and it was at Plum Alley where we got the theatre bug and our began our training in the arts.”
After Promised Valley Playhouse closed, the Parkers founded Salt Lake Repertory Theatre, also known as City Rep. Their first production, “Cats in Concert,” was performed at Abravanel Hall. Later productions were held at Capitol Theatre, Kingsbury Hall, and an amphitheater near Abravanel Hall. City Rep's first dedicated venue was a 100-seat theater at the ZCMI Center.
City Rep moved into the Utah Theatre in the fall of 1988, after it could not longer continue the lease at the ZCMI Center. While in the historic theater, the focus of City Rep shifted back to children's theater. Productions from the children's theater in the upstairs auditorium began to spill over into the musical theater downstairs. “This is when the future of children’s theatre in Salt Lake started to become much clearer. Our family had always loved children’s theatre and it felt as though we were heading back to a home of familiarity and comfort . . . It was becoming very popular, we started to bring in school buses on field trips and establish the drama school.”
City Rep moved to the old Bowers Furniture store and warehouse at 638 South State Street after a new landlord gave them only a few weeks to vacate the Utah Theatre. Although they planned to stay only a few years, fifteen passed. The building had major issues with the roof, heating, and cooling, and Joanne Parker wanted a clean, comfortable space for their theater school students, so the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City allowed use of the old Ballet West training center at 237 South State Street.
The Children's Theatre came close to shutting down after Tom Sparks suffered from pneumonia and a collapsed lung in early 2007. With it clear that his father would no longer be able to run the theater, James Parker and his wife Emily moved back to Salt Lake and formed a new non-profit organization now known as the Children's Theatre and School of the Arts.
The former Bowers Furniture location was in poor condition, with no hope of a long term lease, so the decision was made to move the Children's Theatre into the school at 237 State Street. The downtown location offers a 99-seat black box theater with a thrust stage.[1 & 2]
A Permanent Home
Since 1985, the Children's Theatre had never obtained a long term lease or owned a building. After searching for a permanent home for over three years, the Children's Theatre announced in June 2011 that it had purchased the Avalon Theatre in South Salt Lake. “We had not expected to find a location and building that would fit the needs of our organization so well. With its central location and easy access, the historic Avalon is a diamond in the rough.”
The new home of the Children's Theatre will feature a 185-seat auditorium with carpeted aisles, stadium seating, a thrust stage, and 17-foot high ceilings. Space at the front of the building and behind the stage will serve as studios. The theater's triangular marquee will be restored. Parking lots on either side of the building provide 50 parking stalls.
1. “About”, www.tctheatre.org, April 2011
2. “Our History", www.tctheatre.org, April 2011
3. "Children's Theatre Moving in Fall 2011", e-mail newsletter from the Children's Theatre, 16 June 2011