"So singular in each particular."
—The Winter's Tale
The Utah Shakespeare Festival presents life-affirming classic and contemporary plays in repertory, with Shakespeare as our cornerstone. These plays are enhanced by interactive festival experiences which entertain, enrich, and educate.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival is part of Southern Utah University, a relationship that has helped foster the growth and viability of the Festival for over fifty years.
Southern Utah University’s more than 150 undergraduate and nine graduate programs across six academic colleges are fully accredited, but the university is much more than classrooms and textbooks. SUU is the only university in Utah to guarantee every one of our 8,000 students will graduate with a diploma and field experience, through internships, undergraduate research, or study abroad. The philosophy at the university is that four years of tuition should get you a job you love, not just a fancy piece of paper.
The Festival was named the recipient of the coveted Tony Award for America’s Outstanding Regional Theatre on May 8, 2000. The Tony Award is the most prestigious and sought-after award in live theatre, the equivalent of the Academy Awards in film, and is presented by the American Theatre Wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers. The Festival was nominated for the award by the American Theatre Critics Association. The award for the Outstanding Regional Theatre was added to the Tony Awards in 1976 and honors a regional theatre company that has “displayed a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theatre nationally.”
In 2001 the National Governors Association honored the Utah Shakespeare Festival with the award for Distinguished Service in the Arts for Artistic Production at its ninety-third annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island. The award recognizes outstanding service to the arts, focusing on contributions that improve the quality of life and bring distinction to the state or community.
The Festival’s fiftieth anniversary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the subject of a regional Emmy Award-winning live broadcast by BYUtv, Provo, Utah. The award was for the best special event coverage, live or edited. This was the first live broadcast of a performance in the Festival’s history.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival has also been the recipient of numerous other awards, including the Best of State Award in arts and entertainment. In addition Festival Founder Fred C. Adams was named Utah’s 2003 Entrepreneur of the Year for Community Enrichment by Ernst & Young, and in 2010 received both the Utah Governor’s Award in the Humanities and the Burbage Award for a lifetime of service to the international Shakespearean theatre community.
The Festival has grown from a budget of under $1,000 in 1961 to over $7 million today. Approximately 74 percent of the Festival’s budget is funded from ticket sales, concessions, merchandise, and education classes, with the remaining support coming from contributed income such as memberships, grants, and foundations. The Festival’s economic impact in Cedar City and the surrounding area is enormous. In a 2012 study by Neil Abercrombie and Dr. Kelly Matthews, the total economic impact was estimated at more than $35 million annually.
In 1962, the Festival attracted 3,276 visitors. Today, the audience is over 100,000. Approximately 60 percent of the audience comes from Utah; 24 percent from Nevada; 6 percent from Arizona; 6 percent from California; and 4 percent from other areas.
The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts
The home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival is at the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts on the campus of Southern Utah University. This exciting $39.1 million dollar arts complex was dedicated July 7, 2016. It includes three theatres used by the Festival: The outdoor Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, the beautiful Randall L. Jones Theatre, and the 200-seat black box Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre. In addition, the center includes the magnificent Southern Utah Museum of Art, as well as office, rehearsal, educational, and artistic space for the Festival. The buildings are surrounded by gardens, sculpture gardens, a seminar grove, a Greenshow performance space and much more.
Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre
The Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre celebrated its opening night on July 7, 2016. It is an open-air space, reminiscent of Elizabethan theatres but with modern amenities and technology. As the symbolic home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, it features plays by Shakespeare and other playwrights whose works are appropriate for its outdoor Elizabethan-inspired architecture. It is also used for educational programming for Southern Utah University. The theatre seats approximately 910 and is named for the Ralph J. and Betty Engelstad family which was a major donor toward the building.
Randall L. Jones Theatre
The stunning Randall L. Jones Theatre opened June 23, 1989, as a new indoor space for the Utah Shakespeare Festival to offer classics of world drama, “Shakespeares of other lands.” It is also a performance space for Southern Utah University during the academic calendar. The theatre seats approximately 770 and has been recognized nationally for its architectural beauty. It is named after a Cedar City native known as the father of tourism in southern Utah and whose family was a major donor toward the building.
Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre
The Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre opened its doors on July 30, 2016. It was designed to showcase smaller, more intimate shows for the Utah Shakespeare Festival and as a home for its new plays program, highlighting the “Shakespeares of tomorrow.” This space allows the Festival to extend its offerings throughout the year. The theatre is named for long-time supporters Eileen and Allen Anes who were major donors toward the building. It provides flexible seating for approximately 200.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1961 and presented its first season in 1962. It was started in response to two influences: An estimated quarter of a million summer tourists desiring more evening activities after visiting the area’s national parks, and a young entrepreneur and actor’s desire to produce great theatre. Festival Founder Fred C. Adams, having joined the faculty in 1959 as an assistant professor of theatre arts at what was then the College of Southern Utah (now Southern Utah University), was wondering what could draw people off the newly planned I-15 freeway to stop in Cedar City for awhile. City leaders were desperate to find a way to attract people and dollars to Cedar City and its Main Street.
One day while he and his girlfriend Barbara (later to become his wife), were in the Fluffy Bundle Laundromat, an idea was born: Why not start a Shakespearean festival! Excited by the idea, Fred packed up his notes and ideas and visited Ashland, Oregon, the site of the granddaddy of all Shakespeare festivals, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. While there, he closely observed operations and was befriended by Angus Bowmer, the OSF founder, whom Adams interviewed extensively. Fred, Barbara, Barbara’s mother Louise, and two CSU students also visited theatres in Canada and Connecticut; and on the long ride back to Cedar City, the Utah Shakespearean Festival was born!
The dream was launched. Adams approached the Cedar City Council and the Chamber of Commerce and told them he had the solution to attract people to Cedar City: Build a Shakespeare theatre that would attract visitors looking for something to do at night after they had visited the area national parks. Their reaction was predictable. “It went over like a pregnant pole vaulter,” Adams likes to say. “They thought it was a dumb idea. Really dumb.” But the Lions Club agreed to underwrite his plan with $1,000 after he told them he expected to recover all of the money in ticket sales.
Shakespeare was a natural choice for Cedar City. Historically, the people of southern Utah have a love for drama and especially the works of Shakespeare. Adams proceeded with his new company and presented The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, and The Merchant of Venice that first season. A small company of college students and townspeople produced the plays on an outdoor platform, backed by a partial replica of an Elizabethan stagehouse. Between rehearsals, volunteer actors wielded hammers and scissors, building their own stage, props, and costumes. The initial two-week season attracted an excited 3,276 spectators, yielded a much-needed $2,000 profit on which to build a second season.
Barbara was adamant that the Festival include a nightly Greenshow, pre-show entertainment featuring music, dancing, and a Punch and Judy puppet show. LaVeve Whetten was in charge of the dancing; and Barbara, the music. She obtained recorders and taught a group of musicians to play the instruments. Because no one knew about the Festival, the group would go downtown in the afternoons/early evenings and wander into the cafes and play and sing medieval music and invite them to come and see the Festival that evening. For many years, Barbara was the force that kept The Greenshow improving and growing.
This cooperative relationship between the Festival, the university, and the community still flourishes today. The partnership is one of the reasons for the Festival’s consistent growth. In 2015, over 100,000 ticket-holders viewed nearly 300 performances in three theatres during the eighteen-week season. The Festival is now a year-round operation with a full-time staff of thirty-five and a budget of over $7 million dollars.
The Festival's first stage, dedicated in 1977, was the Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre, built to be an playing space reminiscent of Elizabethan theatres Shakespeare worked in. After nearly forty years, it was replaced in 2016 by the more modern but still very Elizabethan Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre.
The indoor, modern Randall L. Jones Theatre opened its first season June 23, 1989, offering classics of world drama. Its repertoire has spanned more than three centuries of playwrights and has included the classics of Russia, France, England, Italy, Ireland, Norway, and the United States.
In 2016, the Festival embarked in its next stage, as part of the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Performing Arts. The center includes the already-existing Randall L. Jones Theatre; the outdoor Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre; the new Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre (which will seat approximately 200); the Southern Utah Museum of Art (including space for galleries, storage, care, and research surrounding Southern Utah University’s art collection); Festival offices and artistic work spaces; and gardens, walkways, and statuary.
In 1992, the Festival started the groundwork (and has built on it every year since) for the New American Playwrights Project. These staged readings are presented to Festival patrons who desire an opportunity to view the current work of some of today’s best playwrights. The program will eventually evolve into fully-mounted, modern plays, by “the Shakespeares of tomorrow.”
On May 8, 2000, the Festival joined the ranks of some of America’s most famous and respected theatres when it received the coveted Tony Award for America’s Outstanding Regional Theatre. The Tony Award is the most prestigious and sought-after award in live theatre, the equivalent to the Academy Awards in film.
In 2005, the Festival began setting up its managerial structure for the decades ahead. Fred C. Adams was named founder and executive producer emeritus and is now concentrating his efforts on fundraising for the new center and for projects in the future. In October 2005, R. Scott Phillips was named executive director of the Festival; in January 2011, David Ivers and Brian Vaughn were named artistic directors; and in May 2014 Zachary Murray joined them as general manager, thus completing the top management team. According to Phillips, the future of the Festival is nothing but positive. “The next generation of theatre-goers at the Festival will be the recipients of great productions resulting from the foresight of Fred, as well as our past and present artistic leadership.”
As part of its commitment to great theatre, the Festival fosters activities that bring Shakespeare and other great playwrights to new audiences. Through theatre, and the activities surrounding it, entire eras come to life and enrich people of all ages and from all walks of life. The Utah Shakespearean Festival remains a total “experience” for its patrons, many of whom have been coming to every season for nearly fifty years and now bring their children and grandchildren. The Festival’s economic impact in Cedar City and the surrounding area is enormous. In 2002 alone, direct and indirect expenditures by the Festival and its patrons as estimated at over $45 million.
The feeling of partnership with the audience (which extends so far that the Festival even offers child care during the plays) is a trademark, inspiring patrons to speak of it as “their Festival.” Striving to satisfy our modern audience’s desires, the Festival works hard to keep alive that bright and shining view first envisioned by Fred C. Adams over five decades ago.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival is hosted on the campus of Southern Utah University and is one of the oldest and largest Shakespearean festivals in North America. Each year it produces eight professional plays. In addition, a smaller touring production plays to schools throughout the West during the winter months. In keeping with its mission to entertain, enrich, and educate its audiences, the Festival also offers a variety of activities such as orientations, literary and production seminars, classes, workshops, and backstage tours—making it a true destination theatre, and one of Utah’s cultural treasures.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival is a charter member of the Shakespeare Theatre Association (STA) and a constituent of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre.
The Festival operates under an agreement between the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) and Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States. It also employs stage directors and choreographers through the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC) an independent national labor union. Designers for the Utah Shakespeare Festival are represented by United Scenic Artists (USA) local #829.
The programs and activities of the Utah Shakespeare Festival are sponsored in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C.
The Guild of the Utah Shakespeare Festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit service organization founded to serve, support, and promote the Festival. It does so through dues, fund raising efforts, and volunteer service.
Top photo: A scene from Much Ado about Nothing, 2016.