Hale Centre Theatre reborn proudly The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Hale Centre Theatre reborn proudly

Hale Centre Theatre reborn proudly

By Srianthi Perera
Get Out Contributor

Those glory days of 1930s Hollywood may have disappeared from California, but a glimpse of them has resurfaced in Gilbert.

The renovated Hale Centre Theatre in downtown Gilbert wears its new look proudly.

The big beige building of last year has given way to Hollywood Regency style with art deco trims and colors.

A huge marquee features video and moving graphics advertising the shows; it leads patrons inside the tall glass doors.

Just don’t expect Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn to be around.

“We want the experience to happen when you walk up,” said Dave Dietlein, Hale owner, who spent years perfecting his musical and drama productions and recently focused on improving the Heritage Square destination.

“We see theater as not just the show. It’s the experience. Because we are a free-standing building, it’s very stylized. It feels like something special to walk into,” he said.

Renovation architect Artie A. Vigil III of Phoenix-based AV3 Design Studio said that the project’s vision was that of Dietlein’s.

“Dave’s vision for the theater is to bring Broadway production to Gilbert. With that comes the energy and excitement for families young, old and everyone in between to get an experience that feels authentic, charming and invigorating,” Vigil said. 

“The marquee, front courtyard and lobby all are designed as a sequence of experiences that lead up to the show,” Virgil added.    

What does it look like inside?

The concession stand has been removed to expand the lobby. Emerald green couches provide seating. The carpet of black, white and gray in a fan design makes a bold statement. The box office is clearly visible.

The remodeled restrooms feature the black and while hexagonal floor tile popular in the 1920s. Lights, moldings and other decorative elements complete the stylization.

Dietlein created the 350-seat theater-in-the-round in 2003.

The thousands of returning patrons who frequent its musicals and dramas appreciate its intimate feel. Hence, it wasn’t in the plan to increase seating inside the theater.

But the lighting and sound system received an overhaul to state-of-the-art equipment that will enhance the quality of the productions, the owner said.

Brian and Julissa Ricks have been attending Hale’s shows since 2015 and they didn’t stop for the construction.

“Even though we already liked it the way it was, the new renovations just made it more fabulous,” Julissa said, adding:

“The vibe the old building gave was one of a small-town theater, which we loved. The new renovations make it even more of a Broadway theater, but still in a small-town feel.”

The Gilbert couple also appreciates the main stage.

“We love that they have kept the main stage the same. The stage is what gives it a very unique quality of presentations and intimacy we love,” Julissa added.

While the exterior, lobby and theatre got these enhancements, the real winner is backstage.

Hale received a 10,000-feet extension, a nearly doubling in size, that made it possible to add its own in-house wardrobe and costume department, a 3,200-square-feet dance studio, a 3,000-square-feet prop shop, green room, conference room, storage and service yard with a covered loading dock.

The renovation was a large and costly undertaking.

“Any time you do a big change, it’s natural to have doubts about your decisions,” Dietlein said. “Now that it’s complete, I wouldn’t go back. I’m glad I did it because how it functions is so much better now.”

Earlier, Hale’s props were built, and scenes and costumes were stored offsite and the employers were scattered.

“Now it’s very collaborative. We can communicate by the hour as one team working toward one goal. It was much more difficult before,” Dietlein said.

The construction was difficult as well because the theater couldn’t just shut down. The shows went on amidst the work. When the building’s outsides was torn down, it looked like “a combat zone.”

Contractors, whether painting or carpeting, had to clean the mess and neaten up at the end of day because people were coming to a show.

In the height of summer, the women’s restrooms were torn up, and they were compelled to use portable toilets outside.

Dietlein had his share of stress, as well, leading to “lost hair, little sleep and aging.”

“I’m obviously relieved to have it done,” he said. “I was having to produce all the shows, and work on the construction with the contractors. It was a lot of work.”

While the main theater area sports the Hollywood Regency aesthetic, the costume shop, dance studio and other areas don’t comply.

“Traditionally, western American cities prior to World War II were architecturally diverse,” Vigil said. “Bisbee, Flagstaff, Prescott, Old Tucson are all great examples of this tradition of fine-grain urbanism.

“Building scales were generally smaller and many buildings were built at various times on a city block. This combination of diversity in architecture and scale creates a very dynamic and charming street-scape,” he added.   

On this project, each function has been designed as its own building.

The theater was intended to stand out on the streetscape, and its design was inspired by 1920’s and 1930’s Western Americana art deco buildings. 

The dance studio, office loft building and production building are stand-alones.   

The theater’s new look is having an “off the charts” reaction from people, Dietlein said.

Passers-by are curious enough to stop, open the door and ask questions. If it rains or it’s too warm for comfort, people come under the marquee. The new courtyard offers outside seating as well.

“Every town or city needs a legitimate theater in there. We are in the center part and by improving the area and improving the theater, it only betters the experience when they come down here,” Dietlein said.

Besides, his main focus with the makeover was to create a special experience for theatergoers. It couldn’t be done if the theater was in a strip mall or if it was huge.

“This is a timeless idea,” he said. “We stand out differently.” 

To see a show at Hale Centre Theatre, visit haletheatrearizona.com

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