The stage is set, you’re in your seat, and the lights have gone down. From the moment they come up with actors on stage and the seconds before the first line is magic — an anticipation only surpassed by the final line. At Hale Theatre Arizona, a storied and intimate 350-seat theater-in-the-round in Gilbert, their entertaining shows not only have exceptional acting and production value, but what makes them special is the theatre’s personal touches that impact your experience from the moment you enter the lobby, to the moment you leave the glow of the marquee behind you.
Hale Theatre Arizona, which was established in 2003, recently completed expansions that began in 2019. The now 22,000-square-foot space encompasses a rehearsal space, dance studio, meeting space, costume/wardrobe department and scene shop on site, plus an all new state-of-the-art, sustainable lighting and sound system.
For 17 years, Hale has been home to stunning adaptations of iconic plays including Guys and Dolls, A Christmas Carol (which recently celebrated its 17th annual run in 2019); West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast and Singing in the Rain to name a few.
Although the Heritage District is part of what draws visitors and residents alike to the area, Gilbert’s recognitions as the 12th Most Livable City in the U.S. and as the 4th Safest City in the U.S. in 2019 add to its appeal–the historic Gilbert Water Tower a landmark among the foodie destination and culture hub with retail and businesses teeming with activity.
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David Dietlein, owner, president and CEO of Hale Theatre Arizona, said they decided to do the renovations last year because they wanted to freshen up the look of the theater after 17 years. The renovations included redoing landscaping outside and painting the exterior, adding a marquee, updating the inside lobby with new carpet, redesigning the look of the box office, adding a conference room and wings backstage for more space, plus adding a building which is now home to their dance studio and rehearsal space, and an onsite costume/wardrobe department and scene shop for their carpenters and painters.
“It’s so much more efficient with how we’re able to collaborate and communicate so that’s been wonderful, I love that,” Dietlein said of their onsite rehearsal space, costume department and scene shop, which prior were in different offsite locations.
The decision to renovate was also important to the theatre’s future long-term for continued success. “We knew that if we were going to be in the area here with all the activity,” Dietlein said of the popular downtown Gilbert area, “for the next 10 years, we needed to do a renovation; come out bolder and bigger to attract more business and retain the customers that we have. Not only did we revamp the physical structure, but we’ve been revamping our productions as well so we’re putting a lot of emphasis on the quality of our productions and paying our actors.”
Since beginning renovations in early 2019, pushing through a majority of them before their December 2019 run of A Christmas Carol, which Dietlein considers their big show of the year that draws in large crowds including families and out-of-town visitors. They finished all the renovations in the first few months of 2020, completing the overhaul with a seating area outside, finishing decorative touches on the lobby and snack bar, and have brought an Art Deco glamour to the lobby; the only thing that didn’t change: the number of seats. Dietlein said this is because they wanted Hale to remain an intimate theater experience with 350 seats.
Dietlein hopes the renovation evokes class. “This renovation is designed to have a style that is reminiscent of the 1930s, that Hollywood Glam. The new wing (where the rehearsal space and dance studio are located) are built to look from they’re in a different era; we’re taking pride in a style,” Dietlein said. “It was really important to the architect and to my wife and I when looking at those designs that it has something unique and special, which we’re really passionate about.
“I hear from the patrons that come in, they’re like, ‘wow, this is really cool, this feels like I’ve stepped into a period of time and it’s glamorous,’ so I think we’re delivering on that and I think it’s come through, it’s really fun,” Dietlein said.
“For our dance studio for example, we didn’t just build it and call it a day, our ceilings are done so that they look like an old barn, like we had come into a building that was built a long time ago and they had the old wood rafters, and instead of renovating it to look like that, we said ‘let’s use that history piece,’ so we designed it that way, to look open and like it had been there for a long time,” Dietlein said.
Hale Theatre Arizona also has Hale Studio, a 3,000-square-foot dance and rehearsal space where they host their education program teaching jazz performance technique, broadway tap and musical theater dance classes, which also serves as a rehearsal space for cast members who can utilize the space prior to a show.
Given the theater’s previous success, it’s a safe bet that with their new renovations Hale’s shows will be more attended than ever given their emphasis on elevating their production value through talent, set design and guest experience.
“I always want Hale Theater to feel like it’s a classy place that you can come see a show but the quality versus the value is an exceptional experience,” Dietlein said. “We look at it as the experience starts when you step out of your car and when you walk up to the building; in contrast to another way of presenting a theater like renting a space at a mall or building a brand new city center and it’s in a modern space which can have the feeling of not being as personal, it’s not telling a story of history, and I think that’s where we really shine,” Dietlein said.
“It’s a gem of a place, it’s small, intimate and the quality is there and that’s what we’re hoping to achieve. And when you walk in, it feels warm and that includes our employees and the shows themselves, but the whole experience should feel homey. We want you to go, ‘That’s a classy, fun, little place.’”
Next time you want to see a high-quality and entertaining musical, drama or comedy, seeing it at Hale Theatre Arizona is worth the time—just look for the marquee.
Hale Theatre Arizona is currently playing Always Patsy Cline through March 24 and Guys and Dolls through March 28. To view their season schedule, visit haletheatrearizona.com.