In the fall of 1968, a group of students in this Utah County community approached city fathers for some money.
No, they didn't want a new swimming pool. And they weren't talking about funds for a dance or a softball diamond, either. Rather, they wanted $300 so they could produce a musical in conjunction with the town's annual Golden Onion Days celebration.One could almost hear young Central Utah versions of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in the background: "Hey, kids - let's put on a show!"
Only this time, the adults said "No - not until you get some adult supervision."
So Marian Wilson agreed to provide lunches, sew costumes and help with scenery, and Doris Gasser went with the students back to the town council. "You spend more money picking up trash," she reminded them. "Why not trust the kids?"
The council agreed, and the Payson Community Theater was born. That first year the group produced "Little Mary Sunshine" under the direction of Lemuel Harsh, one of the teenagers. "The adults stepped back so we could step forward," remembers Harsh, now a junior high school teacher with many more directing credits. "When I look back over all those years, I realize they were so patient with us. They taught us so much."
Theater-goers in Payson have reaped the benefits of that instruction in an annual production every summer since then, including this year's 20th anniversary presentation of "Hello, Dolly!" currently being played at the Payson High School auditorium. The show, which will continue through Sept. 10, features none other than Doris Gasser in the title role.
The show is a revival of sorts for Gasser, who has been active in the PCT since the very beginning. She played Dolly 15 years ago in a production that is said to have been the first Payson Community Theater show to really "zap" the audience.
"That production has been romanticized ever since," Gasser says now. "We can't re-create that excitement again, but we're trying to bring back those feelings and live up to the expectations."
And expectations are admittedly high for a community theater organization that has become a major factor in the Utah Valley Arts Guild's annual awards for artistic excellence. Past productions have included traditional community theater properties like "Brigadoon" (1969), "Oliver" (1973), "My Fair Lady" (1978), "Camelot" (1980) and "The Music Man" (1983). In 1971 PCT staged "The Wisdom Tree," a new piece by BYU professor Max Golightly. And the company scored a coup in 1984, mounting the Wasatch Front's first local production of "Annie."
The success of the summer shows spawned an annual winter PCT production beginning in 1983. This series has turned out to be a bit more eclectic, with presentations of "Harvey," "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Crimes of the Heart" and James Arrington's "Farley Family Reunion" to its credit.
"This art form spurred others on by its success and example," said Elaine Guest, who played Vera in the 1982 production of "Mame." "We achieved more than some professional groups, and we pulled together as a community. And now we have the best of both worlds in our home town."
For Marva Hickman, director of "South Pacific" (1975), the most important thing about PCT is that "relationships and friendships were established." Former mayor Gary Hansen remembers that "it was an honor to an ecclesiastical head of any religion to be asked to say the opening prayer" before a show. And long-time participant Janie Marvie said that "we grew together. We learned a lot about ourselves and others. We came to see this was an accomplishment."
Marian Wilson, one of the very first PCT supporters, has seen about as much of Payson Community Theater's 20-year history as anyone. "We've had quality," she says now, looking back. "The youth had cheerfulness, joyfulness. And the plays were produced with love. That's why the young thrived."
And that's probably also why PCT is still thriving 20 years later.