An experiment in living (and sometimes working) together for six Salt Lake City performing arts organizations.
In January 1994, Repertory Dance Theatre leased the old Restaurant Equipment Supply building at 138 West Broadway. We put a portable dance floor in the middle of the large warehouse and rehearsed daily. The entrance to the building allowed pedestrians a view of our activities. This was a derelict area and transients would seek shelter or a place to drink in the entryway.
I noticed that a certain gentleman would make a daily pilgrimage to peek at rehearsals. One day, I cornered him to investigate his motives. I asked him if he liked dance. He said that his wife used to be a vaudeville dancer.
He added, “I was born here.” I answered that I was also a native of Utah. “No,” said the man. “I mean that I was born right here.” I told him that I was also from Salt Lake. “Listen to me,” he said. “I was born right here on this spot. My family home was on this site. My family business was right here, right where this building stands.” When I asked his name, his answer startled me. “I’m Izzy Wagner,” was his response.
The man whom I believed to be a homeless vagrant was one of our city’s most respected and successful businessmen.
I.J. “Izzy” Wagner’s old adobe family home was located at 144 W. Broadway, which later became the business address of Wagner Bag. The company manufactured and distributed packaging materials at that address from 1912 to 1958.
To make a long story short, Izzy became the lead private donor in the newly formed campaign to build a performing arts center on this spot. In September 1995, the old warehouse was demolished and construction began on what is now affectionately called The Rose, named for Izzy’s mother.
Envisioning a new space
When we formed our modern dance company in 1966, we moved into an old barracks at the University of Utah. We rehearsed and taught classes there until, in the early 1980s, I learned that our home was slated for demolition. Friends, board members and community leaders advised us to establish a greater presence downtown.
The first step in the process of designing a new home for ourselves was to dream. What would the ideal space look like? What activities could we develop in a larger facility?
RDT needed to grow. We wanted to increase the number of home season performances, develop a school, sponsor other performing groups, present lectures, demonstrations, activities for children and seniors and become more integrated into the life of the community. We envisioned large rehearsal studios, efficient office space and multiple performance areas.
While setting our own priorities, we realized that other arts groups had similar needs. It became clear that RDT’s ambitious goals could only be realized by forming partnerships and coalitions.
In 1989, RDT board member Alice Steiner accepted an invitation to help our company find a new home. Alice formed a nonprofit organization, the Performing Arts Coalition (PAC), dedicated to developing a performing arts center. She invited the arts community to collaborate. In 1990, local arts organizations met to share ideas.
We envisioned creating a place with no “cultural barriers,” where people could feel comfortable and welcome. We dreamed of a community center where audiences and artists could create a dialogue; a place to explore all kinds of social and political issues; a place where experimentation and innovation could thrive; a place where arts groups could interact, support one another and cooperate to help contribute to the economic vitality and cultural life downtown.
A public/private partnership was formed between the local nonprofit arts organizations (PAC) and Salt Lake County. Through cooperation and tenacity, a dynamic home for artists and audiences was born.
Home, sweet home
In the fall of 1996, phase I of The Rose was completed and featured the 200-seat Leona Wagner Black Box named for Izzy’s sister. RDT christened the space in January of 1997. Then, in 2001, Phase II was completed and the 500-seat Jeanne Wagner Theatre (named for Izzy’s wife) opened its doors. In 2002, a rehearsal studio was converted to the 75-seat Studio Theatre.
The Black Box is now home to PYGmalion Theatre Company and SB Dance; the Jeanne to Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, RDT and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company; and the Studio Theatre to Plan-B Theatre Company.
Fake news as inspiration: The Sky is Falling
Keeping Utah arts groups healthy depends on cooperation and interaction. Thus PAC is now a coalition of the six resident companies who love to collaborate, commiserate and collectively problem-solve to make all activities at The Rose more successful.
Together we make our Broadway neighborhood a destination for thousands of people. The Rose is not just the building across from Squatters. This is our home, a gathering place, a laboratory, an incubator for creativity. The Rose is a joyful place filled with experimentation and interaction and we want everyone in the community to feel part of the process.
While many members of the general public are patrons of The Rose, countless others have yet to be introduced to the variety of artistic programs offered in this lively arts center.
In 2012, PAC launched Rose Exposed, a collaborative event that introduces the public to the facility and to the many arts organizations that are residents. The innovative activities help the branding of the “Broadway mile” (the business district from 200 West to 200 East along 300 South) and help nurture all the arts events and businesses that take place in one of the most vibrant and interesting areas in downtown Salt Lake City.
Now celebrating its sixth year —not to mention the 20th anniversary of the Rose Wagner itself—Rose Exposed is one of Salt Lake’s most innovative events featuring a new short work created around a unifying theme by each of the six resident companies.
Rose Exposed…The Sky is Falling, focused on all the to-do surrounding fake news, is inspired by the well-known folktale that makes light of paranoia and mass hysteria. SB Dance will go full gangster-noir; RWDC and RDT will create new work that day, PYGmalion will weave the pieces together with sightings of Chicken Little and Turkey Lurkey throughout the night; Stephan Beus (Gina Bachauer’s 2006 Gold Medalist) will elevate the scene with live music; and Matthew Ivan Bennett (Plan-B’s resident playwright) will wrap up the evening with a new, apocalyptic comedy, whether or not the sky actually falls.
Linda C. Smith is artistic director and founding member of Repertory Dance Theatre.
Rose Exposed …The Sky Is Falling
Saturday, August 26, 8pm
138 W. Broadway
$15 ($10 students)