Skip to main content

Sugar House Journal

Performing Arts School Honored as the Best

Aug 14, 2015 11h21 ● By Bryan Scott


Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts [SPA] has been named the 2015 Best of State charter school. The honor was bestowed upon the Sugar House school in 2013 and 2014 as well.

“We are a performing arts school that has somewhat four focuses. We focus on dance. We focus on music – instrumental and vocal. We also focus on theater, in acting, directing, playwriting and technical theater. We also have a multimedia focus, which is film and film studies and photography,” Michael Payne, theater director, said. 

Through a partnership with the Salt Lake City School District and Highland High School, approximately 400 students are able to receive rigorous academic instruction and additional in-depth arts training taught by professionals at SPA.

“They take all of their core academic classes with Highland and take all of their performing arts classes here,” Payne said.

A typical class schedule for a SPA student consists of five core classes taught at Highland High School and three electives in performing arts taught at SPA, which is located down the street from HHS.

“Our main focus is to get them into performing arts programs at universities,” Payne said.

Admission to SPA begins with an application, but no performing arts experience or auditions are required. The first 100 freshmen are selected and remaining spots are filled with a lottery system.

“If a student has a great interest in the performing arts, then this is the perfect place to be, because we are going to treat that student like a young professional and give them all the professional training that we’ve had. It’s just having the discipline and the drive to stay here, ” Payne said.

It is not uncommon for students to discover a passion for performing arts while in attendance, such as a dance interest turning into a theater interest. Students are encouraged to participate in an overview of programs and then narrow down interest for longer term goals.

“We produce anywhere from 20 to 22 shows per year. We have three performance spaces. We have a black box theater space. We have an auditorium, which we use for a lot of different things. We also have a lab theater, which we do smaller shows in,” Payne said.

The theater department will produce five of the nearly two-dozen shows this year, starting with “Julius Caesar.” It takes approximately 50 hours of rehearsal to prepare for one play and up to 70 hours of rehearsal to prepare for a musical. The rigorous schedule aligns to the school’s focus on professional performing arts.

“The awesome thing about STEM is that it asks students to think in a higher order skill set. The same is true of the arts – that it asks students to think abstractly and then move that abstract thought into concrete operations. Students may do something where they are given a character, a conflict and a location and from that they are asked to create a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end that follows Aristotle’s poetics,” Payne said. 

Students must maintain passing academic grades in order to participate in any production. The performance aspect of learning is not separated from the core.

“The arts are really the advanced academics. Your English classes are where we actually begin. We move everything that they do from an English class to the stage. We move it from page to stage. We’re really integrating the core into practical knowledge where they have to apply those things to everyday learning in the arts,” Payne said.

For more information about Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts, visit