Higher gas prices good news for Utah's art industry

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The idea of sticking closer to home because of rising gas prices and an increase in air fares is good news for some. Ticket sales are up, and theaters are at or near capacity at performances for Utah's summer arts organizations.

The box office at the Utah Shakespearean Festival is busy. Tickets sales are up 5 percent. Visitors are saying they're staying in Utah this summer.

The close-to-home escape is welcome news to the festival's executive director, Scott Phillips. He made a recent appeal to residents in the Las Vegas area, saying, "They all go to southern California, and we say, 'It's closer, it's cooler and it's a lot more colorful.' So, I would hope that's what people in this state would do as well, make their memories right here in Utah."

Phillips says there will always be new innovations that he wants to try, but, basically, it's still about putting people in the seats.

Audiences are also filling the amphitheater at Tuacahn this summer, too. With Les Miserables, The Sound of Music, Big River and Disney's High School Musical on stage, artistic director Scott Anderson says ticket sales are up dramatically from in-state patrons and many in the Las Vegas and Phoenix areas.

The Utah Festival Opera in Logan, which opens next week, has seen an increase in advance ticket sales. Its productions, Manon Lescaut, Into the Woods, Aida and 1776, are bringing more people from Salt Lake, southern Utah and surrounding western states.

And all-time record ticket sales in June are keeping box office employees busy at the Hale Centre Theatre too. They're up 15 percent for Curious Savage and Big, the musical. Artistic director Sally Dietlein sees theater as a welcome escape. She said, "I suppose some of the things going on are helping people feel a little pressured, and it's nice for them to get out and be entertained."

A spokeswoman for the Utah Symphony's Deer Valley Concert series says the orchestra is anticipating a successful season this year. That season starts later this month.

So the silver lining to this economy may just be in home-grown entertainment.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

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