Provo theater draws talent from BYU athletics department

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BYU men’s cross country coach Ed Eyestone performs in The Hive Collaborative’s production of Liken’s “The First Christmas.” (Lauren Lethbridge)

A new Provo theater is drawing talent from unexpected places for its Christmas production, like the BYU athletic department. BYU’s track and cross country coach and two-time Olympian Ed Eyestone has a lead role in The Hive Collaborative theater’s production of Liken’s “The First Christmas.”

“The First Christmas” follows a family celebrating Christmas by reenacting various stories of Mary and Joseph, Zacharias and Elisabeth, and the wise men and shepherds who visited baby Jesus.

In the play, the family’s grandfather, Frank, played by Eyestone, discovers it is his last night on Earth, so he negotiates with an angel to give him more time to participate in the festivities, according to Dennis Agle, the play’s co-producer and writer.

Brothers Dennis and Ken Agle opened The Hive Collaborative theater in September 2018. The theater seats about 80 people and is located in an old warehouse south of the Provo City Center Temple. The brothers intended the theater to be a “cozy and comfortable environment for bringing up new works,” Dennis said.

According to Dennis, he and his brother wanted to create a place where plays could be nurtured. They wanted to perform a few of their own pieces, but also provide a starting ground for plays written by playwrights around the country, Dennis said.

The Hive theater’s “The First Christmas” was originally part of a series of movies the Agle brothers produced called “Liken the Scriptures.” “The First Christmas” ran for three consecutive years at the Orem SCERA theater before the brothers decided to adapt it for The Hive’s small theater and cast, according to Dennis.

Eyestone previously worked with Dennis, performing in “The First Christmas” for two of the three years SCERA ran it. Eyestone said Dennis contacted him and asked if he would be interested in accepting the role of Frank for The Hive’s production.

Despite being busy with his duties as a Latter-day Saint bishop and the head coach of BYU’s men’s cross country team, which recently finished second in the 2018 NCAA National Championships, Eyestone put aside time to be in the play.

“(Performing) is daunting, but I think people in the theater have done it for ages and you just have faith that it’s going to work,” Eyestone said.

Eyestone has a background in theater. He first performed in junior high, but ended up focusing on running in high school instead. He did not return to the theater until later in life when his daughters began performing at local community theaters like the SCERA.

After performing in “Annie Get Your Gun” at the SCERA with his daughter Claire, Eyestone continued to perform, playing General Waverly in BYU’s production of “White Christmas” in 2011.

Patrick Newman, who is directing and performing in “The First Christmas,” performed with Eyestone when the SCERA theater ran “Annie Get Your Gun.” He said part of what makes the production strong is that a large portion of the cast are already familiar with the play and each other.

Newman said Eyestone is often seen at rehearsals in the corner running through his lines, which Eyestone described as being “old-school.”

“(Eyestone) takes everything he does extremely seriously, and he gives himself completely to it,” Newman said.

Eyestone said both athletics and theater take time, but are actually similar in many ways.

“You prepare the best you can and you put in the time and effort and work together as a team. You usually have a coach or a director who gives you direction which you follow. There are so many of the same core concepts that make us a successful cross country or track team and that also makes a successful production,” Eyestone said.

Liken’s “The First Christmas” will run at The Hive theater Nov. 20 to Dec. 22 at 7 p.m.

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