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Draper Journal

Board determines new strategies to revitalize Draper Historic Theatre

Aug 23, 2018 03:15PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Draper Historic Theatre lit up at night. (Photo courtesy Craig Haycock/Draper Historic Theatre)

By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]

Draper Historic Theatre has made a name for itself in the Salt Lake Valley as a community theater, performing arts and education organization. Recently, the theater’s board members have created a new business plan with strategies to increase Draper Historic Theatre’s visibility in the community, build audiences and establish a fundraising campaign to pay off the mortgage on its building.  

As the theater’s chair and general manager, Craig Haycock, explained, Draper Historic Theatre is in a special position among local community theater groups because of its building. “The building is both our greatest asset but also our biggest liability,” he said. 

Unlike most local theater groups, Draper Historic Theatre does not have to pay to rent a performance space, and they have storage space for costumes and props. The theater also has space for rehearsing and other activities in addition to the main stage. The downside is the cost of monthly mortgage payments, insurance and utility bills, as well as expenses involved in maintaining and upgrading the facility.  

As Draper Historic Theatre is run entirely by volunteers, “every penny goes into production costs,” said Haycock. By raising funds to pay off the mortgage, Haycock and other board members seek to invest even more in the quality of their productions.   

The theater building itself was originally constructed in 1938 as a movie theater called the Pearl. Sitting on what was once Draper’s Main Street, the theater presented live vaudeville entertainment in addition to movies. The front of the building started out as a drug store and soda fountain. For many years, the theater was the gathering place for the south end of the valley. 

In 1984, educators Charles and Vanessa Nelson purchased the building. They expanded the stage and added theatrical lighting and sound. Draper Historic Theatre became the only privately owned live theater in the south Salt Lake Valley. In 1998, it became a nonprofit organization. To this day, Draper Historic Theatre presents six high-quality, family-friendly shows per year. 

Like all performing arts organizations, Draper Historic Theatre finds itself in a tight competition for a limited amount of entertainment dollars. In general, its audience demographic is comprised of families with children and folks over the age of 35.  

To attract a broader audience, which includes millennials, the board plans to create a new theater group which is as yet unnamed. In addition to the established, family-friendly fare at the theater, this new group would put on shows that have a little bit more of an edge such as “Chicago” or “Sweeney Todd.” The new theater group would be an off-shoot of Draper Historic Theatre After Hours.  

The overarching goal of the board’s plans is to revitalize the image and reputation of the theater in the community. Draper residents will likely see the theater better represented at community events, festivals and conventions in addition to Draper Days.  

Draper Historic Theatre also seeks to build bridges with other community theater groups. Board member AJ Clayson, who is involved with Draper Community Foundation, said, “Draper as a whole likes to reach out to other communities.” Draper Historic Theatre seeks to initiate a co-op program of sorts in which local community theaters can share access to costumes and help out with renovating projects. “We all have skills we can share with others and we need to be doing more of it,” said Clayson. 

The theater also plans to start hosting premiere nights for theater supporters, city officials and other members of the community. These events will be a special opportunity for people to enjoy a show and learn about new programs and renovations at the theater over refreshments. 

The fundraising campaign to pay off the theater’s mortgage will kick off in 2019.  Fundraising events and activities are in the planning stages but will likely include partnerships with local businesses, corporate sponsorships and crowdsourcing campaigns. A winter gala with a silent auction is planned along with smaller events such as bake sales and car washes.  

After some repairs and upgrades to the building, Draper Historic Theatre’s board members would like to leverage the building itself so the organization can better serve the community. Ideas include using it as a practice space for music and acting groups or as classroom space for teaching the arts. The theater could also be used to show films and host other special events.

Clayson describes the theater as a “fantastic” space that “has soul.” It has been 80 years since the old Pearl movie theater was built in Draper. If the board’s plans for improved community outreach, new productions and fundraising campaigns are successful, Draper Historic Theatre will likely be around for decades more.