The Cosmic Aeroplane on South Temple used the large rear room for several purposes:
An entrepreneurial group of actors called the Human Ensemble saw opportunities in the funky rear room behind the Cosmic Aeroplane’s location at 369 West South Temple and turned the under-used space into a theater, which opened in December of 1970.
The Human Ensemble’s first production in the back room of the Cosmic Aeroplane was The Gloaming Oh My Darling by Megan Terry:
The Human Ensemble’s second production in the Cosmic Aeroplane was LINE by Israel Horovitz.
Juda Youngstrom directed both of these first plays, and became Artistic Director of the Human Ensemble. “LINE” starred beautiful and charismatic Patty Freeman, as “Molly.”
Youngstrom says in 2015: Did I tell you about how the Ensemble really got going, because of the Vice Squad? I had been handing out flyers for our first show, and the attendance was okay, but not great. When we did LINE, I put on the flyer “there is more to this than pulling a train” — as the female character has sex with the other people in the line to get to be first. It was all very much a dance and there wasn’t any sex. The vice squad showed up, because they thought we were doing live sex acts on stage. The reporter from the Chronicle was there too and reported on the fact that we almost got shut down for the show. The next night 100 people showed up and after that we always had good audiences.
The Human Ensemble collaborated with Smoke Blues Band for their third production, featuring “snatches” of short plays and music. This program consisted of “On the Harmfulness of Smoking Tobacco” by Anton Chekhov; “Red Cross” by Sam Shepard; “I’m Really Here” by Jean Van Italie; plus “It’s Called the Sugar Plum” by Israel Horowitz along with “Oedipus Piece” by Ken Jenks.
Smoke Blues Band started off the whole evening with a set of electric tunes.
“Smoke” rehearsed out in the back of the Cosmic Aeroplane when the Human Ensemble wasn’t working there. They changed their named to “Rocks and Gravel” in the upcoming months and played for the public at nearby Ben’s Railroad Exchange on the corner of 400 West and South Temple.
The Daily Utah Chronicle staff steadily reported on the Human Ensemble’s classy events:
The Human Ensemble tackled Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party” during May of 1971 :
The Human Ensemble began their fruitful and long lasting collaboration with locally-based playwright Kenneth Jenks in 1971 :
The Daily Utah Chronicle followed the Human Ensemble’s exploits behind the Cosmic Aeroplane’s main store — found by turning left inside the front entrance. The theater was through the center door directly down the hall, facing south.
Hal Sparck’s very effective Draft Resistance office greeted people turning right off the main hall inside 369 West South Temple, but he was usually closed by show time.
For the rest of their 1971 season, the Human Ensemble continued at the Cosmic Aeroplane. They produced “Yahoo Americana,” a revue including “Museeka” by John Quare and “Father Uxbridge Wants to Marry” by John Galiano.”
Local playwright Polly Richman wrote “Jonah” which starred Gary (Phrogg) Justeson manager of Salt Lake City’s enduring Oasis Stageworks Company. Randy Milligan directed “Jonah,” which was performed in an inflatable “Bubble” stage.
They also tried the first act of “Love is a Traveler” by Ken Jenks in that unconventional space. It was directed by Juda Youngstrom, who says: We only did those two shows in the Bubble which was designed and executed by Russell Elliott. We could seat about 40 people … We blew the bubble up in the backroom of the Cosmic Aeroplane and lit it from outside the perimeter. It was very cool looking.
“A Night With Dickey Clark” was also presented in the Aeroplane’s rear room:
The final Human Ensemble production at the Cosmic Aeroplane was an adaptation of “Dracula” by Ken Jenks in late 1971.
Juda Youngstrom says: I actually thought the “Dracula” we did at the Cosmic was more organic than the one at the Glass Factory which was really more melodrama due to the lead actor … Craig Cook was a scary Dracula as he actually became the vampire in the show at the Aeroplane. He had a great creep factor.
The Human Ensemble circulated the following flyer as 1971 was turning into 1972, anticipating the company’s relocation to Arrow Press Square:
Some of the projected ideas mentioned in the flyer (above) didn’t make it to the stage, but their first production in the new space during October of 1972 happened to be a re-staging of Ken Jenks’ adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”
The Human Ensemble became an official Non-profit Corporation in October of 1972 and threw a gala premiere at the Glass Factory Theater:
The Glass Factory occupied the upper floors of a reclaimed building in Arrow Press Square, not very far from the historic Capitol Theater, along newly-landscaped walkways winding through the old urban block.
THE GLASS FACTORY EST.ablished 1972 — The Human Ensemble successfully performed a great many original dramas, regional premieres, plus contemporary Broadway and Off-Broadway plays in this space. By coincidence, the Cosmic Aeroplane became the Ensemble’s neighbor again when Steve Jones moved to 366 S. West Temple.
Cosmic Curtain Call — A Neil Passey Gallery of Human Ensemble Posters Prolific artist Neil Passey, known for Concert Posters, Cosmic Aeroplane calendars and advertisements, composed a series of drawings and airbrushed paintings for Human Ensemble productions during the 1970’s.
Besides presenting challenging plays like “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (two years before the Jack Nicholson movie) and the gritty “HOT L Baltimore,” the Human Ensemble continued to commission original dramas.
Audiences liked to laugh, and they presented plenty of comedies.
Besides “Dracula,” the Ensemble’s collaboration with Ken Jenks involved re-working and refining some of his other plays too.
One more example was Kenneth Jenks’ “Gift of Eutherina Finchum.” It was first produced at the Glass Factory in late 1972, then re-cast and shown in the summer of 1974.
Actor Daniel Robert also managed a Modern Dance company called the Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe and booked the premiere of their production “Clown’s Cabaret” in the Glass Factory later that year. (See the rightmost poster above.)
This eclectic group toured with their own Jazz band and went on the road immediately afterward on a journey that would eventually take them away to Europe and Amsterdam’s Festival of Fools.
Other members of the company possessed the gift of adaptation too, and the Human Ensemble was able to draw crowds to much larger venues like Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah.
Juda Youngstrom left for New York in 1978, leaving the non-profit company with a fresh grant in their coffers. The Human Ensemble’s first show after her departure was “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.”
It is impossible to properly trace the history of the Human Ensemble Repertory Theatre in the confines of this website — it is possible that members of the company will document their work online in the near future, and if they do we will gladly link to them, since only THEY know the full story.
One fact is inarguable — The Human Ensemble made a vast contibution to the theatrical culture of Salt Lake City as the population doubled in the 1970’s.
Coda — Theater 138 and S.L.A.C. in the Cosmic Aeroplane Era … and beyond.
Ariel Baliff, Stewart Falconer, and Tom Carlin were leaders in Salt Lake City’s independent scene with their own theater in a structure that was once a Unitarian Church. Theater 138 produced a satire called “This Is The Place” as its first show in 1966, and continued at 138 South 200 East until March of 1987 — “As Is” by William Hoffman, a play about the A.I.D.S. epidemic, was its final show before the building was razed. They moved to Centre Stage Theatre on Highland Drive afterward.
Local article from 1987 about Theater 138 (PDF) (Author and publisher unknown)
Juda Youngstrom writes in 2017: Ariel Balliff was my stagecraft/design instructor at the University of Utah my freshman year. He was a wonderful designer with an eye for detail. In the costume shop I was assigned the job of randomly beading a costume for him so that it would glimmer as the different stage lights hit it. He was an inspirational theatre professional, encouraging his students by example. I only had one year with him before he was hired away by Yale School of Drama. Many of my older classmates followed him to Yale and became established theatrical designers.
In SLC , he founded Theatre 138 with his partners and produced wonderful theatre for decades. Theatre 138 gave audiences a decidedly more worldly complement of plays than were available previously in SLC. He was inspirational and always encouraging.
During that same era, Ed Grisco’s Salt Lake Acting Company began performing at the Unitarian Church on 13th East before moving into other spaces, and evolved into an independent, but durable, organization that still presents live theater in 2017. S.L.A.C. employed more than one Human Ensemble veteran during its history.
Many thanks to Juda Youngstrom and Andre Ferrar for additional photos of the Human Ensemble and their productions. Special appreciation goes out to Danny Darger for being the “Missing Link” between this site and Ms. Youngstrom. Black and white scans supplied by Steve Jones from microfilm archives of the Daily Utah Chronicle in the Marriott Library at the University of Utah. Theater 138 photo and PDF from “Friends of Theater 138” on Facebook. (Original sources unknown — digital treatments by M.E.)
We actively request your contributions of pictures, memorabilia, and oral histories about the Cosmic Aeroplane and related enterprises — please contact our blogmeister:
Blogmeister Michael Evans is an author and historian.
He also drew the Clown’s Cabaret poster above. There is more about the Glass Factory in his book — The Great Salt Lake Mime Saga and Amsterdam’s Festival of Fools. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ———————————————————————————————————————