New Cultural Era Begins

Pioneer Theater Opens Wednesday

Deseret News, 5 October 1962, page B1

Utah, which has led out in cultural achievements for more than 100 years, marches into the vanguard of the new “cultural awakening” throughout the U.S. By opening the Pioneer Memorial Theater Oct. 10.

Located on the campus of the University of Utah, the structure will serve as a combined theater and school for the dramatic arts.

State, church and industry have combined efforts with thousands of public spirited citizens to establish a theater which, in the words of Dr. C. Lowell Lees, director, “will give Salt Lake a center it has long needed.” This will be an “intimate but luxurious theater.”

Comfort Stressed

All attention has been given to building the most comfortable theater possible, according to Dr. Lees. Thus the main lobby is large enough to accommodate audiences without crowding. The concourses down both sides of the main auditorium are wide enough for four persons to walk abreast.

The main hall itself will accommodate only 1,000 persons, but the seats are so spaced that no patron will have to stand to let another person pass.

All seats on the three levels of the auditorium have unobstructed view of the stage, a facility so large any type play could be presented.

Facilities Planned

The same attention has gone into planning of lights, sound and other facilities for presenting plays. The lighting consists of 300 conduits which may be preset through the use of IBM cards.

The acoustics have been designed so not even microphones will be necessary if actors produce their voices normally, according to H. E. D. Redford, assistant to Dr. Lees.

Hurd Hatfield, who has the leading role in “Hamlet,” which will open the Pioneer Memorial Theater, has opened two structures previously. He believes the Pioneer Memorial theater is the “last word, the ultimate.”

Almost Completely

The building is nearly finished now, excepting for wind-up work on laying the carpeting, whose near-orange color designs blend well with the bright orange of the luxurious seats, which soon will be in place.

The parking lot, built to accommodate 500 cars, was blacktopped Thursday; curtains and scenes were being put in place; costumes were being completed and clean-up work is expected to be finished by Saturday, or Monday at the latest.

And this will culminate a memorial to the old Salt Lake Theater, which Brigham Young directed should be built, and which was completed 15 years after the Mormon Pioneers entered Salt Lake Valley.

The Salt Lake Theater, built at a cost of $100,000, a fantastic amount at that time, was one of the pioneer achievements of its day. It gave the desert community one of the outstanding buildings in the West for the performing arts. Although only local actors appeared on its stage at first, its fame soon grew and casts soon included the most famous artists of the day.

Although only parts of the exterior of the Memorial Theater bear any resemblance to the Salt Lake Theater, the $1.75 million Pioneer Memorial Theater is expected to gain the attention of performers the nation over.

Many actors of today, such as Victor Jory, Walter Abel, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and director-actor Mare Connelly, director Herman Shumlin and actress-writer Nan Martin, have toured the building recently and called it a “magnificent house.”

Theater magazines and drama pages of many newspapers have carried long articles and pictures about the new playhouse.

Even “ghosts” of those who performed in the old Salt Lake Theater have returned to the stage, pulled the stage ropes, climbed the spiral staircase that leads to the fly-walk above the stage, and pronounced the Pioneer Memorial Theater a worthy successor to the Salt Lake Theater as a cultural center for the city.

Dr. Lees chanced upon two of them the other night in the person of Donya Smith, 92 S. [missing word], a drama student, and Steve Ruben of Ogden [two missing words] for “Hamlet,” as they toured the theater, spoke lines and took bows from the stage.

But Dr. Lees soon shook himself into an awareness that the theater will open Oct. 1 for a nine-day run of “Hamlet,” [missing word] same [missing word] the immortal Edwin Booth performed on the stage of the old Salt Lake Theater more than three quarters of a century ago.