Teri Orr: And now … Act III

Teri Orr

Teri Orr.
Park Record file photo

When I left being editor of this paper in the early ’90s — in my early 40s — I had no idea what I would do next. It was just time to do something different. I leapt without a net and patched things together — working at Dolly’s Bookstore — writing a book I chose not to publish — turning down an HBO movie contract for that too-personal book. I volunteered on the Navajo Reservation with Linda Myers before the Adopt-a-Native-Elder program had a name.

Ann MacQuoid, JoAnn Krajeski, Gary Cole and Heather Urich took me to lunch one day and asked if I would help them run a bond campaign to build a joint-use performing arts center with the school district. I said sure. When the bond passed the realization hit — someone would have to raise money for that building. Someone would have to program that building. I was between jobs so I agreed to help out.

When the building was completed we started programming shows. The board insisted I hire someone to help handle the talent. They thought I should hire Robert Urich’s gopher in Park City — my daughter, Jenny. I thought it was terrible idea to work together. I told the board they would hire her and when the time came — they would fire her. Jenny turned out to be the not-so-secret Eccles sauce. Every act loved her. She made them all feel like this was a temporary home away from home — even if they were just spending a day on their tour bus. She did everything with grace and good humor. The reputation the institute enjoys in the performance world is due largely to her patient and enthusiastic treatment of each act. She remains the only full-time employee under Executive Director Ari Ioannides, who took the reins March 1, now fully this week.

The very first season we wanted to show the variety of what could happen on our stage. We presented — Maynard Ferguson, National Orchestral Society, Acting Company of New York and Alvin Ailey Dance Ensemble. We had no idea how to price tickets or seat people. Park City and Salt Lake communities were forgiving — they were hungry for national acts. We started that first year with $5 student tickets in the Park City School District and expanded later to include all Summit County students. The first season and every season thereafter we offered free tickets to our senior citizen community. Then it was a handful of mostly mining widows.

After 9/11 when no one was traveling we decided — with the help of Tommy Tune — to keep our gala as planned — just 10 days after the Twin Towers fell. That night, when Tommy told the audience that performing was the only way he knew how to help, we took the hands of those next to us in the audience and got quiet for a moment. The theater became church.

The next year we brought in from West Sengal — Mandinka — and they gave us a taste of Africa in dance, music and storytelling. They had such a great time in Park City on their very next stop — in Berkeley, California — the entire 30-person troupe just walked off stage and defected. They had wanted to do that in Park City, I learned from their agent, but realized they might have been spotted more easily here than on the streets in Berkeley.

During the Olympics we were the only venue outside of Salt Lake City to host the Cultural Olympiad. Pilobolus and Alvin Ailey dance companies performed to international full houses.

In the summers we started doing concerts in City Park with local bands. The permit was for 500 people. The night I counted 1,400 people I knew we had to move. The next summer we were at Deer Valley presenting Kenny Loggins and The Pointer Sisters. We turned the free concerts over to Mountain Town Music.

Those summer shows were their own kind of magic. The elaborate picnics and celebrations we all shared — birthdays, weddings, even a high school graduation moment for a young woman who had missed her own ceremony due to cancer. We worked hard seating our donors and put them with folks we thought would make for a good dinner party. It created decades-long friendships.

And oh — those shows! B.B. King and Etta James. Willie and Bonnie and Lyle. Jon Baptiste — long before he became the band leader for Stephen Colbert. And that epic muddy night of Earth, Wind and Fire and that other epic, muddy night of Sara Bareilles opening for Open Republic.

In 2007 I was invited to join the TED community — our programming morphed some more. Speakers included Sir Ken Robinson, Dr. David Gallo, Dr. B.J. Miller. Edward Snowden via his “snowbot” and Monica Lewinsky. TED sent me to Aspen, Palm Springs, Whistler, Banff, Edinburgh, Tanzania and Qatar. It changed my life to see the world. It has given me friends in exotic places doing good work.

As a lifelong reader, bringing authors to the stage seemed the right thing. Sue Monk Kidd, Anne Lamott, Sherman Alexie. Journalists Maureen Dowd, Carl Hulse and Van Jones.

The ability of our tech crews to make cirque folks fly across our stage always amazed me. I was happiest the night those shows were over, safely. I am grateful for pre-parties and after-parties at local art galleries and restaurants, which hosted us in their magical spaces.

All the Sundance stories — too many but much gratitude for their willingness — from the first festival in Eccles — to help us create a Filmmaker in the Classroom program, ensuring local students didn’t have the festival just happen to their school but included them. Our own artist-in-the-classroom program had choreographers like Jessica Lang traveling to Coalville and teaching young dancers. Monica Lewinsky explained to students what it felt like as Patient Zero of cyberbullying.

All the New Year’s Eve shows starting at 8 p.m. and ending with the balloons falling around 10 p.m. so folks could head home before the midnight hour or to our parties from the Yarrow to St Regis to Tupelo.

The volunteers — regardless of the snow storm or the scorching summer heat — who showed up without fail to be the first line of response and defense greeting guests.

I am grateful for every single person who purchased a ticket. Who brought a friend — who sponsored a show — who donated food or lodging. All the media folks who donated space in magazines, newspapers and radio spots who knew a vibrant smart community needed a vibrant smart performing arts center. The donors who supported things they knew and even more they had no idea about. What would be flying across the stage — dancers or tough language?

All the boards who wanted to make certain — from the start — that all staff had full health care — incredible 25 years ago. I am grateful for shows we booked because an agent assured us this emerging act was a worth a risk. Nickel Creek — later Punch Brothers led by the McArthur genius Chris Thile — my favorite example.

But there was the fake Hamlet with “members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.” In 1999 it was much harder to do homework with only DVDs to view. We loved the idea. Turned out the only link to the Royal Shakespeare Company was the makeup guy who was also the lover of the guy who played Hamlet. He once did makeup for a run of RSC in Vegas. Hamlet laughed in all his scenes like Pee Wee Herman. That was the same dreadful year we had The Lullaby guy — who had a recommend on his CD from Christopher Reeves. He decided — unbeknownst to us — not to perform lullabies but rather ingest something prior to going on stage and do something so freeform we were apologizing to every person who was streaming out of the theater at intermission.

These things are funny only in hindsight.

But even just one minute of Bernadette Peters hiking her ballgown to climb on the baby grand and sing “Fever” made up for the other stuff. Or Kris Kristofferson giving us his raw version of the song he had shared with Janis Joplin — “Me and Bobby McGee.” Or Rufus Wainwright on New Year’s Eve with the penultimate encore — a song he hadn’t performed publicly in four years — Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” You could have heard a pin drop.

I hope you have your own best — and less — list of shows at Eccles, summers outdoors and Curiosities nights we tossed in for good measure. Or maybe your child joined us during the 10 years we ran the MegaGenius Supply Store and IQHQ — a free literacy tutoring center. I have 25 years of crazy and scary and mostly life-affirming moments to wrap up in.

So “thanks for the memories” and for allowing me to have had the best job I never knew I wanted.

It changed my life and for that I will be forever grateful — each Sunday in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.


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