SLC Performing Arts 

Scene Shapers: Meet Utahns who power Salt Lake City’s performing arts from behind the curtain.

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Jim Christian
Weber State University Musical Theatre Program, Department of Performing Arts, Ogden, 801-626-6437,

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In 1988, Ogden’s Weber State University was looking to put together a musical-theater major based on a similar program that had previously existed at the University of Utah. Just 22 years later, graduates of that program—led by Jim Christian—have become ubiquitous in local musical productions.

While such a program might seem unusually specialized, Christian recognizes its practical value both locally and at a national level. “In the local market, [musical theater] has a lot of appeal,” says Christian. “But just in terms of professionally, in Actors Equity, the majority are making their money in musical theater.” To prepare them for that professional world, Christian and his fellow faculty members craft a liberal-arts curriculum that has turned out not just singing actors, but choreographers, writers, directors and other technical professionals.

Christian gives credit to his colleagues, as well as to the increasing level of raw talent coming into the program each year. “Success breeds success,” Christian says. “As a program grows, you attract good people. … But I think even more than that, everyone who comes through our program does technical work, does design work, does theater history. So when they come out of the program, they don’t just see themselves as a performer. They see themselves as a practitioner.” (Scott Renshaw)

Jerry Rapier
Plan-B Theatre Company, 138 W. 300 South, 801-297-4200,

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Small theater companies come and go in a smaller market like this one, so it’s a particular achievement to be celebrating a 20th anniversary. Overseeing that happy birthday is producing director Jerry Rapier, who has seen Plan-B Theatre Company evolve from a little company that could into a vibrant, vital voice for innovative local theater.

Rapier himself has directed dozens of productions during that span, including the world premiere of Carol Lynn Pearson’s drama Facing East that graduated from its local run to stops off-Broadway and in San Francisco, and a production of Aden Ross’ Amerika that traveled to the Toronto Fringe Festival. Indeed, local writing voices have become a staple of Plan-B’s seasons under Rapier’s stewardship, including an entire season devoted to new works by Utah playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett, and the first regional production of The Laramie Project. And every year, Plan-B shows its dedication to free artistic voices by creating a new evening of theater thematically connected to acts of censorship and banned works of literature and music.

Far from working alone, Rapier has an impressive group to work with, including producing director Cheryl Ann Cluff. But his guidance has helped Plan-B change the face of what theater can accomplish in this community. (SR)

Nancy Borgenicht & Allen Nevins
Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, 801-363-7522,

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In many ways, Utah is an oddity, especially when it comes to its homogeneity in politics and religion. As such, this place can be quite the social powder keg, where the smallest spark can lead to cataclysmic events. One unique way it has been able to release all that pressure and keep from exploding is a bit of self-deprecation via the brilliant theatrical foundation of Saturday’s Voyeur—penned by Salt Lake Acting Company’s Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins.

By parodying all things Utah, the twosome have been able to turn their annual production into a much-needed outlet for dialogue, dissent and derisive humour, taking every last cheap shot they can at elected officials and public buffoonery alike. So you can bet that nearly 365 days a year, one can find them cutting out headlines from papers, watching nightly newscasts and doing the math behind which topics add up to funny and memorable. And some stories—like polygamy and political/moral conservatism—just go on and on, lending themselves so beautifully to parody that when spring once again rolls around, Borgenicht and Nevins simply can’t help themselves but be Voyeurs all over again. (JS)

Thierry Fischer
Utah Symphony, 123 W. South Temple, 801-533-5626,

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The Utah Symphony has become quite a classical-music institution during its long and illustrious tenure in Salt Lake City. The newest music director, Maestro Thierry Fischer, is only the seventh individual in a surprisingly short line of masters who have taken up the organization’s reins. As such, he is charged with the unique and sometimes trying mission of reinvigorating the past while turning his fine-tuned ear toward energizing a clear path forward.

Hailing from Switzerland, Fischer brings an international background—he was principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and also chief conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic in Japan. His aim is not only to breathe fresh air into what often gets misconstrued as a stodgy affair, but also to show Utahns what flair, excitement and genuine personality he can bring from across the pond. “A new music director should bring new energy and a new way of looking at things,” says Fischer. “I can bring a lot to the Utah Symphony, and they will bring a lot to me. As a team, we can raise our level of performing to new heights.” (JS)

R. Scott Phillips
Utah Shakespeare Festival, 351 W. Center St., Cedar City, 435-586-7880,

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It is not every day that a Tony Award comes home to roost in Utah. That’s what happened when Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred C. Adams accepted the award for America’s Outstanding Regional Theatre in 2000. In 2007, R. Scott Phillips stepped up to take the helm of the institution that’s been going strong since 1962 and is now poised to celebrate its 50th season.

Steering such a large and long-standing ship can be quite a challenge. Phillips, who has a long association with the program—having served as festival director, managing director and marketing and public-relations director—is certainly up for the task. First, he’s gone out of his way to make sure that attendees are treated to more than just a turn at the theater by ensuring a true festival environment. He has also continued the path of mixing contemporary plays with a heavy helping of the Bard’s best. More significantly, as part of a new direction, Phillips and company have decided to combine their two previously distinct seasons, and will now open during the summer months and continue on one long festival haul into the fall. (JS)

Linda C. Smith
Repertory Dance Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, 801-534-1000,
Current executive/artistic director Linda C. Smith has been a performer, teacher, choreographer, writer and producer for professional modern-dance company Repertory Dance Theatre since 1966. Her commitment to dance preservation is seen in RDT’s collection of historic choreography by America’s most revered choreographers. Smith has seen the need for community outreach among artists in Salt Lake City and has developed programs in response, such as the current Green Map Project, which works to promote sustainability through dance among Utah students. “I try and find ways to make dance relevant in the community and to address social issues,” she says. “I feel that it is important to help people realize how the arts connect them to a vast array of subjects … all things are connected.” (Gabi Gaston)
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Casey Jarman
Salt Lake City Arts Council, 54 Finch Lane, Salt Lake City, 801-596-5000,
The cultural fabric of Salt Lake City is richer for the weaving done by Salt Lake City Arts Council program director since 1985. He founded and directed the three-day Living Traditions Festival celebrating music, dance, food and arts produced by the city’s ethnic communities. An independent concert presenter for over 30 years, he’s the driving force behind the much beloved Twilight Summer Concert Series, free summer concerts that feature jaw-dropping lineups such as Sonic Youth, The Black Keys and Q-Tip. (Jerre Wroble)
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Derryl Yeager
Odyssey Dance Theatre,
Odyssey Dance founder Derryl Yeager earned his BFA and MFA at the University of Utah while becoming a principal dancer with Ballet West. He went on to perform in Broadway, film and TV productions and choreograph music videos, the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Tuacahn festival. Yeager brings his passion for movement and showmanship together directing Odyssey Dance Theatre seasonally themed productions that include Thriller, It’s a Wonderful Life and Shut Up & Dance. Comprised of 24 dancers who blend ballet, jazz, hip-hop, tap, ballroom, Broadway and vaudeville styles into energetic mixed-bill performances, ODT’s following is loyal and family-oriented. (JW)
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