By Lisa Larson
Sitting with a view of the majestic present-day Tuacahn Amphitheatre, it’s hard to imagine its primitive beginning. Yet just as this natural amphitheater was shaped by centuries of scorching heat and desert rain, so too has the history and future of Tuacahn Center for the Arts been molded by winds of change and the shaping power of dreams.
Built on the shoulders of Orval Hafen (the original owner of Padre Canyon) as well as the unparalleled drive and ambition of Doug Stewart and Hyrum W. Smith, a seemingly impossible dream blossomed into the reality that exists today. Tuacahn owes its success to the hard work and sacrifice of an ensemble cast who each played an integral role in the history of this magnificent place.
It was 1995 when Tuacahn’s debut performance of Utah! danced its way out of the red rocks and into the hearts of the people of southern Utah. After four years telling the complex story of the area’s ancient inhabitants and pioneer settlers, it became increasingly clear Tuacahn needed to shift its strategy.
“We’re proud of what we accomplished with Utah!,” says Kevin Smith, Tuacahn CEO. “But after several years of one show it was clear that people wanted to see something new.”
The answer came in 1999 in the form of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Tuacahn found itself in the enviable position of huge crowds and sold out houses and Broadway in the Canyon was born.
Since that time, Tuacahn has produced more than 60 Broadway shows, taking full advantage of the theater’s outdoor space and making talent, directorial and technical strides year after year.
Among the many pivotal moments in Tuacahn’s history, hiring Scott Anderson as the artistic director in 2005 proved to be critical. Anderson’s enthusiasm and ability to cast a wider audition net — including more contracts with Actors Equity League of Regional Theaters — and pushing outside the box in terms of what people thought Tuacahn could produce, yielded some very prosperous results.
Tuacahn’s 2008 success as one of the first regional theaters to be granted the professional rights to produce Les Miserables put Tuacahn on the map in a whole new way. The show’s success made it possible to forge several key relationships, including one with Disney Theatrical that led to even more opportunities.
In 2010 Tuacahn became the first licensed regional theater outside of Broadway to produce Disney’s Tarzan. Subsequent licensing agreements with Disney to produce The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, When You Wish and more continued to increase Tuacahn’s reputation as a regional theatrical force.
“We took a bit of a risk to elevate our production quality,” Anderson says. “We really put our reputation on the line and invested more than we ever had, and it paid off.”
Celebrating the arts in another way, Tuacahn’s Saturday Market features a wide range of local artists, crafts, food and entertainment, mingled with the natural beauty of Tuacahn’s unique setting.
“It’s all part of an overall commitment to the community and the arts are a big part of that community,” Smith says.
Tuacahn’s Saturday Market happens each Saturday year-round, weather permitting.
Thanks to the past and future generosity of Tuacahn’s sponsors and patrons, the creative potential for future seasons knows no bounds. With the last 25 seasons serving as a guide, Tuacahn is excited at the prospect of taking regional theater to even greater heights in the next 25 years and beyond.
Want to know more about Tuacahn’s history? Purchase the 25th Anniversary book and Blu-Ray documentary available at www.tuacahn.org/bundle/ and in the Gift Gallery.