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
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 1940S 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 Allens 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
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
"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
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
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. WARRENS 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 DAYS 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 Shaffers 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