Theater 138
The original Theater 138 was housed in an historical old churchhouse at 138 S. 200 East for nearly 20 years, but it was closed down in 1986 when the building was purchased by Mountain Fuel Supply -- and was subsequently turned into a parking lot.

Ariel Ballif, Tom Carlin and Stu Falconer were the founders of, and inspiration for, Theatre 138, from the day it opened in 1966 until the doors closed. They presented nearly 300 productions including 60 premieres of new plays. The small theater downtown became an institution.

Ballif, Falconer, and Carlin met in Richmond, VA, in the early ‘50s and opened a small theater there called The Renaissance. They stayed several years until the owners "started telling us what to do and that never went over well," Ballif says.

In 1962, Ballet West founder William Christensen contacted Ballif about returning home and taking a teaching position at the University of Utah. Falconer and Carlin accepted jobs at Pioneer Memorial Theatre and the three partners moved to Salt Lake.

The company's more popular shows included their Christmas season offering in the mid-eighties which was Walton Jones' comedy THE 1940’S RADIO HOUR -- a theatrical version of a one-hour radio program broadcast on Dec. 21, 1942, from a two-bit station in New York City, filled with skits, songs, sound- effects, promos, bromos, bromides and one-liners. The cast was rotated each year to keep the show fresh.

Like Woody Allen’s movie RADIO DAYS, this show is a good chance for people over 50 to bask in some nostalgia and memories and is a chance for people under 30 to catch a glimpse of the innocence and authenticity of the war years.

Tom Carlin of Theater 138 says he liked the show because it has a Christmas spirit about it without trading on all the tried and true themes of Christmas.

After the closing of the downtown theater, Theatre 138 moved south to Center Stage Theatre on Highland Drive.

Theater 138, which opened as Salt Lake City's first full-time, year-round "alternative" theater company, joined Walk-Ons Inc., a nomadic troupe that had bounced all over the place since the early '70s. They shared the Center Stage for the next year and a half in a unique arrangement that called for the two independent companies to produce their own shows (in alternating time slots), and share in the expenses of buying the building, formerly the site of Andy's Smorgasbord.

Sadly, on August 1, 1989, there was no more Theater 138 or Center Stage Theater. The building was sold, cutting short a three-week run of ROMEO AND JULIET down to only four days.

Tom Carlin, Stu Falconer and Ariel Ballif offered the facility to a young- performing troupe as a good-will gesture before moving out. However, the closing date was moved up on them at the last minute, cutting even that last show short.

So Theater 138 left the Salt Lake Theater scene as it entered many years ago -- showing good will toward young performers and patrons.

Commenting on the closure of the Center Stage facility, Ballif said, "There were a lot of things involved. The biggest was the financial problem. It didn't make much sense to keep going into the hole every month. There were not enough seats, unless it was full every night, to meet expenses. We kept pushing it for the time we were there and kept trying, but it finally became a reality that we just couldn't handle it any more. There was also the problem in two groups trying to operate in the same space. Those things just didn't work out."

Spencer (Walk-Ons producer) concurred that it was "difficult sharing the space with another company" when both groups have their individual artistic temperaments. "In the end," said Spencer, "I guess the venture, the whole project, just didn't really take off as we had hoped."

As for the godfathers of these kids -- the people at Theater 138 -- Stu Falconer says the three of them would not make another run at finding a location. The plan was to move on and find work within existing companies.

Ariel Ballif said the company still exists as a corporation but that the three are going "to let the dust settle for a time, then start considering some other possibilities and solutions."

"We're past the age of the full-time, 12-shows-a-year routine. But, we're certainly not going to retire from the business because it's too much a part of our lives," he said.

Stu Falconer, who performed in many of the company's productions, went on to perform in the new Broadway Stage's premiere production of THE BOYS NEXT DOOR and PROFESSOR BERHARDI.

Stewart Falconer, the tall, gracious Southern gentleman, moved to Utah in 1962 from Richmond, VA.

Falconer was technical and production manager at 138, the master carpenter of the trio, the one who could fix anything, be it the barber chair for SWEENEY TODD or the neon lights in CHICAGO. He was also an actor, appearing in numerous dramatic roles at 138, including EQUUS, 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, and MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION and the musicals THE FANTASTICKS and THE NEW MOON, to mention only a few.

The standard joke around the theater was that someday Falconer would be able to be in a play and not have to run between acts to check the wiring.

Actor Margaret Crowell, who appeared in numerous plays with Falconer, said what she remembers most vividly about her friend was "his complete grace. No matter who or what you were, Stu made you comfortable. Stu would tell wonderful stories, putting everyone at ease. Onstage, he was the same way. He took small roles, but time and time again, he stole the show." Sadly, he died of cancer Oct. 1st 1993 at the age of 69. The illness had only been diagnosed a few days earlier.

Following Falconer's wishes, he was cremated and his ashes were scattered by Carlin and Ballif in the nearby mountains.

After Theatre 138, Ariel Ballif went on to design productions for Pioneer Theatre Company, Ballet West, Utah Opera and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.

Ballif was raised in Utah and is a graduate of Brigham Young University, with a master's of fine arts degree from Yale University. From 1955 to 1962 he was designer, co-producer and director of little theaters in Richmond, VA. He taught design in 1967-72 at the Yale School of Drama and worked in the Yale Resident Theater. He designed for stock companies nationally and for Broadway shows and early color television productions.

In 1994, Ballif was named the recipient of the Madeleine Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts and Humanities, presented each year in connection with the Madeleine Festival.

Ballif, then on the theater faculty at the University of Utah, was to be presented with the award April 24 at a special dinner at the New Yorker Club. Sadly, he died 4 days earlier in his home of a heart attack. The award ceremony went on as scheduled and the award was given posthumously. He was 68.

For two decades, the three men -- Ariel Ballif, Stu Falconer and Tom Carlin -- teamed up to produce such shows as LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, SWEENEY TODD and one of the first regional productions of ON GOLDEN POND. The theater brought several firsts to Salt Lake audiences. It produced new plays by Utah authors. It offered works by Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee that the universities would not touch. It ventured into such daring territory as Peter Shaffer’s EQUUS, a play with nudity, STICKS AND BONES, a play with profanity, BOYS IN THE BAND, a play about homosexuality (which played to sellout crowds) and CHICAGO, a bawdy musical. The intimate theater also staged CARNIVAL with an interracial cast. No one complained.

The three thespians, whose paths first crossed in Tampa, Florida, in the mid-1940s, became known as the three musketeers of local theater because of Theater 138.

Synopsized from articles by Jerry Johnston and Ivan M. Lincoln for Deseret News and Nancy Melich for The Salt Lake Tribune

Back to The Lobby Back to the Program Guide
To Lobby To Playlist