PROVO — One of the more fascinating parts of moving back to the Utah theatre community is that every time I talk to a new person, I learn about a new theatre space or company. Sure, there are the stalwarts that have been in the community for years and years, but as with any healthy theatre ecology, there are also plenty of upstarts, small groups and independent companies to keep things lively.
One of the groups that I’ve been frequently hearing about is The Echo Theatre in Provo. Ironically, what made them stick out the most, is that the people who mentioned The Echo brought them up as this great new space, and then somewhat sheepishly admitted that they weren’t really sure WHAT they were. Was The Echo Theatre a new company producing their own shows? A rental house? A mysterious artistic commune? (Ok, I made that last one up.) I was intrigued. So many questions. So few answers. So what’s a dramaturg to do?
Luckily, the opportunity arose to go, see and review their current show (extended until August 4th), The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). I saw this as my chance to see for myself what was happening over on University Avenue. However, as charmed as I was by the work and the space, the production and the program failed to answer all my questions. It was time to do a little more digging.
That digging led me to a delightful meeting with founders Julianna Blake, Jeffrey Blake, and Matthew Boulter (the fourth founder, Nicole Boulter, was, sadly, unable to attend). As we chatted over ice cream, I began to understand the vision, mission and purpose of The Echo Theatre – and gained a great appreciation for one of the newest companies entering the Utah theatre community.
So here are a few fun facts:
- It’s quite the family affair. Julianna and Jeffrey are married. So are Matthew and Nicole. And to top it off, Matthew and Julianna are also brother and sister.
- They first walked into the space on February 7, 2012.
- Up to that point, the space had been a death metal venue, housing the band Death Star.
- Needless to say, with a death metal band being the previous tenant, the space wasn’t in the best of shape.
- They opened their first production, The Woman in Black, one month later, on March 8, 2012.
- Yes, that means that they renovated the space (including patching up the holes in the walls, covering up the graffiti, and outfitting it to be a theatre space) AND rehearsed their play at the same time. In one month.
- Did I mention that Julianna and Jeffrey had returned from their honeymoon only 2 weeks earlier?
- The name “The Echo Theatre” comes from where Jeffrey grew up, on Echo Ridge Drive in San Jose, CA. A mining community, the name Echo, was something that sparked their imagination – both echos of the past and a hope of the work echoing into the future.
Throughout the conversation, I was continuously struck by the vision and the passion of the three; and I quickly understood where some of the confusion came from.
That’s because The Echo Theatre is all of the above (well, except a mysterious artistic commune). The Echo Theatre started because this group of family and friends wanted to produce a show, but didn’t have any place to do it. So they found the space, which was, as Jeffrey called it, a “squatter’s paradise,” and planned on renting it for a month in order to do their show. As they were fixing it up and getting the show ready, they were reminded of an old dream that they had – a dream of fixing up an old building and establishing a center where people could do creative things. They realized that this was their chance to fulfill that dream. So the one month idea was abandoned, a long term lease was signed, and The Echo Theatre was born.
Julianna summed up the idea behind The Echo Theatre with these words: “Everyone can create. They just need the place and the opportunity.” It is the hope of these four that The Echo will be both a place AND an opportunity. So yes, the group that runs The Echo will be producing their own shows. But they are also opening their doors, and providing a space, for other independent companies and artists who have an idea that they want to develop and need a space to do it in (details on how to do this are at the end of the post).
With a few shows under their belt to work out some of the kinks of opening a new space on a limited budget, The Echo is currently in the great place of molding and expanding their vision. Not only are they figuring out the balance between creating their own shows and producing others, they are also curiously exploring all the possibilities of the space. August will find them finishing the run of their current show (which they created), producing a local improv company, and running a 10 minute play festival, The Echo10. September, October and November are equally varied, full of collaborations, classics and new works. Other ideas are also being thrown around, with ideas involving photography, film, and an education component that will help provide an immersive experience in the arts. Ideally, The Echo hopes to establish an environment where artists from around town can come together, work together, and create great experiences and quality art.
Julianna admits that it sounds a little Pollyanna, but that idealism keeps them going in their dream of creating a theatre that is, as Matthew put it, “a middle ground. A place between the amateur and the professional. A place where quality artists who don’t have a lot of money can go to do their productions.” With a big emphasis on quality, and another big one on the creation process, The Echo is in a position to do a lot of potential good for the local theatre and artistic community. I know I’ll definitely have my eye on them as they move forward.
If you’re interested in producing a show at The Echo Theatre, send a proposal to firstname.lastname@example.org, including the project idea, who is involved, etc. The Echo Theatre will contact you to set up a meeting to go over the proposal, pricing, and schedule.