Jeff and Juliana Blake were married in January, not envisioning that their immediate post-honeymoon life would include a battered, graffiti-covered building, endless buckets of paint, and designing drowning-like sounds.
Back before their nuptials, Jeff Blake and his roommate, Christopher Davis, had a dream to produce their own independent shows. Their dream, however, was put on pause when a fitting theater could not be found.
“We decided on this cool play, ‘The Woman in Black,’ and we thought it would be great,” said Blake, a San Jose, Calif., native. “The venue we thought we would use didn’t turn out to work. So we thought, shoot — we need a place to do this.”
After searching for the perfect location, considering abandoned houses and pursuing casting and rehearsals, Blake and his team stumbled upon gold. Ravaged, graffiti-covered, holes-in-the-wall gold.
Blake made a deal with the landlord of the building: in exchange for free rent of the University Avenue space, he would fix it up.
“I looked closer and thought we could turn this thing around,” he said. “How hard can it be? Build some stands, bring some chairs in.”
As it turned out, transforming the abandoned building into a full-fledged theater was much more challenge than originally anticipated. So much that the theater project became a family affair.
“I just got married about two weeks before the theater opened,” Blake said. “But the opportunity arose, and we decided to take it.”
Blake and his new bride, Juliana, recruited family and friends to help restore the theater on time for the March 9 debut. With her younger brother heading up construction, Juliana took on any task to ensure the show’s success.
“I’ve been doing marketing, painting, anything,” she said. “I’ve been doing sound design. We have a kind of intense scene with a little boy drowning, so I’ve been putting together that sound.”
Jeff and Juliana Blake have spent countless nights up until 4 a.m., working on the theater. Having been married less than two months, one would assume such a time-consuming project to be trying on their new relationship — but sharing and supporting Blake’s vision has been the couple’s priority.
“It’s been easy for me to see his vision,” Juliana said. “We’re on the same page. Neither of us expected the timing to be what it is, but we’ve been talking about getting a space for months and months. We talked about getting an old-school style theater. We talked about even the colors of the walls and we instantly knew what color we wanted it to be.”
Christopher Davis, Blake’s former roommate and co-director of “The Woman in Black,” has become much more than a co-director.
Helping out with sawing, nailing, sweeping and painting, Davis has played an active part in the theater’s transformation as well as the honing of the actual production.
“When we started rehearsals, we didn’t know what kind of stage we would have,” he said. “Once we got the Echo Theater, we were able to solidify things. We didn’t think we would have much, but with the new space, it became possible to do so much more, particularly with lighting.”
“The Woman in Black” is a chilling tale about a haunted house and its spooky, ghostly inhabitant. By putting their own unique spin on the infamous London play, Blake and Davis have transformed it into an interactive experience for the audience.
“We like to keep the audience on the edge of their seats and keep them guessing and what will scare them next,” Davis said.
“The Woman in Black” at the Echo Theater will run through March 19. Ticket pricing and information can be found at Womaninblackutah.com and Echotheatre.wordpress.com.