BWW Interview: Utah Boasts Impressive and Influential Theatergoing Group for the State's Vibrant Theater Scene
Megan Gutierrez is a theater lover extraordinaire. Her enthusiasm for attending theater productions in Utah has led her to create an impressive, influential group of similarly minded theatergoers with Utah Theater Lovers: A Community of Our Own Where Audience and Stage Connect.
While theater producers, creators, and actors are welcome to join Utah Theater Lovers, the group is exclusively and uniquely designed to educate and inspire audience. She recognizes that the state has an astonishing array of vibrant stage events and promotes the diversity of theater.
Theater companies court the group Gutierrez founded because of its prominence with Utah audiences. Producers offer exclusive discounts and premier seating to their productions and schedule post-show talkbacks with actors for group members. And theater discussion continues after attending shows together at group dinners and events like Tony Awards-viewing parties.
"Megan's passion for theater and bringing people together drives her to organize events and trips, not only to expose her group to popular theater, but also to celebrate the diverse community theaters we have here in Salt Lake," says Shannon Herrera, a newly named associate leader of Utah Theater Lovers, with its recent expansion, and work colleague. "She always says she created Utah Theater Lovers so she could build a community of her own and that's what she's done: She's created more than just a Meetup group, she's created a family."
The organization can serve as a model for other audience-member groups to cultivate interest for theater in other areas of the county.
Remarkably, Gutierrez drives Utah Theater Lovers forward as a volunteer while also working a busy, full-time marketing career, as a successful and critically acclaimed published author (with her second novel recently published), and co-parenting two energetic daughters with her ex-wife.
As further witness of her status as a theater lover, she has the moniker emblazoned as a large tatoo.
What prompted you to begin Utah Theater Lovers?
Gutierrez: Of course, I'm going to speak in musical language here. RENT summarizes it best: At one point, Roger says to Mark: "For someone who longs for a community of his own, who's with his camera, alone?" I longed for a community of my own because I was at the theater alone.
Theater is an external art. It's meant to be explored, discussed, and enjoyed - together. But, I didn't have any friends who enjoyed the experience as much as I did. So, I decided to create "a community of my own"; a place where I could connect with other theater lovers.
Utah Theater Lovers is about creating a shared experience. It begins with a show but a community is created through post-show discussions with the cast, dinner, and drinks with fellow Theater Lovers, travel adventures to see great shows, and our online Facebook groups where the conversation continues. And so today, almost seven years after our first event, I think we have finally arrived. It's not my community anymore - it belongs to all of us. Utah Theater Lovers: A Community of Our Own Where Audience and Stage Connect.
How were you able to build the group to the stature that it is now?
Gutierrez: Passion, love, and consistency. I seek to make this a community for everyone, and so first and foremost, I make sure that anyone who comes to an event feels welcome and accepted. After that, consistency. I have an event every single month, almost always on a Saturday afternoon. And, we are super excited to announce that we have enough people, and another Theater Lover (Shannon Herrera) helping me host additional events (beyond the 1 each month) throughout the year.
How many members of Utah Theater Lovers are there?
Gutierrez: As of today, we have just over 3,100 members and have easily seen between 100-150 shows together.
What has been the response from membership about the group?
Gutierrez: Well, why don't we ask them? Here are just a few things people have said in our reviews: "Totally awesome and spectacular"; "My favorite Meetup group"; "Wonderful open and inviting group"; "Utah Theater Lovers is a group of friendly, welcoming people"; "Great group, very well-organized and extremely welcoming."
What excites you most about Utah Theater Lovers?
Gutierrez: By my count, Utah currently has over 80 companies/organizations (not including high schools) producing theater, and as of today nearly 300 shows have been announced that patrons can go see over the next year. That is a lot of theater!
When I first started seeing shows, I struggled to even know where to look to find theater listings because there was not a community calendar of sorts with all this information. So, I changed that. As part of the Utah Theater Lover Facebook group, you can find a one-stop-shop Google doc where you can take a look at what Utah has to offer.
Our theater scene is pretty impressive. Launching off the idea that we want to connect the audience with the stage - every month (in a calendar year) we feature a different theater - helping patrons explore and see what's available to them. We see big shows like LES MISÉRABLES, but also small, black-box theater productions written by local playwrights. We see shows from Ogden to Provo even down to St. George. And we love featuring local restaurants. The fact that we are celebrating over a 100 events with our group means that we have taken our group to nearly 100 different local food establishments.
You were able to arrange an advance preview for Utah Theater Lovers members of the film version of LES MISÉRABLES. Was the screening the highest attended Meetup and how many people?
Gutierrez: Yeah, that was insane. I think we ended up with 800-plus people. By far our biggest event to date. Kinda' thinking about doing another one for The Greatest Show on Earth." We'll see.
What new announcements do you have about the group's growth?
Gutierrez: Our new Utah Theater Lover Experiences. We've gotten to the point where we are big enough to host special outings for our group. Basically, what this means is members register and pay through Meetup and we take care of the rest. But this also means that tickets are limited and have to be ordered in advance. Our first Theater Lover Experience will be at THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG AND THE NIGHT-TIME with Pioneer Theatre on Sept. 23. Top-tier tickets, a Tony-Award winning play, a private reception at We Olive & Wine Bar (We've rented out the whole place), members from the production team of the show will join us at the reception to discuss behind-the-scenes, theater-production adventures, and an exclusive, custom Utah Theater Lover memento will be given to remember the evening by.
We are also super excited about our sister group: Theater Lovers Travel. Here are just a few trips we have coming up (members can still join us for all but the HAMILTON one):
- Nearly 30 people going to New York City in January 2018 for BroadwayCon (already have tickets to DEAR EVAN HANSEN and COME FROM AWAY);
- An overnight trip to Park City to see Leslie Odom Jr. (from HAMILTON) at Deer Valley and CABARET at Park City's Egyptian Theatre;
- Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City and Tuacahn Center for the Arts in St. George;
- The production of HAMILTON in California;
- While not on the books yet, looks like London's West End theater in 2019;
- And finally - this is something we haven't even officially launched but is out there a little - we've started creating jewelry, key chains, trinkets, etc. to remember your Theater Lover Experiences by. Check us out on Etsy.
How are you able to juggle your full-time job, writing career and motherhood, along with Utah Theater Lovers?
Gutierrez: I wonder the same thing on a regular basis. In short, my family comes first. That means I do most of my theater and writing between the hours of 9:30 p.m. and 1 am. I try to split my time between the two but what I work on is usually driven by deadline.
July is tricky because we basically have four big theater events coming up that take more planning than a typical event (Park City, Fringe Festival, Shakespeare Fest, and the CURIOUS INCIDENT event). On top of that, I have my second novel coming out this month and a release party that I'm planning. (I've hired a local actor to do a reading for me, and I'm super excited).
Gutierrez: Join us! Here is where you can connect with everything we have going on:
- Visit the Utah Theater Lovers website at http://www.atheaterlover.com/;
- Join the Utah Theater Lovers on Meetup at http://www.meetup.com/utahtheaterlovers/;
- Join the Utah Theater Lovers Group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/utahtheaterlovers/?ref=bookmarks;
- Like the Utah Theater Lovers Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/UtahTheaterLovers/;
- Join the Utah Theater Lovers Travel Group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheaterLoversTravel/;
- Like the Utah Theater Lovers Travel Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/theaterloverstravel.
- July 15: Leslie Odom Jr. with the Utah Symphony and CABARET at The Egyptian Theatre;
- July 28: Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival;
- Aug. 2-6: Utah Shakespeare Festival and Tuacahn Center for the Arts;
- Jan. 23-29, 2018: Utah Theater Lovers Travel trip to New York City.