MURRAY — It’s not everyday that a new theater company forms in your midst. So with the second production of the new Utah Repertory Theater about to start, (i love you, because at the Murray Theater), it seemed like the ideal moment to sit down with artistic director Johnny Hebda to hear a bit about his vision, his first show, as well as the first season. (In the interest of total transparency, it should be noted that I am also a founding member of Utah Rep as well as the Resident Dramaturg.) Johnny was more than happy to share.
UTBA: What was the impetus for creating new Utah Repertory Theater?
Hebda: I have always had a dream of starting a theater company. It started as an idea to direct a few shows per year in conjunction with my Master’s in Directing degree, but evolved to a full-blown theater company. I specifically had a lot of shows that I wanted to see done in Utah, but due to the lack of name recognition or what might not be deemed as “family friendly” I knew that it was unlikely that a theater company would produce them. Utah has a great theater community, but unfortunately it seems that only the same 15-20 shows are recycled over and over. I wanted to introduce the theater community to some powerful, yet lesser known, works or premieres to bring to Utah. With the level of interest in being involved, what started off as a small company producing a couple shows per year, has now grown to a diverse and varied board of theater professionals that will bring to Utah a full blown season of powerful shows and Utah premieres.
UTBA: What is your vision for the company?
Hebda: I would like to see the Utah Repertory Theater (Utah Rep) become one of the major playhouses in Utah, eventually gaining the support to offer Equity contracts and as a means of local working actors to gain Equity membership. It seems so many talented actors have to leave the state in order to gain the experience that they need for AEA. By creating a semi-professional theater company, it is my vision that the Utah Rep will contribute to the theater community in the state and enhance the cultural arts, education and exposure to many of the great theater works that are out there.
UTBA: The first show produced was Side Show, a sort of off-the beaten track musical. What led you to choosing that particular show?
Hebda: Side Show always made an impression on me. In high school I was first introduced to the show and I was moved by the beautiful music and powerful story. I felt that this show would be the perfect season opener and set the tone for the shows that we want to produce and bring to Utah. I feel that it is important to identify yourself in a way that is unique and establishes an identity.
UTBA: How did the audience respond to the production?
Hebda: The reactions were very positive. Many audience members were in tears by the end of each evening and have sent private messages as well as returned to see the show again. It was a very relateable show and hit close to home for many people. Side Show and our newly formed theater company have definitely been the latest buzz in the theater community. Every night I was amazed to hear from where audience members have commuted to see the show. Additionally we sold out or nearly sold out the majority of the shows and received a lot of local media attention. All of these things have been very encouraging and validated the importance that the Utah Rep will contribute to our theater community.
UTBA: What are you hoping to accomplish with your first season? Is there any particularly show that excites you?
Hebda: I hope to make a big splash in the theatre community with our first season! I really am excited for all of our shows. I think we have quite the variety and line-up. A lot of premiers and a few well-know titles. I am personally very excited to direct Carousel. That will be the other show that I direct this year.
UTBA: What led you to the Murray Theater?
Hebda: We are very excited for the renovations of the Murray Theater and want to call that home. We have also discussed the idea of finding an Ogden area venue to bring our smaller shows to as well. In so doing we are able to build an even larger audience base of patrons and gain state wide attention and participation. I see the Utah Rep continuing this trend with a few smaller shows each year that will act as “touring shows” and bring the theater to a variety of communities throughout Utah. After Ogden and Davis County, expanding down to St. George for a show each year would be the next step in our development.
UTBA: Is there anything special you want to tell the Utah theater community?
Hebda: I hope the Utah theater community will embrace and support our theater, as well as get involved with our productions. We don’t want to become another theater company that uses the same faces for all their productions, rather we want to utilize a variety of collaborators, actors and production teams for each show. This will keep our theater fresh, new and innovative with each production. With that said, if you have always wanted to break in as an actor, a director, a choreographer, or a designer, there are no politics to play here, no barriers to entry. We LOVE new faces and new talent and want you to be involved. If there is a show that you have always wanted to see in Utah or a show you are particularly passionate about, we want to hear about it and why we should bring it to Utah.