Herberger welcomes three new companies, Stanton announces

Billie Jo and Judd Herberger, Mayor Stanton, and Mark Mettes applaud the unveiling of the new Herberger Theater Center Banners as confetti falls. (John Spevacek/DD)

On Monday morning the Herberger Theater Center officially welcomed Arizona Opera, Childsplay Theatre and Arizona Broadway Theatre as its three new resident companies. The companies will join the Arizona Theatre Company, the Center Dance Ensemble and iTheatre Collaborative over the course of the 2018-2019 theater season and into the foreseeable future.

The major themes emphasized at the press conference were energy, vibrancy and having more of everything.

“A vibrant arts scene will inspire and foster even more arts and more audiences, and more arts and more audiences means more business for restaurants, shops, and more,” said Mark Mettes, the Herberger’s president and CEO.

Billie Jo and Judd Herberger were present as representatives of the Herberger family and were dressed to match the excitement of the occasion.

“The idea is to bring energy to this area. Well this area now has energy all around it, and to keep this theater filled every single day it’s amazing,” Billie Jo Herberger said.

Judd Herberger offered his theory on how his parents would react to the occasion.

“Oh, they’d love it!” he said.

Mayor Greg Stanton was also present to offer his support.

“Downtown is where arts and commerce meet, that’s what makes a great downtown, and now Herberger Theater has significantly increased the audience that’s going to be coming here on a nightly basis,” Stanton said. “It creates energy, excitement and it’s good for business.”

The addition of the new companies allows for a much wider array of performance types that will be happening at the Herberger. Arizona Opera will be performing acts at Symphony Hall as well as at the Herberger Theater, which will host the opera’s new RED series.

“The Herberger gives us the chance to present smaller, gutsier theatrical work that works so well in this type of space,” said Joseph Specter, Arizona Opera’s president and general director. “It gives us the chance to broaden the type of experience we can provide for operagoers in Arizona whether they’re folks that have been coming for generations or they’re trying it for the first time.”

Arizona Broadway Theatre is following a similar path with their involvement with the Herberger Center.

“From our perspective, Arizona Broadway Theatre was looking at expanding what our brand of musical theater was to a wider audience,” said Brad York, the company’s marketing director. “Likely the musicals we do bring, the three we have slated, will be expansions of what we’re doing over in our west campus but in the future, I think some possible big-name musicals.”

Childsplay Theatre is moving its entire theater program downtown following the end of the 2016-2017 season. Artistic Director Dwayne Hartford briefly reflected on the company’s future move from the Tempe Center for the Arts.

“It just worked out so it was best for Tempe, and best for us, to start a new chapter.”

Stanton enthusiastically listed the numbers for the upcoming season.

“A season with more than 800 performances, the highest number ever. That’s an estimated 36 percent increase in performances and events from last year,” Stanton said. “[We’re] expecting close to 200,000 attendees this season alone, our largest audience ever.”

Mettes was praised by both Stanton and the other heads of the theater companies for his ability to bring the six companies together at one venue. He expressed optimism about the coming year.

“It’s more about just seeing all of this come together next year. We’ve been talking with some of [these organizations] for over a year and trying to bring this all together,” Mettes said. “It was a different process with different reasons for each of the companies, but for [The Herberger Theatre Center], it’s all the same reason: bringing more arts and audiences downtown.”

Contact the reporter at jspevace@asu.edu.