Marijke Rowland

After 37 years, Sierra Rep founders stepping down from their popular theater company

Scott Viets, left, will soon take over as Sierra Repertory Theatre’s producing artistic director when Sara Jones, center, and Dennis Jones retire in 2017.
Scott Viets, left, will soon take over as Sierra Repertory Theatre’s producing artistic director when Sara Jones, center, and Dennis Jones retire in 2017. Sierra Repertory Theatre

Just when you were worried we as a nation wouldn’t see a peaceful transition of power this year, the folks at Sierra Repertory Theatre show us all how it is done.

The foothills theater company announced that after 37 years founders Dennis Jones and Sara Jones are retiring. Dennis Jones currently serves as the group’s producing director and Sara Jones is managing director. The couple also announced that longtime Sierra Rep artistic director Scott Viets and veteran actress Becky Saunders will take over the company’s leadership roles.

The Joneses started the arts group in 1979 along with fellow co-founders Doug Brennan, Kathryn Kahn and David Kahn. Brennan remains with the company as a stage manager while the others have since moved on to other interests. Over the years the company has produced more than 308 shows in front of more than 1.2 million audience members.

Sierra Rep presents a broad array of theatrical offerings each season, from traditional favorites to family fare and musical revues at its two venues: the East Sonora Theatre and Fallon House Theatre in Columbia.

The husband-and-wife pair will remain with the company for the next nine months as the group transitions its leadership. Viets, who has been the artistic director for the past 14 years, has been a frequent production director, choreographer and actor. He last starred in the 2015 production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Saunders has been a performer with Sierra Rep since 1994 and more recently began directing for the company. She is currently directing the company’s production of “Church Basement Ladies: A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement” at the Fallon House.

The company held a celebratory season for its 35th anniversary in 2014, which included an ambitious production of “Les Miserables.” This year’s season closes with the holiday production “A Christmas Story,” opening Friday, Nov. 11.

In a statement released last month about the Joneses’ retirement, Sierra Rep board of directors president Bill Green said the couple “set the standard for theatrical excellence” in the region.

“Their ability to produce breathtaking productions, to attract the finest talent and to please diverse audiences has been a gift to this community. We want to use this time to celebrate their many accomplishments as we look forward to the continuing success of SRT under the leadership of Scott Viets and Becky Saunders,” he said.

The Joneses will work with Viets and Saunders through the first half of next year. Viets remains on staff in his present role; Saunders will join the staff part-time in April. On Aug. 1, 2017, they will take over full-time as producing artistic director and managing director, respectively.

Sara Jones said they wanted to give the community, and new directors, plenty of time to adjust to the change. She said they had been talking about retiring for the past year, and then moved forward after Saunders emerged as a candidate to assume Sara Jones’ more business-sided management role.

“We’ve been doing this for so long, and a lot of people associate us with the company. This allows people to adjust and allows for a nice long learning curve,” Jones said.

The couple will remain in the area and plan to continue to do some guest direction and design work with Sierra Rep after they step down. But they said they were excited and hopeful for future of the company they founded.

“We’ve received so many emails from people – people who have acted here, been trustees, been donors or just friends – who have been tremendously supportive,” Jones said. “They’re excited for us but also appreciative for the history we have built at SRT. It’s such a great organization. Everyone is excited to see it continue – and no one more than Dennis and myself.”