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Campus mainstay is transformed into an intimate theater

For 85 years, the Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse has been a relatively utilitarian facility and athletics space on the University of Utah’s campus.

Built in 1939, three decades of basketball games, followed by generations of students, faculty and staff running on the raised track and playing tennis and lifting weights on the ground floor seemed to mark the place for fitness and recreation.

But a dream from Pioneer Theatre Company’s artistic director and dedicated donors, have changed all that—elevating the modest brick building just north of Rice-Eccles Stadium into an intimate theater space.

Five years later—through a global pandemic, multiple delays and supply chain issues—the new Meldrum Theatre, named for donors Pete and Cathie Meldrum, opened on March 29. Its first production, the Tony Award-winning “The Lehman Trilogy,” runs through April 13.

Meldrum Theatre opening night March 29, 2024. PTC Interim Managing Director Diane Parisi cuts the ribbon.
Credit: BW Productions

“The persistence and determination shown by everyone who worked on the project ultimately brought us to this point,” said Karen Azenberg, PTC artistic director. “The physical space between actor and audience is breathtakingly close, which is going to create groundbreaking theater moments for not only Pioneer Theater Company and the U’s Theater Department but for the university and Salt Lake City-at-large.”

The Meldrum Foundation donated $4.5 million to create a smaller theater on campus five years ago, pushing campus planners and PTC managers to identify a location for the project. With student fitness and recreation moved to the Eccles Student Life Center in 2015, and facilities uses streamlined, the historic fieldhouse became an option.

Ground was broken in 2019. After five years of construction, the theater seats 387 ticket holders, with three sides of seats arrayed just inches from a “thrust” stage. A catwalk above provides lighting and audio. The space also includes new dressing rooms, a scene shop space, multipurpose area called the “Future Space.”

Crews were careful to keep many of the building’s original features, including replicating bricks, windows and lights, and restoring the exposed wood of the roof.

Meldrum Theatre opening night.
Credit: BW Productions

“Our new theatre will not only provide a one-of-a-kind experience to audiences, but it will be a valuable tool for our students as they learn and refine their craft,” President Taylor Randall, said at the grand opening. “I often talk about the rare moment in time we are in on campus where our growth presents us with the opportunity to make a once-in-a-generation transformational change to our physical campus.”

“The transformation of the Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse to the Meldrum Theatre is a fantastic example of historical preservation and repurposing to meet contemporary needs,” Randall added. “While the building’s purpose has transformed since 1939 from basketball arena to student recreation center to now a performance space—one thing hasn’t changed: It is a place where we can feel connected to the university experience—whether through sports, activity or artistic performance.”

PTC will share the space with the U’s Department of Theatre in the College of Fine Arts, which will stage its first production next fall. Two of PTC’s seven annual productions will be scheduled in the more intimate Meldrum—”Souvenir” (Dec. 6-21) and “A Case for the Existence of God” (March 28-April 12, 2025).