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UTEP says Farewell to Forty Years of Dinner Theater

r“The Addams Family” took the stage at the UTEP Dinner Theater during the Fall of 2017. Photos by The Prospector Archive

For the past 40 years, the UTEP Dinner Theater (UTD) has entertained audiences of all ages, having their shows range from many cult classics like ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ to Tony-Award winning musicals like ‘The Prom’. However, the stability of the dinner theater continuing came to a screeching halt Sept. 29.  

According to El Paso Matters, the UTEP Dinner Theater will have its final curtain call this current 2023-24 season. Coming as a surprise to many, students, alumni and dinner theater patrons but mainly to the man who started it all, Greg Taylor, the former director for the UTEP Dinner Theater.  

Earlier this semester he announced he would be retiring after 40 years at UTEP, leaving the theater department and the dinner theater. Having retired Aug. 31, according to El Paso Inc., the announcement of the dinner theater closing its doors, arrived when the UTEP website for the dinner theater revealed it was in its ‘Farewell Season’. 

“In the many meetings I had with the dean, it was never intimated to me that their plan was to close the dinner theater,” Taylor said. “If they had told me…I would have stayed one more year and done the last show. I started it, I would’ve ended it.” 

Being one of the most successful fine arts programs in El Paso, according to their website, the removal of the dinner theater would leave a hole not only in the fine arts program on campus but in the city. Producing four shows a year, the dinner theater brings in student actors and actresses as well as community members to take part in the fun of putting on a full production. 

The word of the dinner theater closing its doors has made its way to many, including student leader, Micheal Guitterez who started the petition to stop the doors from closing.  

“I felt it was important for me, who is appreciative of the arts to defend (UDT),” Guiterrez said. “To start a petition and show the administration why it’s important and why we should continue this institution that has been around for 40 years.” 

However, it’s not just current students or alumni who are advocating for the dinner theater but patrons who have seen countless shows over the years and those who have taken part in the shows themselves.  

Posted to the @savetheutepdinnertheater Instagram page, performers of past production have voiced their experiences and love for the dinner theater in hopes that it can sway the misguided decision by UTEP. The page has been used as a way for those to support the dinner theater and its staff. 

“Thanks to the UDT, (Karen) was able to learn from many talented people who helped her grow her mind spirit confidence skills and her love for the arts.” said @savetheutepdinnertheater Instagram about Karen Maynez, the nine-year-old performer who played Matilda during the summer production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. 

The displeasure has been voiced not only on Instagram but in the comment section of the El Paso Matters Facebook page 

This is a sad day for UTEP and very telling of the institution it’s becoming. The UDT is a gem despite being neglected by UTEP’s current administration for many years.” said one Facebook User. 

It’s clear to many that if the dinner theater were to close, it would greatly impact the arts not just at UTEP but across the borderland. 

“This is terrible and so short minded by the University… this program was a shining star and a landmark for our community. Very few places as special as this exist in the country let alone El Paso. So disappointing to see such a decision…” said another Facebook user. 

With frustration and confusion, patrons, students and alumni are asking for answers from UTEP. However, when asked to comment UTEP declined.  In response to the backlash, UTEP released this statement from the Dean of Liberal Arts, Anadeli Bencomo, Ph.D.: 

Friends of UTEP Dinner Theatre: 

Because you care about the future of UT El Paso’s musical productions, we wanted to take a moment to drop you a note to clarify the status of musical theater at UTEP. 

Musical theater at UTEP is not going away. The same professional-grade musicals, produced for decades by UTEP Dinner Theatre, will continue at UTEP for seasons to come.   

With a natural transition in leadership at the Dinner Theatre this semester, we believe now is the time to plan for the future of musical productions at UTEP. How can our efforts to create culturally-rich performances better advance UTEP’s educational and service missions? Over the next few months, the Dinner Theatre and the College of Liberal Arts, which oversees the Dinner Theatre, will be working to create a larger vision for musical productions at UTEP. 

Questions we are examining include: 

  • How can we make sure UTEP’s theater arts students fully benefit from working with the professionals in the Dinner Theatre on these productions? How do we better integrate the productions into our theater curriculum?
  • How can we increase affordable access to the performing arts for both our students and the El Paso community at large?
  • What is the optimal internal structure at UTEP to provide sustainable support for musical theater moving forward?

After we work through these and other questions, we will announce plans for the future of musical theater at UTEP. We will keep offering musical shows that will serve the goals of educating and preparing our students for future jobs in theater as well as providing entertainment of high quality to our audiences. Although we haven’t set a hard deadline, we expect this planning will take several months to complete. 

Musical theater lives at UTEP. Once we have finished our planning, we’ll drop you a note to let you know all the details of the next generation of UTEP musical theater. 

Thank you for your continued support of the arts and of UTEP” 

As of right now, the UDT will continue for the entirety of the year and end its farewell season in the Spring of 2024. It’s clear the dinner theater is important to students, alumni, faculty, staff and patrons but will continue to be a staple in the community or will fall under the umbrella of the theater department. Everyone is welcome to attend one of the final productions this year which is ‘Damn Yankees.’ Tickets are available to purchase at the Box office or online through Ticketmaster. 

Itzel Anahi Giron is the editor-in-chief and may be reached at [email protected] ; @ by.itzel .giron on Instagram; @itzel_anahi_16 on X. 

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About the Contributor
Itzel Giron, Editor-in-chief
Itzel Giron is a senior multimedia journalism and creative writing student at UTEP. She started her journalistic career at The Prospector in the fall of 2021 as a staff reporter and is now editor-in-chief. Thanks to The Prospector and her tenacity, Itzel has had the opportunity to be an intern with KVIA Channel 7 at El Paso. Itzel is also a freelance journalist, and her work has been published in The City Magazine, Borderzine and Walsworth Yearbooks. After graduation, Itzel hopes to continue her passion of journalism by working in broadcast television reporting on politics, entertainment and news.
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    Danny RomoOct 11, 2023 at 5:33 PM

    Losing the UDT is a devastating blow to El Paso. Aside from touring shows, it’s the one place in the city that produces musicals. It’s the only place for musical theatre performers to perform in El Paso. It’s a shame the new dean is so intent on closing the dinner theatre instead of ushering it into a new era. This isn’t just a loss for the students, but also for the community.