Salt Lake Acting Company

SLAC Theater.jpg (13387 bytes)We thought we’d give you an idea about what goes on in the life of a company during a single year (and not coincidentally this is the only comprehensive information we could find on the company). In 1990, the Salt Lake Acting Company commemorated its 20th anniversary. The following article was synopsized from several articles all written during 1990 -- except the last article (as noted) from 1991.

Salt Lake Acting Company grew by leaps and bounds during the '80s. SLAC began in 1970 in the First Unitarian Church's Eliot Hall near the University of Utah campus, then presented one production, PIPPIN, in the Shire West Theater (later the home of Walk-Ons, Inc.). When the ‘80’s began, it was struggling along as the Human Ensemble Company in the tiny Glass Factory Theatre space at Arrow Press Square for a couple of seasons. Its current (and most likely permanent) home is the 100-year-old 19th Ward Meeting House, also known as the Marmalade Hill Center, where it enjoys a strong subscription season base and ranks as one of the Mountain West's most important regional theater companies.

Twenty years may sound like a drop in the bucket to some major corporation that's been around for 100 years or so -- but it's a landmark occasion for a theater company, especially in Salt Lake.

It was twenty years ago when a group of energetic young actors got together in the intimate surroundings of Eliot Hall at the First Unitarian Church to produce the Human Ensemble Company's first stage production, VIET ROCK. Like many such undertakings, it was both a relatively small start and something of a risk -- a rock opera in a community with a definite "Rodgers & Hammerstein Land" reputation.

But during the next two decades the tiny company flourished and grew, evolving into the nationally recognized Salt Lake Acting Company and, after a brief stop at Arrow Press Square, settling into its permanent home in the historic Marmalade Hill Center. Back in 1970, who would've guessed that 20 years down the road SLAC would eventually rank alongside the Utah Symphony and Ballet West as one of Utah's foremost arts organizations.

Both the building and the company are commemorating some important turning points this year. Salt Lake Acting Company is about to embark on its 20th anniversary season and the old LDS church house is 100 years old.

SLAC's founder and artistic director, Edward J. Gryska, and board member Catherine Frances Gillmor, who is chairing the company's 20th anniversary celebration, are excited about the 1990-91 season.

The season’s lineup includes two major Broadway award-winners and two premieres, along with some shuffling that will permit a sixth production to be inserted into the schedule when SLAC mounts its 1991-92 season. The big change this coming season is the shifting of SLAC's annual mega-hit, SATURDAY’S VOYEUR, back into a summer slot. Gryska said there were two main reasons for doing this.

"We've wanted to spruce up the show and put some new life into it with new sets and costumes and move it out of the Christmas season format," he said.

So SATURDAY’S VOYEUR won't be done this Christmas season. The theater will be dark following SLAC's current production of John Olive’s THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE. And although the theater won't be open, it will be a busy place. The building's old swamp coolers are being replaced by a completely new air conditioning system.

Gryska said SLAC is also negotiating to take over lease for the entire building. There are plans to do extensive "sprucing up" on the exterior and make the historic site even more attractive.

The five 1990-91 productions are:

-- M. BUTTERFLY, by David Henry Hwang (Sept. 10-Nov. 4).

-- WHITE MAN DANCING, the regional premiere of Stephen Metcalfe's play (Jan. 16-Feb. 17, 1991).

-- WHITE MONEY, the premiere of a new play by Utah native Julie Jensen (March 13-April 14).

-- THE HEIDI CHRONICLES, Wendy Wasserstein's Tony and Pulitzer Prizewinner (May 8-June 23).

-- SATURDAY’S VOYEUR: SUMMER ROADSHOW 1991, (July 16-Sept. 2). With no production in the usual November-December time slot. SLAC is one of only two regional theaters in the country successfully negotiating local productions of this show, which is going on national tour.

WHITE MAN DANCING will be staged at SLAC before it's scheduled to open on Broadway. The show is premiering July 3 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego but is not scheduled to open on Broadway until after the SLAC run. This situation occurred only once before, when THE FIFTH OF JULY had a brief run in New York, then played at SLAC, and then was re-mounted on Broadway with a "name" cast and became a successful show.

Playwrights’ Metcalfe, Jensen and Wasserstein will be invited to the openings of their plays at SLAC.

SLAC board member Frances Gillmor has been busy these past few weeks planning a number of special events to celebrate the company's 20th anniversary.

First up is a free "Kick-Off-The-Season" party Sept. 16 at the University of Utah Arboretum for all 1990-91 season ticket subscribers. It will be catered by Brumby's.

The Salt Lake Acting Company is pulling all the stops for its 20th anniversary wingding. On Oct. 27, a formal black tie dinner with dancing and a floorshow will be held at the Marriott Hotel.

"We used to have dress-up awards dinners for actors and friends, with everyone gussied up in tuxedoes and evening dresses," noted Gryska, "and this will be the first really big, formal SLAC dinner downtown." Gillmor (who will be chairing this event) said tickets for this event are $50 each, and tables are available for corporate sponsors.

There'll be a number of celebrity performers on hand to help congratulate SLAC's Producing Artistic Director Edward J. Gryska along with SLAC's board of trustees and staff. The company's longtime patrons and supporters will be congratulated, too, after all, they're the ones who made it all happen.

The evening will include a 20th Anniversary Revue conceived and directed by Gryska and Ron Van Woerden, with performances by Alan Brodine, Toni Byrd, Mark Chambers, Teri Cowan, Annie Draper, Calvin Johnson, Becki Mecham, Betsy Natel and Joe Pitti. The revue will include a 1970-80 medley (from the Eliot Hall- Glass Factory years), and a 1981-90 medley (from the Marmalade Hill years), concluding with LA CAGE AUX FOLLES REVISITED.

Celebrities attending the gala will include five actors -- Utah native Gedde Watanabe, Eddie Cobb, James Dybas, Jack Ong and Oscar-winner Dr. Haing S. Ngor.

It was 1985 when Dr. Haing S. Ngor won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Dith Pran, a real-life refugee whose escape from Cambodia after its fall to the Khmer Rouge is vividly depicted in THE KILLING FIELDS.

In his Oscar acceptance speech, Ngor, a native Cambodian whose own escape from the Khmer Rouge could make a harrowing movie, offered a brief, heartfelt speech expressing his hope that the film would make the world more aware of and sympathetic toward the plight of his people.

During the past five years he has continued acting in films and television (including LAST FLIGHT OUT), but his personal life has been devoted to fulfilling that hope and personally aiding the Cambodian refugees with whom he so strongly identifies.

Ngor will be in Salt Lake City over the weekend to help the Salt Lake Acting Company celebrate its 20th anniversary, then on Monday he will speak to students at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. He was invited to this event by Jusak Bernhard, who is currently starring in SLAC's production of M. BUTTERFLY. Bernhard and Ngor became friends while making an episode of HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN together some years ago.

Three major events and fund-raising activities are planned for 1991: the annual "Casino Night" fund-raiser on Feb. 23 (tickets $25); a special donor appreciation party on June 7, and the "SATURDAY’S VOYEUR: DAYS OF '47" benefit and parade on July 24 (all seats $50 each).

Salt Lake Acting Company is the only performing arts organization in the Mountain West to receive funding from the prestigious Shubert Foundation. The company has made substantial and significant contributions to professional theater in Utah, and SLAC is looking forward to continued growth in the future.

Gillmor noted that SLAC's board of trustees -- like those of many other performing arts organizations -- takes an active role in developing and nurturing the company.

"There's a lot of energy on this board and the members find it worthwhile to get involved. You don't get that with a lot of organizations," she said.

Gillmor, who is director of development for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah Medical Center, has been on the SLAC board of trustees for three years.

One board member whose name is widely known in theater circles is Fred C. Adams, founding director of the Utah Shakespearean Festival. From its very first year, SLAC has had a charter of incorporation, bylaws and a board of directors.

"But it wasn't until the last eight years that we really began working from a really good four-year plan that sets up definite objectives and goals," said Gryska.

When SLAC moved to the Marmalade Hill Center building in 1983, the company had just two front offices and the space where the former church house's gymnasium was located. It took about a month to get the theater into shape, thanks to a lot of hammering and painting by SLAC's young team.

Today, the company has 10 full-time and six part-time employees. SLAC is completing the second of its four-year plans and is now working on a six-year plan.

July, 1991 -- One of the city's most historic religious structures -- the 101-year-old 19th Ward meeting house -- formally changed hands Monday morning for the second time in 13 years.

A symbolic antique key was first presented by Grant D. Midgley of the Utah Heritage Foundation to Mike Zuhl, chief of staff for Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis' office, who, in turn, passed the key on to Edward J. Gryska, founder/producing director of Salt Lake Acting Company. Gryska has signed a new management lease for the entire Marmalade Hill Center complex at 168 W. 500 North.

The event also honored the American Express Co. in Utah for its generous contribution to the restoration of the chapel windows and the classic "onion dome" tower over the front entrance to the building.

Gryska said, "I'd like to thank everyone. We needed a home... we have a home. We feel our future is quite clear to us -- where we want to go and where we want to take theater in Utah."

"I think people will be quite surprised at what's going to happen with the theater and what we plan for our next 20 years. We hope to be around for a long, long time."

Salt Lake Acting Company is currently winding up its 20th anniversary season, with four regional premieres and one world premiere on its calendar for 1991-92.

Gryska said long-range plans for the site include restoration of the front chapel portion of the building as a second performance space and further renovation of the structure both inside and out.

"We really want it to look great on the outside," he said. "I want to see lights on the outside and see it look like the Capitol and other buildings in town."

A patio and fountain are also possibilities for the courtyard space adjacent to the chapel.

"The cultural heritage here in Utah is amazing and wonderful, and we're very proud to be a part of it," Gryska said.

Marc Day, representing James Welch, senior vice president of the American Express Travelers Cheques Operations Center in Salt Lake City, expressed "our pleasure in being able to participate in this very worthy community project" on behalf of American Express' philanthropic program, which represents the firm's entire family of companies.

Zuhl also expressed the city's gratitude for the Utah Heritage Foundation's involvement in the restoration project. In 1978, the LDS Church sold the building to the city and, until Monday, the site had been managed by the foundation. Synopsized from several articles by Ivan M. Lincoln, Theater Editor and Staff Writer, and Chris Hicks, Movie Critic, both for Deseret News.

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