West Jordan theater troupe hoping to find a home, again
Jun 29, 2018 03:40PM
By Jana Klopsch
Groundbreaking takes place on the proposed site for West Jordan’s new center for the arts. (West Jordan City)
By Bob Bedore | [email protected]
“The show must go on.”
That’s the motto etched on the hearts of anyone who has been bitten by the theater bug. But for the Sugar Factory Playhouse, that phrase has often been expanded to, “The show must go on, even when we don’t know where it’s going to go on.”
Since its beginnings in 1995, when it was called the West Jordan Performing Arts Board, the members of the Sugar Factory Playhouse have been forced to move from one place to another in order to find space for their performances. They have made use of everything from parks to libraries and meetinghouses to rodeo grounds. Even more strange, the West Jordan Community Theater has had to do multiple shows at the Midvale Performing Arts Center.
“It’s hard at times and makes us feel like a moving theater group, like Gypsies,” said Michelle Groves, an original member of the organization and current Chairwoman of the Sugar Factory Playhouse. “Every time we move, we have to go through our stuff because our storage gets smaller and smaller. It never fails. Once you throw something away, the next show you’re thinking, I needed that! Then, there’s the problem of our patrons being confused as to where to find our shows. It’s hard to follow us. Social media has helped, but it still gets confusing.”
Still, this group of people, dedicated to presenting arts within their home city, soldier on. Each year, it produces four shows, giving an outlet for residents to act, make costumes, build sets and all other manner of things a show can do, but also for people to come see good theater at a price suited for families.
What makes the plight of the Sugar Factory Playhouse stand out more is that West Jordan is Utah’s fourth-largest city. At more than 100,000 residents, West Jordan dwarfs many cities that have had permanent structures for their arts programs. A new facility is in the plans, but even that isn’t a given yet. More on that in a moment, but first, here is a rundown of Sugar Factory’s history.
Sugar Factory Playhouse through the years
In 1995, It produced its first show, “Dude Ranch,” a script from Hale Center Theater’s founder Ruth Hale. This was held in a picnic pavilion in West Jordan Main Park. During its time in the park, the group rehearsed and stored items in the attic of city hall. Many nights were spent in the park providing their own overnight security on the sets for productions.
The group did a show every summer in the park, occasionally finding a spot indoors for a winter show. The success of their shows led it to look for something more permanent.
2002 brought the group a chance to move indoors as it started to do its shows in the old meetinghouse by city hall. It could now store items, rehearse and even produce a show in the building, all while sharing the building with the Gene Fullmer boxing club. It didn’t last long, however, because the new fire station was built, and the group had to find a new home.
An old Sugar Factory became the home. For six years, the troupe produced popular theater in a building that had little access, parking in the dirt, no real marquee and a theater that was something only slightly better realized than the days of Spanky and Alfalfa putting on shows in their barn. The use of the stage required ingenuity and creativity. The main part of the building also gave them a great amount of the storage.
The troupe shared the building with different city entities, but it felt like home to the members—so much so its current name reflects those years.
But then with three days before the opening of “See How They Run,” condemned notices suddenly appeared on the doors. Michelle Groves said that her husband, Vic, then the chair of the committee, got a call a few hours before they were to show up for final rehearsals.
“That was our hardest time,” Michelle Groves said.. “To drive up on a Monday and see ‘Building Condemned – Do No Enter’ signs up, and the building locked, was crazy. It was like a kick to the stomach.”
Midvale leaders came to the rescue and let “See How They Run” perform at the Midvale Performing Arts Center. The set had to be changed to fit the new stage, and the actors had to redo much of their blocking — the show involves a great deal of running around (as the name might indicate), but in the end, the show went off as if nothing had happened.
Since that time, West Jordan’s community theater has been without anything resembling a home, and each year seems to force the group to narrow the collection of props, costumes and other equipment needed for shows.
A new home was proposed at the new County Library’s West Jordan branch and Viridian Event Center. However the set-up is more like a high school gym with no stage or lighting making the run of a show difficult.
2012–2015 saw productions put on at elementary and high schools, Pioneer Hall, inside the community room of city hall and once at the rodeo grounds. That last one was “South Pacific,” and everyone involved with the production gives a resounding “never again” to the idea of doing another show there.
In 2015, county officials made a deal with West Jordan leaders and gave them the old county library. The troupe was allowed to store, rehearse and produce small performances there. Things looked like they were finally turning around, and the building was dubbed “OLAF” (Old Library Arts Facility) by the troupe. Everyone went to work to get the building ready for their opening show, “39 Steps.”
This would be the one and only show performed in the building. Fire officials said the building didn’t meet code for a theater, and the troupe was once again looking for a home. Though it was allowed to store items and rehearse in that building until the recent sale.
Currently, the Sugar Factory performs two shows a year in the Midvale Performing Arts Center (“All Shook Up” opens there July 12), and two shows in Pioneer Hall. Storage remains at a premium, as the troupe had to once again throw out a bunch of items that it will surely need soon. Also, the members are back to trying to find new rehearsal space. This has resulted in them trying to choreograph big dance numbers in the small art gallery in city hall.
A (spot)light at the end of the tunnel
Things could be on the upswing again for the Sugar Factory Playhouse. City officials were able to sell the “OLAF” with the money earmarked for a center for the arts, and an area in Veterans Memorial Park has been set aside for the building. There was even a ceremonial groundbreaking event held with gold shovels and plenty of cameras last November.
But as the space remains fenced off, those gold shovels are all that have disturbed the ground in eight months. City leaders have not wavered that they would like to have a place for the arts, but now the location seems to be in jeopardy as Utah Department of Transportation officials have pointed out the chosen spot and building orientation might not work with the easements they have along 7800 south.
And then there is the fact money will always be an issue. The money from the sale gives the group a start, but it’s not enough to finish the job. There is worry within the troupe that once again the money will be used elsewhere, and it will remain homeless.
Michelle Groves believes arts are vital to a city.
“Arts are important for all mankind,” she said. “They make for a more well-rounded person. They instill confidence to do all sorts of things. And on a city level, it’s important. It’s always been a part of cities. There’s always been a city band, or theater, or choir. It brings families together. They can do all of this together, whether performing or watching.”
And yet, with the importance of a thriving arts program, and the fact that most Utah cities have a location, West Jordan still struggles to find an artistic identity.
“People looking to help can reach out to us to volunteer,” Michelle Groves said. “They can show the city that they think arts are important by writing to the city council — let them know they are excited to have a center for the arts. They can donate to the facility. They can come to our shows and applaud the efforts. There are many ways they can help.”
And with that, Sugar Factory Playhouse members remain optimistic that the future will be bright and they won’t be homeless for long. But until that day, they will continue to find places to perform and strive to put on the best shows they can, because even though where they do a show might always be in the air, one thing remains…
“The show must go on.”