Kevin Bacon was in his mid-20s when he took on the role of Ren McCormack in “Footloose,” the rebellious, just-moved-here-from-the-big-city kid who lights a fire — and many a dance move — in his high school peers who have lived under a ban on dancing and rock ’n’ roll for five years too long. 

Despite mixed reviews, “Footloose” was a box-office success and became one of the top-grossing films of 1984. And the film’s popularity has continued over four decades: It spawned a remake in 2011, and just last year, as the monthslong actors strike came to a close, Bacon posted a celebratory video that featured him busting out his “Footloose” line dance moves (it got just over 1.5 million likes). 

But perhaps nowhere is the movie’s presence felt more strongly than it is inside the walls of Payson High School in the city of Payson, Utah, where Bacon and fellow “Footloose” stars Lori Singer, Sarah Jessica Parker and John Lithgow, among others, filmed several scenes during the summer of 1983 (other locations included the Geneva Steel mill in Vineyard — the site of Bacon’s Olympic-level warehouse dance — and Lehi Mills).

In fact, as the film officially turns 40 on Feb. 17, Bacon is still walking the halls of the school — at least in spirit. 

Kevin Bacon’s character Ren McCormack’s locker in the film “Footloose” is pictured at Payson High School in Payson on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. The locker has now been memorialized and students are trying to get Kevin Bacon to come to their prom as part of the 40th anniversary of the film, which filmed many of the scenes at the school. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Stills from the movie are peppered throughout the halls. Images of Bacon and Singer, who plays the reverend’s daughter and Bacon’s love interest, are situated above the now-green lockers where some of their scenes unfolded. 

And Bacon’s locker is still on display, complete with a “Congrats! You’ve got Kevin Bacon’s locker!” plaque.

The “Footloose” pride at Payson High is strong. “It’s something we are kind of reminded of a good amount,” Kaleb Dymock, a junior and school student council member, told the Deseret News on a Zoom call. 

The halls have been especially overflowing with nostalgia as the building will soon make way for a new high school.

And considering 2024 marks 40 years of “Footloose” and 100 years of film in Utah, the students of Payson High School are trying to pull off something really big: getting Bacon to show up to their prom on April 20. 

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“It seemed like if there was ever a time for him to come back and celebrate this movie, that this would be the year,” said Jenny Staheli, the school’s student council adviser.

‘Footloose’ 40th anniversary: the Bacon to Payson project 

The idea of getting Bacon to Payson didn’t originate with the film turning 40, though the effort has certainly picked up momentum over this past year. 

Staheli said the thought has been floating around the Payson community since at least the 20th anniversary of “Footloose,” if not earlier. When the film hit 25 years in 2009, Bacon shared a special message in a video for Payson High School students, encouraging them to take the film’s message to heart.

“Don’t be afraid to be different,” he told them. “Remember, it takes all kinds of people to make this world go around.” 

A sweatshirt with Kevin Bacon’s name stitched on by sewing students is displayed at Payson High School in Payson on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. Students are trying to get Bacon to come to their prom as part of the 40th anniversary of the film “Footloose,” which filmed many of the scenes at the school. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

But this school season — what Staheli dubbed “‘Footloose year at Payson High” — the students have been doing everything in their power to get Bacon to return to their halls.

“For this year, we kind of put like every event toward Kevin Bacon in a way,” student council member and senior Emily Faux said. “So like everything that we’ve done … we’ve kind of just made sure that it connects to Kevin Bacon.”

That started with a community screening of the film on the school’s new football field last fall — because, as Dymock said, “If we’re going to bring him back for ‘Footloose,’ we should probably see it.”

It marked Dymock’s first time watching “Footloose,” and while he thought it was “kind of weird in some parts,” he enjoyed the overall storyline about the importance of lightening up and having fun.

Scott Jardine, a sophomore and student council member, first watched the film five years ago, when his family moved to Payson — one of his neighbors is an extra in it. Faux loves that “it’s such an ’80s movie” and that she can see so many familiar spots from her high school.

The community outreach has been a key part in the mission to bring back Bacon. Dymock said they’ve worked to spread awareness at events like Payson’s Golden Onion Days, manning a booth with a large cutout of the actor as they try to raise money for his charity, SixDegrees, and encourage people to use the hashtag #BacontoPayson on social media to get the word out (there’s even a Bacon to Payson website that can tell you if you’re related to the actor).

Within the walls of Payson High, Dymock helped rebrand the Mr. Payson pageant to the Mr. Bacon pageant — which included a bacon cook-off and recreations of the actor’s films.

Homecoming was ’80s themed, the drama club put on a production of “Footloose” and one English teacher even tasked students with writing letters convincing Bacon to come back to the school. Some of those letters were so good, Staheli said, that they passed them on to Bacon’s team.

But has any of this actually reached Bacon, and will it resonate with him enough to make a long-awaited return?

The courtyard where the book burning scene in the film “Footloose” takes place is pictured at Payson High School in Payson on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. Students are trying to get actor Kevin Bacon to come to their prom as part of the 40th anniversary of the film “Footloose,” which filmed many of the scenes at the school. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Will Kevin Bacon come to Payson? The latest development

Thanks to the Utah Film Commission — Staheli gave a special shout-out to the commission’s director, Virginia Pearce — the high school was able to reach out to people in Bacon’s camp. Staheli said they tried getting to the actor a number of ways, including through the Bacon Brothers band, his PR team and the SixDegrees organization.

A major turning point in their efforts came a few months ago, when Utah Gov. Spencer Cox shared a video on X, formerly Twitter, encouraging Bacon to make the trip to Payson.

“Utah’s preserved the legacy this film left on our state, so we’d like to formally invite you back to the Beehive State to celebrate four decades of ‘Footloose’ with us,” Cox said in a caption posted along with a 30-second invitation to Bacon.

“Spencer Cox for doing that video is the MVP of this campaign,” Staheli said, noting that representatives for Bacon started responding to the school just a few days after that video. “That was kind of the turning point for what we’ve been doing. Just to get that kind of attention that his short little video brought was really helpful for us.”

And the latest Bacon to Payson development is even more promising: Bacon’s organization, SixDegrees, is “super interested” in working with the school, according to Staheli.

As part of the 40th anniversary “Footloose” celebrations, the organization has a goal of creating 40,000 humanitarian kits — and it wants Utah to contribute 5,000 of those kits, many of which will go to local charities in Utah, Staheli said.

So on the morning of April 20 — which happens to be the day of Payson High School’s prom — members of Bacon’s organization will be at the high school putting together kits with the students.

“We want to have fun with this, but we also want to do something good if we could, and we feel like this is a really great opportunity for that,” Staheli said. “And you just never know where Kevin Bacon might show up. You just never know.”

Kevin Bacon, left, and Lori Singer in the 1984 film “Footloose.”
Kevin Bacon, left, and Lori Singer in the 1984 film “Footloose.” | Paramount Home Entertainment

‘We gave it our all’

A few months ago, Bacon hinted at a potential celebration for the film’s 40th anniversary — “Stay tuned, stay tuned,” he said, per Entertainment Tonight

Maybe that will include a trip to Payson, maybe not. But there’s still a place for Bacon in the high school halls, and his locker is ready for use.

Regardless of the outcome, the student council members can rest assured that they’ve done their part in recreating the magic of a film that has a rich history in their community and state.

“We’ve pulled out all the stops and we’ve tapped every resource and we’ve done all that we could do,” Staheli said. “We gave it our all.”

And at least this time around, the high school students don’t need Bacon to get them up on their feet and dancing at their prom — though his attendance is 100% encouraged.

“We will do the ‘Footloose’ dance whether he is here or not,” Staheli said.

A sign inside actor Kevin Bacon’s character Ren McCormack’s locker from the film “Footlose” is pictured at Payson High School in Payson on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. The locker has now been memorialized and students are trying to get Bacon to come to their prom as part of the 40th anniversary of the film, which filmed many of the scenes at the school. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News