History of The UTEP Dinner Theatre
It all started in 1983 when I was an undergraduate Theatre Arts student here at The University of Texas in El Paso looking for an opportunity to direct a musical. Jimmy Legarreta and I were attending the (then) annual Student Affairs Thanksgiving luncheon in the Tomas Rivera Conference Center on the 3d floor of the East Union. I mentioned that the room would be suitable for staging a musical in a dinner theatre setting. Jimmy suggested we approach Dean of Students Joe Avila about finding funds and he steered us to Sonny Castro who was the Director of the Union. He put us together with the Special Programs and Activities Committee of the Student Programs Office. We were given $1,000.00 and used it to stage our first production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT which was presented as a dinner theatre with food prepared by the Union Food Services. The production took place not in the Conference Center but in the old Union Ballroom, which in 1983 was very rarely used. Having stumbled on it when I went to pick up my financial aid check, I knew it was the best space for this new venture. We opened JOSEPH... on March 10, 1983 and ran for three sold-out performances. It was truly a testament to the old cliché "Let's do a show, I've got a barn and my mom can do costumes!" because we did do the show in what was then basically a big barn and my mother did make the "dreamcoat" for the show. The production was such a success that we approached the Student Programs Office for additional funds and presented JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR the following summer, once again to sold-out houses.
After the success of the first two shows, Sonny Castro offered me a 15 hour a week workstudy position to keep the dinner theatre concept going. I immediately picked a four-show season and named us The Union Dinner Theatre (changed to The UTEP Dinner Theatre in 1998). We have continued with full seasons ever since.
From the start The UTEP Dinner Theatre has enjoyed a special relationship with Tim Rice, the lyricist of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, EVITA, CHESS, BLONDEL, TYCOON and THE LION KING. The UTEP Dinner Theatre presented the American Premiere of BLONDEL in 1985, the Amateur Premiere of CHESS in 1989 and the American Premiere of TYCOON in 1994. All of the Tim Rice shows we have staged have been so successful that they have all been reprised two or three times since. Our production of CHESS was a National winner of the American College Theatre Festival in 1989 and was performed at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington DC.
After 3 decades and over 150 productions The UTEP Dinner Theatre is now a part of the UTEP Department of Theatre, Dance.
Gregory L. Taylor
History of the Union Ballroom
The original Student Union Building at UTEP was built in 1948 and encompassed the Union Ballroom plus the offices surrounding the lobby and the first floor below. During the next twenty years the Ballroom was the social center of campus. Just about all school dances, food functions and programming were held here. In 1959, the rest of the West Wing of the Union was built and the Ballroom received a facelift. The Ballroom continued to be used for dances and events. In 1969, the East Wing of the Union was built adding several new meeting rooms. The ballroom was once again re-modeled but it was used less and less because of the new more attractive rooms on the east side.
Throughout the 70's, the ballroom was used for madrigal dinners, dances, late registration and as the Financial Aid check distribution center. In 1981, an addition was made to the East Wing of the Union which included the new conference center. With the addition of this new modern room, the use of the Ballroom dramatically dropped off and eventually its main use was to distribute Financial Aid checks, which is what brought Greg Taylor to the room in 1983. For the first four years of Dinner Theatre productions, the room was used pretty much as it was, adding tables, chairs and a portable stage for each production.
In the spring of 1987, the Ballroom was completely remodeled with the addition of the tiered seating, a semi-permanent stage and fixtures for theatrical lighting (removed from the old TV Studio in Cotton Memorial). Today, as the permanent home of The UTEP Dinner Theatre, changes and improvements continue to be made to the Union Ballroom.