The New Ideal.

Saving a Piece of Heber City’s History

A long time ago, during World War I or maybe even before, there was a dream to have a theater on Heber City’s Main Street. In 1918 the Ideal Theater opened its doors, and for several decades it served as Heber Valley’s center for community entertainment.

Fast forward over a hundred years, and the theater is still standing; situated between an auto parts store and an insurance agency. Unfortunately, the theater has sat mostly empty for several years and is largely forgotten – but not for long. Recently, some city residents have decided to breathe life back into the old beloved building; fulfilling a dream once again.

Steve Anderson has been creating experiences and entertainment for as long as he can remember. He used to run a makeshift movie theater out of his basement as a young boy. In high school, he would play music around his hometown of Chicago. After earning a degree in film, he started working in Hollywood on shows like Disney’s Holes and the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards as a writer, director, and producer. He also staged red carpet events, including the first ever live penguin premiere for the movie Ice Age. He created music videos, commercials, and network news stories for companies like Nintendo and McDonalds, with celebrities such as Kobe Bryant, Brittany Spears, N’SYNC, Matt Damon, and Steven Spielberg.

During this time, he met his future wife, Karyn. A special education teacher and a lawyer, she wanted to make a difference by working with the legislature to strengthen public education.

They both cared deeply about children and creating opportunities for them. Steve left his Hollywood career, and they started a company called Popcorn Media, with the goal of providing positive entertainment experiences for children.

One of the unique opportunities they created was Movie Star Camp, where they taught acting and gave kids the chance to see themselves on the big screen. Karyn worked on the curriculum, and Steve wrote scripts, filmed, and edited movies. Steve explained, “I wanted to give kids everywhere a chance to try acting in a movie and see themselves up on the big screen, just like their favorite movie stars.” The camp was a hit, and the Andersons started sharing the opportunity all over the country. Movie Star Camp was also offered internationally in Paris, France! “We would get our kids in the car and drive. We basically went on a 6-to-8-week road trip every summer,” said Karyn. As their seven kids grew older, however, it became less practical to go on long road trips, and they started handing off the reins to other people.

The couple worked together on an animation series for schools, teaching children about the history of law through 30 episodes, each examining a different legal case. During this time, Steve started another company called Small World Studios, where he focused on designing theme park and museum experiences. “We learned how to make animatronics, build themed set designs, and do projection mapping. It’s been a lot of fun,” Steve said. He recently finished a nighttime Halloween show, which included fire, lights, projection, and music. “Entertainment’s kind of always been my focus,” Steve mentioned, “but I’ve never had my own venue.” Now, with the Ideal Theater, he will.

The Anderson’s eventually decided to move their family to Heber City about 10 years ago, although Karyn, a Utah native, has been coming to the Heber Valley since the 1970’s. Her family would spend time here each summer, and she loved going to the theaters and getting ice cream with little plastic animals from Timp Freeze. She swam at Mountain Spa and spent time camping at Wasatch State Park. Steve has also been coming to his family’s cabin here for over 30 years. When they discussed where they wanted to settle permanently, the Heber Valley was on the top of their list. Years ago, they asked a lady at Swiss Days if she liked living here. Her reply? “It’s heaven . . . but don’t tell anybody.”

When the theaters were offered for sale recently, Steve and Karyn decided to make saving the old buildings their new priority. “We love these old theaters,” said Karyn, “and we want to do absolutely everything we can to protect them, and to protect the history of Main Street.” Although they will eventually start running the Avon and Corner Sweet Shop too, the previous owner agreed to let them take over the businesses gradually, starting with the Ideal. They decided to do some renovations on the Ideal, to bring it up to code and to reimagine what it would have looked like in 1918. “We know the style then was Art Deco, but we wanted to add a rustic mountain flair to it too. So, we’re combining the two completely different styles in our remodel,” explained Karyn. “Honestly, rustic mountain art deco is not really a thing,” she laughed, “so hopefully people will like it.”

They’ve expanded the stage and added lighting and sound to allow for more live events. “We have so many fun things planned for the community,” explained Steve, “from live theater to tribute bands to classic cinema to educational programs. We are going to offer a variety of entertainment experiences and see what people like.” Karyn excitedly jumps in, “We really want to create a space for the community to come together and share experiences. We are calling it the Ideal Playhouse because we wanted to keep the historic name but add a little more fun to it.” She adds, “We love the small-town feel, and we want this entertainment space to feel warm and friendly. It’s a family business, and we want our guests to feel like family too.”

The new Ideal Playhouse will be opening very soon. The grand re-opening is scheduled for May, and the website will launch any day. If Steve and Karyn Anderson have anything to say about it, the Ideal will once again become a center for community entertainment in the Heber Valley.

More information will be available on the website 

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