In April 2021, Salt Lake Acting Company, Utah’s leading destination for brave, contemporary theatre, announced an ambitious new project called “The Amberlee Fund: Accessibility Elevated.” The $1 million capital campaign is named after SLAC’s late patron, Amberlee Hatton-Ward.
Amberlee, who used a wheelchair and an alternative means of communication, was a frequent attendee of SLAC’s annual children’s productions prior to her passing in 2019. Because the theatre company’s 130-year old building (a former LDS ward house) did not feature an elevator, Amberlee’s mother, Shauna, would bring several people with her to carry Amberlee into SLAC’s Upstairs Theatre each year. When Amberlee passed away, SLAC began conversations with Shauna to determine a means for the theatre company to properly memorialize Amberlee by eliminating the barriers present in its building, allowing Amberlee’s “Little Buddies'' to attend performances.
“Amberlee has brought so much love to so many and will always remain a steadfast reminder of what is truly important in this life,” said Shauna Rasmussen Hatton-Ward. “Our love and gratitude will always shine upon SLAC for embracing all individuals with various hardships and difficulties and for providing a temporary shelter of love and joy during every performance.”
Through The Amberlee Fund, Salt Lake Acting Company has engaged fellow local nonprofit ASSIST Inc Community Design Center. The design firm analyzed SLAC’s physical space through an empathic lens to reconfigure the space in a manner that accommodated a 21st century elevator in a 19th century building. When the theatre re-opens later this summer, patrons will find a drastically-remodeled lobby and box office area. An all-new accessible restroom will be located on the lobby level, with newly-configured restrooms on the lower level of the theatre. The theatre’s dressing room facilities, a former LDS Relief Society building (built in 1908) and located on the property, will also receive a major renovation.
“Salt Lake Acting Company recently turned 50 years old; and while our entire history hasn’t been in this 130-year old building, this space has certainly become ingrained in the DNA of SLAC,” said Executive Artistic Director Cynthia Fleming. “For far too long, patrons in need of physical assistance have graciously accepted our historic building’s shortcomings. However, as SLAC forges ahead to make our company as inclusive as possible, we would be remiss to not address the physical limitations of our current setup once and for all. We invite SLAC's community to join us in honoring the legacies of Amberlee Hatton-Ward, as well as Linda and Don Price, by making our dreams of fully meeting the needs of some of our most treasured patrons—and hopefully some new faces—a reality at last.”
To unify and modernize the building’s common areas, SLAC turned to premiere real estate and interior design firm, cityhomeCOLLECTIVE. Lauren Bald, cityhomeCOLLECTIVE’s Design Director, explains their design concept. “SLAC is a bold organization, with a vibrant and thought-provoking repertoire and a pretty open-minded audience. They’re our kind of people.” cityhome Senior Designer Brea Valenzuela gave some hints of what will be revealed upon re-opening. “Expect lots of color, unexpected moments of surprise, and plenty of opportunities to interact in the public areas,” including an emphasis on design and materials that will fulfill SLAC’s campaign to make their art more accessible.
While SLAC announced an earlier iteration of an accessibility fund last May, the theatre describes that as a soft-launch period. Those funds will still be allocated to the The Amberlee Fund, however as part of the capital campaign, the funds will now be matched up to $500k through the generous support of the Linda and Don Price Legacy Fund. “When we were forced to cancel our spring and summer 2020 productions, we offered all ticket holders the option for a full refund, a gift certificate, or the opportunity to donate to our future accessibility plans,” said Fleming. “We were so touched by the outpouring of support for the initiative and we’re thrilled to roll those donated funds into this capital campaign, which is essentially meeting the same, equitable goal—but now with twice the impact thanks to the Linda and Don Price Legacy Fund.”
On top of the $500k match and patron ticket donations, members of the SLAC team, as well as the campaign’s committee members, have been in a period of individual outreach—offering naming rights to various areas of the theatre. As of May 6th, nearly $800k of the intended $1M goal has been raised. Lead donors include Adam Ruth, Anonymous, Dale Smith, Stephanie Steele, as well as the previously-mentioned Linda & Don Price Legacy Fund.
Construction is currently underway for a summer 2021 completion date, as the theatre company prepares to open the world premiere of its production, #SLACabaret. In the meantime, SLAC presents its virtual production of Audrey Cefaly’s ALABASTER on SLAC Digital from May 10-30th.
Those who would like to contribute to The Amberlee Fund can do so by visiting SaltLakeActingCompany.org/Donate or by calling 801-363-7522.