Neighbors of Park City

A new era of entertainment in Heber Valley

Heber's historic Ideal Playhouse undergoes transformation under Anderson family’s vision

By Ashley Brown, Neighbors of Heber Valley

“It does seem like all roads have led to this,” Steve says, gesturing to Heber’s historic Ideal Playhouse

It’s quite a claim, considering the many streets, intersections, and trails that have unfurled in Steve and Karyn Anderson’s lives to culminate in this next venture. For Steve, Ideal Playhouse is a childhood dream come to mountain-life. “I used to rent real-to-reel movies from the library and show them on my dad’s film projector. I would charge the neighbor kids a quarter to come over and watch the movies in my basement,” he remembers.  “I’ve always been the guy that understood artists… I was the guy that could get my dad to sell the family pool table and then give us the basement, so my band had a place to rehearse. I could get us the gig and make a safe place for artists to come and play.” 

After working in Hollywood for studios like Disney and Nickelodeon, Steve and Karyn founded Popcorn Media, a creative content company with a mission to produce shows that inspire, educate, and motivate young people. Together, while raising seven children, they traveled the country and even Europe, crafting inspirational assemblies for school-age children. They also launched Movie Star Camp, a summer camp designed to teach children values through entertainment where the culmination of a week’s effort includes walking the red carpet and a debut of the campers’ films on the big screen.

Popcorn Media fills a dozen entertainment niches in the film and music industry. From crafting inspirational assemblies for elementary and junior high students to fun and educational videos for kids to a whole library of musical offerings. Popcorn Records represents half a dozen bands like ‘50s and ‘60s rockabilly group The Rad Daddy-O’s, the jazz-inspired ensemble Cool Runnings, and a pop rock dance band Poppa Rocks!. Plus, music endeavors combine Steve and Karyn’s skills, including Imagine That!, which specializes in interactive songs, and Utah’s Dickens Carolers. 

However, digital media and music couldn’t hold all of the Andersons’ aspirations. So, they launched another entrepreneurial pursuit. “Small World Studios does themeing for museums, theme parks, and events. Primarily, we focus on audio-visual aspects,” Steve describes. “We have a small studio here in Heber where we create video projections, music, props, and set pieces for theme park rides.” Now, Steve and Karyn are drawing on their 25 years of entertainment expertise to create an immersive playhouse experience. “We moved [to Heber Valley], and the first thing I did was drop off my business card at the Avon Theater,” says Steve. “It’s always been a dream of ours to own a theater as a family. The important part to me is that we’re taking all these experiences, from music to theme parks to television, and we’re focusing here locally.” In fact, the Andersons are already using the Small World Studio in Heber to build props and sets and to rehearse the Ideal’s opening show, the hit Broadway musical, The Wedding Singer.

Steve and Karyn feel a personal responsibility for preserving the character of Heber’s Historic Main Street. “There’s very little historical Main Street left in Heber,” Karyn says. “It grew so fast. I feel like people weren’t totally prepared to try and preserve the history. These theaters are such a strong part of the history of this community. It was killing us to think that somebody was going to buy them and tear them down.”

The call to celebrate Heber’s history plays a central role in the Ideal Playhouse remodel. “We’re renovating Ideal Playhouse and restoring it to the original 1918 kind of vibe,” Steve describes.

“Nobody knows exactly when it opened. The earliest information I found was from 1915. There was an ad in the Wasatch Wave for a movie,” Karyn explains, whose research on the theater brought her to the earliest known image from 1918. “So, we’re doing art deco mountain-rustic, and it’ll be interesting because it’s not really a thing,” Karyn says with a laugh. Steve chimes in, half-joking, “It’s like there were some early Heber homesteaders who wanted to create an art deco theater, like they saw in Europe, but all they had was canvas and barn wood.” 

The only thing more important to Steve and Karyn than preserving and celebrating historic Heber is creating a place that brings people together. “We’re very excited about providing spaces for the community to come together, to help bond the community. As we’ve been planning this out, we’ve considered different groups like the teenagers, parents with young children, families, date night, and retirees,” Karyn describes. 

Steve and Karyn currently have over 30 pages of entertainment concepts for the Ideal Playhouse. While rotating ideas include daddy-daughter date nights, themed concerts, pajama nights, and monster movie marathons, they have decided on three modes that will create the heart of entertainment at the Ideal Playhouse. “Our flagship three are musical theater, music groups, and retro cinema,” Steve says. 

Steve and Karyn Anderson. Photo: Take a Hike Photography // Lexie Larson

The Ideal Playhouse grand re-opening is scheduled for the weekend of May 9-11, with a music concert, magic show, and free retro movie day. Other big plans for 2024 include touring tribute bands such as The Abbey Road Beatles, a kid’s clubhouse, and cultural celebrations. And, while renovating a theater might seem overwhelming to some, the stewardship of historic Main Street doesn’t stop there. The Andersons’ next project includes renovating and reopening the Avon Theater. “Once we get this place rockin’, our next plan is to revamp the Avon Theater and play up the 1940s/50s drive-in movie feel,” Steve says. 

Steve and Karyn are serious about bringing good old-fashioned fun to Heber. “We are hoping people will come back downtown to experience entertainment on Main Street,” Steve explains, continuing to describe his vision for The Ideal Playhouse and the Avon Movie Theater as bookends to Heber City’s historic district. “I think Heber Valley residents need more places to go and play, see friends, laugh a little, feel inspired. It gives us hope. Hope and happiness.”

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