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Legacy of Ruth and Nathan Hale Alive in West Valley

Every remarkable achievement begins with a simple idea. Hale Centre Theatre is no exception. Like a well-written play, its story has plot twists, character complexities and challenges as the conflicts work their way to resolution and something, not thought possible, is accomplished.

It begins with the marriage of Nathan and Ruth Hale in 1933. Together they successfully wrote, directed, produced and starred in community theatre in the Salt Lake area. By 1945, the young Granger, Utah couple heard the glitz of 1940s Hollywood calling Nathan, who wanted to try his hand as a movie star. After several ups and downs in his attempt to break into the challenging film industry, the couple turned their focus to a new idea - Nathan could play any role he desired if they started their own theatre. In 1947, the couple opened the doors of Glendale Centre Theatre in Glendale, California, to just six patrons. Their theatre now is one of the longest continuously running center stage theatres in America and performs to thousands of patrons each year.

With a focus on love of the stage and their family, Nathan and Ruth did not keep their theatre acumen to themselves; they shared it with many who came their way - especially their progeny.

"Grandma and Grandpa Hale considered the theatre a farm to teach their children and grandchildren work ethic and life lesson," said Mark Dietlein, grandson and founder/CEO of Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City, Utah. "We were expected to participate by acting, making costumes, selling concessions, building sets, ushering, cleaning, directing and anything else a show needed."

It was this experience and instilled love of the theatre that led Mark, then a young businessman, to agree to join his grandparents in opening a theatre in Salt Lake City, in 1985. After 36 years, the Hales had sold the Glendale theatre to their daughter and son-in-law (Mark's parents, Allan and Sandra Dietlein) and were attempting retirement in Southern Utah. Nathan and Ruth, Mark, with his wife, Sally, and Ruth and Nathan's daughter Sally Hale Rice, found an old lingerie factory in South Salt Lake and transformed it into Hale Centre Theatre.

The theatre renovation was complete with dilapidated red curtains on the front windows and used seats inside, which were purchased from a movie theatre near the Mexican border. The seats were painted green to match the upholstery fabric - the only color on sale.

Hale Centre Theatre's first show, I Came to Your Wedding, played to an audience of 25 paid patrons on opening night, July 12, 1985. The scenery was constructed from salvaged plywood collected at construction sites and costumes were made from various materials including bedspreads and poster boards. The sound system consisted of a cassette player placed near a microphone.

With Nathan and Ruth's lifetime of theatre expertise, Sally Dietlein's degree in speech and theatre education and music and dance background, Mark's business savvy and theatre acumen, and Sally Hale Rice's lifetime of acting, casting and directing at the Glendale theatre, the group was determined to grow the vision started by their progenitors. With its audience-friendly, theatre-in-the-round stage and Ruth Hale's witty plays, Hale Centre Theatre quickly attracted a community of talented actors and a loyal following.

"The facility was old and a little scary, but always packed, " remembered Sally Dietlein. "Grandma Hale's plays were amazing. She would take real life experiences and enrich them with humor, music and fun."

In 1992, the ambitious group decided to move the theatre to the next level and produced its first Broadway musical, Brigadoon. Although the royalties were high, the transition was natural as the actors and audiences wanted to see more Broadway productions on a home stage. In an effort to better accommodate higher-caliber productions and the great talent the community had to offer, the Dietleins and Sally Hale Rice began formulating a plan to move the theatre to a new facility.

The Dietleins traveled to other theatres around the world to gather ideas for the new facility. Mark stayed up nights drawing blueprints and formulating creative ways to improve sound, lighting and effects - including the addition of a unique moving stage and the same spiralift system used in Las Vegas' blockbuster Cirque de Soleil show, Mystère. In 1998, their vision was realized and the doors opened on the 42,000 square-foot, innovative Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City, Utah with Thank You Papa.

"It was important to us to remain a community theatre and continue the legacy of keeping ticket prices affordable even with the grand new facility," said Mark. "The move to West Valley allowed us to not only do more with our shows, but also partner with the city as a not-for-profit performing arts organization and to truly become a community entity."

With its new non-profit organizational structure, Hale Centre Theatre appointed a notable Board of Trustees and a National Advisory Board that act on behalf of the public's trust. As the surviving founders, Mark and Sally continue their involvement and share their passion and experience with these community leaders and volunteers.

According to Nancy Flamm, Board Member, benefactor and former actor at both Hale Centre Theatre and Glendale Centre Theatre, "Mark and Sally enthusiastically shoulder the legacy and values of Nathan and Ruth Hale and are carrying forward the founders' altruistic mission of positively impacting lives through theatre. I don't know anyone like Mark and Sally who are as multi-dimensional in roles as arts administrators, producers, artists, educators, community leaders, parents, grandparents and personal mentors for thousands of community artists and technicians."

With a 12-month production schedule, there is little time for rest for the Dietleins and the other staff and community members involved in each production. To continue this rigorous schedule desired by audiences and further involve its community, Hale Centre Theatre has an active donor program called "Ovations" and receives generous sponsorships through local and national organizations. The theatre also donates more than 6,000 outreach tickets to various area schools and organizations each year and hires actors for more than 350 roles each season.

"Hale Centre Theatre is a community theatre in every sense of the word," said Sally. "From the actors and crew, to the patrons, volunteers and donors, everyone feels a sense of family when they walk through these doors."

Nathan and Ruth could not have imagined where their story would lead when they packed up their family for Hollywood. The Hale's inspiration has directly impacted the opening of additional theatres in the West, each independently owned and operated: Hale Centre Theatre Orem, Orem, Utah, operated by son Cody Hale and grandson Cody Swenson (non-profit since May 2007); Hale Centre Theatre Arizona, Gilbert, Arizona, owned and operated by grandson David Dietlein and wife Corrin; and Hale Family Theatre, Grover, Utah, owned and operated seasonally by the Hale family daughters. The Glendale Centre Theatre in Glendale, California is today owned and operated by grandson Tim Dietlein and wife Brenda.

Now one of the largest and most respected community theatres in the country, Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City's success could be called a triumphant ending to this fabled story; yet, the founders continue the legacy of Nathan and Ruth Hale, adding new acts with their continuous ideas, innovations and improvements.