Going Backstage with Pioneer Theatre Company’s Podcast


Pioneer Theatre Company at the University of Utah (Photo by Kenny Taboada | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Oakley Burt, Arts Editor


Salt Lake City boasts a diverse arts culture scene that includes museums, live music, arts festivals and more. Yet, one aspect of the arts that is often overlooked by many is theater. Pioneer Theatre Company is looking to change this through their podcast, giving listeners a high-end and insider look at how professional theater is made. 


About Pioneer Theatre Company 

The Pioneer Theatre Company is one of four professional theater companies in Utah. The group resides in the Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre building on the University of Utah campus. “Theater began there in 1962 and was built to look like the old Salt Lake Theatre,” said Matthew Bennett, Assistant Business Manager of the Pioneer Theater Company. “Originally, the Salt Lake Theatre was built in 1860, but burned down in 1928. The facade of our building is meant to look like it.”

Once the Pioneer Theatre Company’s building was completed, it was dedicated as the professional state theater of Utah. As time went on, the theater gained remarkable success as performing arts were in higher demand. By 1984, the Pioneer Theatre Company was fully professionalized under its second artistic director, Charles Morley. “He came in, and at that time we began writing mostly union contracts for actors and bringing actors from around the country,” Bennett, who has worked in some capacity for the company since 2005, said. 

Since its professionalization, the company has continually upheld its reputation for producing quality theater and was the first regional theater in the country to earn the right to produce “Les Misérables” for the 2006-07 season. More recently, the company has branched out, creating a new play-by-play series and the Pioneer Theatre Company Podcast in 2015. 


Behind the Curtain

“This is our fifth session technically, and I have to credit it to Joe Nemrow,” Bennett said. “He was an intern who showed up over the summer for marketing and pitched the idea.” Bennett was receptive to the idea, and thus the podcast was born. In the beginning, they used spare audio equipment from the company’s sound designer. Now, they record at the J. Willard Marriott Library at the U, recording about nine episodes per season.

“We try to plan as much as we can in advance, but there’s some serendipity to it,” Bennett said. “We try to give people some insights into the theater-making process, so I’ve interviewed designers, music directors, playwrights and actors.” 

Bennett interviewed noted musical composer Frank Wildhorn, screenwriter John Patrick Shanley and actor John Jellison for the podcast. On his conversation with Jellison, Bennett said, “I think it was special because he’s such a veteran, acting his entire life he just had such a breadth of experience to give.” 


Integrating with the U

This season, Bennett has been trying to integrate the podcast with U faculty by interviewing two professors with hopes for more. The company’s current season opened with “Cagney,” a musical about 20th-century silver screen star James Cagney. “We had Andrew Nelson from film studies come and talk about Cagney,” Bennett said. “I sat down with him and talked to him about the golden age of Hollywood, James Cagney and his movies.” 

Pioneer Theatre Company recently wrapped on “Lifespan of a Fact,” and Bennett sat down with U professor Avery Holton for the podcast. “We knew we had to talk to a journalist because it’s so much about facts versus misinformation,” Bennett said. “It seemed like a shame not to talk to someone in journalism.” 

Bennett also plans to be more involved with the U’s Department of Theatre in the future and feature them on the podcast. “We’re going to be sharing a space with them soon,” he said. “We already have some overlap with our costume studio, the people that work for the Department of Theatre sometimes build and design for us.” 


Looking Ahead

The podcast is still growing its audience, but he hopes to get it out to more people who are curious and want to know more about how theater is made. “My vision for it is to be like Blu-Ray extras. That’s really what I think it should be,” Bennett said. He’s also striving to break through to more students at the U and the community through the podcast. “I think a lot of people can go through their career at the University of Utah and not know that we exist down here. It’s easy to miss, but students can come and get cheaper tickets and they can see some Broadway-caliber theater.” 

All seasons of the Pioneer Theatre Company podcast are available for streaming on Apple and Buzzsprout. The theater’s schedule and tickets for their current production of “Mary Stuart” can be found here.


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