Theater of nature provides inspiration backdrop for new Moab Art Theatre

Salt Lake Tribune, 14 May 1972, page E1

MOAB - Imagine. A theater tradition that began 150 million years ago, or, if you like, in the Jurassic period. The theater of nature.

Here, in the extraordinary redrock country of southeastern Utah, there are more balletic arches, windows, spires and pinnacles than in any other known section of the country.

There is a 150 million-year-old tradition of beauty.

There is a kind of civilization, a gentle, sagacious feeling in the country, where weathering has sculpted sandstone to create the country's most spectacular amphitheaters.

And this summer, members of the Moab Art Theatre will rely upon this theater of nature not only for inspiration but hopefully for backdrops in some of their productions. The arches and spires provide nature's most natural amphitheaters.

Community Theater

The Moab Art Theatre, beginning in June, will be a community theater focusing its energies and talents on Moab and the surrounding area.

Gerald M. McDonough, a University of Utah graduate student in theater and English, and Shubert Playwriting Fellow, is managing director and playwright-in-residence. He will organize a professional company of experienced actors, directors and writers. Their purpose is to produce new plays by talented playwrights and to provide a quality training center in the dramatic arts for the entire region.

The theater's Moab home is old Star Hall, built 65 years ago, which previously served as an opera house, gymnasium, motion picture theater, Grand County High School industrial arts shop, and then a storehouse for useless Moab school materials.

Four years ago, the Grand County School Board renovated Star Hall. While the structure was engineeringly sound, the repairs included a new stage, sloped floor, 300 upholstered seats, a lighting and sound system and refrigerated air conditioning.

The balcony and the interior is done in red velvet - a rather fashionable home, in these last four years, for the Grand County junior and senior high schools' drama clubs, bands and choruses.

Ideal Hall

Sam Taylor, editor of the Moab Times Independent and a member of the school board (headed by C. Robert Sundwall), calls it ideal for a community summer theater.

Mr. McDonough heads the "core group" of the Moab Art Theatre, which will be expanded to include local residents as they are trained in the various arts of the theater, from scenic design to playwriting.

The other staff members have been associated with University of Utah and Salt Lake City theater. Sean Michael Dowse is artistic, casting and production manager. Marcy Dowse is business manager and promotion director. Actors and instructors in theater are Jeff Redford, Barbara McKean, David A. Mong and Timothy Gallivan. Ronni McDonough is assistant director.

A technical assistant has not yet been announced.

Tourist Business

According to Mr. McDonough:

"Although the (theater) will be primarily interested in developing an audience in the community of Moab, we believe that it will be the tourists who will become the financial staple for the company.

Tourist Industry

"Studies have shown that a number of tourist-related industries benefit through the integration of such programs into the community.

"The theater in time could become a tourist attraction, as witness the success of the Cedar City and Ashland (Ore.) Shakespeare festivals. For these reasons, the Moab Art Theatre wishes to work closely with the Grand County Travel Council and other locally interested groups in promoting the venture."

He said that most of the plays for the opening summer season will be written while the company is in-residence at Moab, and will be appropriate for the community and surrounding area. He said the theater hopefully will write and produce plays specifically for some of the natural amphitheaters of Arches National Park, in addition to those for Star Hall.

Eight Works

The theater will operate five nights a week for a 12-week season from mid-June through the first week of September, producing eight new plays.

The Moab Art Theatre will also sponsor a Young Peoples Theatre Workshop for junior high school students in mid-July. By September, the training of the local residents will be completed, and the operation of the Star Hall will be turned over to the community.

Negotiating With USO

The residents of Moab should be able to write, design, direct and produce their own plays," said Mr. McDonough.

He said the theater is negotiating with Utah State University's extension division for scholastic credit for participants.

The Young Peoples Theatre Workshop will be operated in cooperation with the mini grant program currently operating in Moab.

Variety is the quality of the canyonlands country, and of the Moab Art Theatre.