ENTERTAINMENT

‘Definitely an arts community’: A look inside the push to bolster the performing arts in St. George

Mar 31, 2024, 6:28 PM

A rendering shows what the new St. George Musical Theater building could look like. The theater is ...

A rendering shows what the new St. George Musical Theater building could look like. The theater is expanding its footprint in St. George with a new theater and the renovation of an old movie theater that will be home to a performing arts campus. (St. George Musical Theater)

(St. George Musical Theater)

ST. GEORGE — Most Utahns are likely familiar with Hollywood’s infatuation with southern Utah at this point.

Kevin Costner recently filmed his Western epic “Horizon: An American Saga” in St. George and fell in love with the area so much that he’s opening Territory Film Studios near the St. George Airport.

What people outside of the region might not be as acquainted with is the passion of the local arts scene.

St. George Musical Theater has been around for over 25 years, making it the oldest community theater in southern Utah. Surprisingly, it has never owned a venue of its own and has hosted its productions in the St. George Opera House, which was built all the way back in 1875.

But that is set to change.

“If anybody visits St. George, they know we are definitely an arts community,” said Bruce Bennett, president and artistic director of St. George Musical Theater.

Bennett said the city approached the theater about two parcels on South Main Street in an “underdeveloped” area of the town.

“We think there’s a lot of room for the redevelopment of that area, and we want to be the catalyst for that redevelopment,” Bennett said. “We see this as a major initiative to create an arts district south of downtown.”

The new theater will be over 20,000 square feet and accommodate around 400 patrons — a big jump from the 125-person capacity at the opera house. Additionally, the new theater will be right across the street from an old Cinema 6 at 905 S. Main Street.

Bennett said the location is ideal in the sense that it will allow the theater to repurpose the Cinema 6 into what the theater is calling the Performing Arts Campus for more “community accessible arts programs.”

Locations for the new St. George Musical Theater building and the repurposed Cinema 6 are pictured. The St. George Musical Theater is expanding its footprint in St. George through the construction of new and improved theater and renovation of an old movie theater that will be home to a Performing Arts Campus. (Photo: St. George Musical Theater)

“We plan on doing tribute concerts, stand-up comedy nights, youth productions, dance studios and even a recording studio and a film screening room in those six auditoriums,” Bennett said. “Meanwhile, in the big theater across the street, we’re getting ready to turn those plans in to the city. Definitely a big, ambitious vision, and we’re so excited about it, and the community has been unbelievably supportive.”

Bennett added that over the years, the St. George Musical Theater has developed a loyal following, selling out almost every show at the St. George Opera House for the past three years.

This loyal following and appreciation for community arts is pivotal in bringing the new theater to town.

“It’s going to take the community to help us raise the money. Last year, in October, we had a one-night fundraising gala, and in that one night, we raised almost a million dollars. And we feel like that might be the most successful fundraising gala in southern Utah history,” Bennett said.

The old Cinema 6 building is pictured. The St. George Musical Theater is expanding its footprint in St. George through the construction of new and improved theater and renovation of an old movie theater that will be home to a Performing Arts Campus. (Photo: St. George Musical Theater)

He added that the total cost of the project — for the new theater and the renovation of the Cinema 6 — carries a total cost of around $16 million. So far, the theater has raised a little over half the funds.

Bennett said it was important to the theater to not burden the community by funding the new theater and campus through a tax increase, instead relying on donations. Additionally, the city, county and state have allocated money to arts projects, something Bennett said he and the rest of the St. George Musical Theater is extremely grateful for.

“We have absolute confidence that we’ll get to the finish line. Fundraising experts have told me that if you have over half of the money raised before you break ground on your primary project, you’re doing pretty well. … But we are very, very optimistic because the community has been incredibly generous over the years,” Bennett said.

Even as St. George and southern Utah experience rapid growth, Bennett said he sees the arts as a magnet for the community.

“We feel like we’re not just pursuing a passion — we’re doing something that’s incredibly important to the community,” Bennett said.

Bennett takes a lot of pride in the fact that the new theater will be the first brand-new, community-centered performing arts venue in St. George since the opera house was built in 1875.

“Everything we do at St. George Musical Theater is community-based. All our performers are local, all of our production team members, directors, music directors, choreographers — all local; backstage help, ushers, house managers — all local; and, of course, our technical crew, all local people,” Bennett said. “It’s very distinctive in that regard that it is based in the community, it’s run by the community, and the community itself benefits from it so it is quite unique and inspiring.”

The demolition of the Cinema 6, which will become the Performing Arts Campus, is already underway and Bennett said the hope is to break ground on the new theater by the end of the summer.

Anyone interested in donating to the construction and renovation can do so here.


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‘Definitely an arts community’: A look inside the push to bolster the performing arts in St. George