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Arts group wants to unlock potential of Rio Theatre, City delivers the keys

Jinni Fontana-Lund (left) and Marilou Kundmueller at the Rio.

Sun Advocate Reporter

Jinni Fontana-Lund of the Helper Arts Council has keys to the city's Rio Theatre doors, courtesy of the town's government. The keys are as much symbolic as they are practical. Helper City wants the arts group to unlock the potential of the building to become a regional center for the performing arts.

"Now is the time for this. It has been overdue," said city councilman Kirk Mascaro, explaining the reason for the city's recent agreement with the arts council to promote and expand the Rio Theatre's offerings of drama, dance and music. The 240 seats should be filled to capacity more often, he added.

There's more work left to be done on the reconstructed Rio Hotel, but the building already has much to offer. Fontana-Lund and her colleague, Marilou Kundmueller, said that when the Utah Symphony performed there orchestra members claimed the acoustics were as good as at Abravanel Hall. The heating and air conditioning work, and there is even a full size movie silver screen that can be raised or lowered.

What's holding things up is that not many people outside of town know that the Rio is there.

Kundmueller said that's the challenge facing the artists. "The arts council wants to give the city a boost. We want to help to bring in quality entertainment and make Helper a destination point," she explained. The two women expect that the Otherside Players, a professional acting group, will be a strong link in the chain of events that will have to occur before the theatre reaches its goals.

"With county-wide effort and community involvement, we can create a performing arts center in Carbon county as unique, courageous and as talented as our population," reads an Otherside poster.

Kundmueller stressed that "county-wide" means what it says. Just as the town is too small to support an undertaking this big, the council needs community members from outside Helper to sit on the new board, give advice and contribute some time and effort to raising funds.

These items are capital additions that will require donated funds or grants. As for continuing maintenance, the City-Arts Council agreement specifies that the City will handle those routine chores. "It's something we have to do anyway," explained Mascaro, so increasing crowds won't pose any major problems. Besides, the agreement stipulates that Helper will get a share of the net proceeds of performances.

Those performances, by the way, don't have to be limited to professional actors or musicians. The Rio is more than ready to host community performances, according to Fontana-Lund and Kundmueller. They want people interested in using the facility or volunteering to help develop the building to call (801) 651-7122 or (435) 650-2808, or use the e-mail address, to get details.

Meanwhile, the artists will also be concentrating on outreach efforts of their own for the theatre. They will first concentrate on developing a website and links to other related sites to promote Rio events.

Oh - and if anyone knows of any Broadway or Hollywood stars who would like to be identified with the effort, please let the Helper Arts Council know, the women said.

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