ST. GEORGE — Tuacahn Amphitheatre sits in the majesty of Padre Canyon, a formation created by nature eons ago. It is a place so magical it takes your breath away.
The vision that created Tuacahn Amphitheatre was born from a reverence for nature and a desire to preserve that natural magnificence and provide a unique experience for visitors.
Now, the Dixie State University Docutah International Documentary Film Festival joins with Tuacahn Center for the Arts to present a documentary that intertwines the history of the place with a behind-the-scenes look at how the incredible stage production of “Shrek the Musical” came together.
On Sept. 4, to kick off its eighth season – running Sept. 5-9 on the Dixie State campus – Docutah will host a gala dinner event at Tuacahn in advance of the evening’s world premiere of the documentary film “Tuacahn: Miracle in Padre Canyon.”
Phil Tuckett, producer and writer of the film, as well as festival director for Docutah, called the film “a tale of two productions.” He said:
One is the history of the canyon and the vision which created Tuacahn Amphitheatre as a venue for professional, world-class family entertainment: The other is the story of how a complicated Broadway show is developed and configured to utilize and adapt to the natural wonder of Padre Canyon.
From the first time Orval Hafen settled in the canyon, he wanted generations that would come after him to “share this beauty and drink of the inspiration” of the canyon with its towering red rocks.
“We wanted the audience to understand not only the rich history that created Tuacahn,” Tuckett said in a press statement, “but also how its complex productions come together from conception to execution. By going back in time to reveal the story of the creation of Tuacahn … we demonstrate what the founders first envisioned: that Padre Canyon could be more than just landscape; and then we bring the audience forward to the first audition for ‘Shrek: The Musical.’”
When Tuacahn Amphitheatre began performances in the spring of 1995, it attracted about 80,000 guests per year. Now, audiences number between 260,000-300,000 per year.
As a venue for plays and concerts, Tuacahn has some distinct advantages and challenges. The outdoor setting is beautiful and large, allowing for production values which could not be achieved on a smaller stage, including flying actors, rivers running through the set and water curtains on which to project.
However, because it is outdoors, Mother Nature sometimes intervenes. But cast and crew have become nimble in adjusting at a moment’s notice.
When it came to the documentary, Tuacahn CEO Kevin Smith gave credit for the idea to David Pugsley, a member of Tuacahn’s board for six years, and his wife, Nanette.
“It was their vision to see how a documentary about Tuacahn, produced by Docutah, was a perfect fit for two institutions dedicated to advancing the arts and education,” Smith said.
David Pugsley said they have seen some of the same plays performed both on Broadway in New York and in the Tuacahn Amphitheatre.
“The Tuacahn production took the story to a whole new level,” he said. “So when we were thinking about a documentary, we approached Tuacahn’s Creative Director, Scott Anderson.”
For Anderson, Tuacahn is more than an entertainment venue but also a place where lives are changed. He said:
As you can imagine, the actors and crews who come here are a very diverse group. They arrive with different lifestyles, political viewpoints, religions. Yet, the work and the events, bring everyone together; we bring in diverse groups of people, who live in and interact with our community. The glue is a love of theater – from the crew, the actors, the audience – and it all comes together to make our productions a success.
Pugsley said Anderson told them to speak with Phil Tuckett.
“Lucky for us, Phil immediately saw the value in the idea.”
Once the decision was made, any place an audition was held for “Shrek,” Tuckett and his director and director of photography, Ben Braden, were there – Los Angeles, New York, Salt Lake City, Tuacahn in Ivins – capturing the drama and documenting the evolution of the work. They worked closely with Anderson throughout the entire production.
“Ben (Braden) and I have worked together so many times that we read each other’s minds,” Tuckett said. “He can go out and pick up additional footage that exactly fits the artistic vision we are trying to achieve. We have been working for several years to put together films which chronicle the history and culture of the Southwest, which we call High Desert Chronicles, and the history of Tuacahn is a perfect complement for that series of documentaries.”
Smith said that at Tuacahn, they say, “Expect the unforgettable.”
“And this documentary will certainly live up to that,” he said, “bringing audiences into intimate contact with the artists and production crew as they develop and then present a remarkable show.”
Tickets for the premiere of “Tuacahn: Miracle in Padre Canyon” start at $20. From now until Wednesday, if guests use the code ECLIPSE25 they can get a 25 percent discount on $20 and $29 tickets. Discount does not apply to the gala dinner preceding the film.
More information about the dinner gala and screening on Sept. 4 can be found on the Docutah website. Tickets for the Gala and film can be reserved through the Tuacahn website. Tickets for the Docutah International Documentary Film Festival, which takes place on the campus of Dixie State University are on sale through the DSU box office.