Brigham Young was a great one for having a good time. He worked hard and he played hard. I think, because of the strictness of his growing-up years, he wanted those around him to have a good time. It wasn't sacreligious to have fun.
"We are met in . . . a social community . . . that our minds may rest and our bodies receive that recreation which is proper."
Brigham Young felt the Saints needed to rest from their labors and have some fun. Their “minds [should] sing for joy.” He also wanted to introduce the Saints to culture and the arts. As soon as the pioneers were settled in their new land, he made plans to build a theater where the people could enjoy productions.
Brigham needed money to construct the theater. When Johnson’s Army left the area to fight in the Civil War, they sold all their supplies, including nails, for almost nothing. Brigham bought many of the goods and resold them for more than he paid for them. The money he made, plus the nails, were used to build the theater.
After the theater was completed, everyone wanted to see the plays. If the pioneers paid didn’t have any money, they paid for their show tickets with chickens or other goods. Once a person paid with a turkey and got two chickens for change. At times sausages and honey comb were used to buy the tickets.
Brigham loved the theater and always made sure the details of each play were just right. Once he noticed that an actress with blonde hair played the part of a brunette in a play. Brigham asked why she didn’t have a brown wig for the part. She told him she would love to be a brunette if she could have the dark curls of a John McDonald as her wig for the play. John liked his long curly hair and didn’t want to cut it off. But when Brigham told him the situation, he paused for a moment and then said, “If the success of the play depends upon my hair, Brother Brigham, you shall have my hair.”
Before electricity, candles were used to light the stage. When the play called for darkness, the candles were blown out and then relit when light was needed. Buckets of sand and barrels of salt water from the Great Salt Lake were kept nearby in case of fire.
Because Brigham’s daughters learned to dance in their gym, some of them got to be in the plays. They loved the beautiful costumes, the excitement of meeting the actors and actresses, and the thrill of the performance.