"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.
Adams Shakespearean Theatre
The Adams Shakespearean Theatre, dedicated in 1977, was designed by Douglas N. Cook, Festival producing artistic director, along with Max Anderson of the Utah State Building Board, and is patterned after drawings and research of sixteenth century Tudor stages. Experts say it is one of a few theatres that probably comes close to the design of the Globe Theatre in which Shakespeare's plays were originally produced. It is so authentic, in fact, that the British Broadcasting Company filmed part of its Shakespeare series there. It is named for Grace Adams Tanner, a major benefactor of the Festival, and her parents, Thomas D. and Luella R. Adams. It seats 819, plus 66 gallery-bench or standing-room seats.
Randall L. Jones Theatre
The Randall L. Jones Theatre, dedicated in 1989, was designed by the firm of Fowler, Ferguson, Kingston, and Ruben, with theatrical design by the California firm of Landry and Bogan, as well as Cameron Harvey, Festival producing artistic director. It was built at a cost of $5.5 million, to expand the Festival's offerings, especially in the area of world classics, and was featured in the August 1990 edition of Architecture magazine. The theatre is named after a Cedar City native known as the father of tourism in southern Utah. It seats 769.
The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts is an exciting new $35 million project that will include the Southern Utah Museum of Art, the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre (a new outdoor space to replace the aging Adams Shakespearean Theatre), the Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre, and new artistic and production facilities for the Festival, all on the same two-block area as the Randall L. Jones Theatre. Construction began in August 2014 and will be completed by January 2016. Big D Construction of Salt Lake City is the general contractor.
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 2011, nearly 120,000 ticket-holders viewed nearly 300 performances in three theatres during the sixteen-week season. The Festival is now a year-round operation with a full-time staff of thirty and a budget of over $6.5 million dollars.
The Festival’s well-known outdoor theatre materialized in stages. The Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre, one of the most authentic Elizabethan theatres in the world, began as a stagehouse; but in five years’ time was gradually surrounded by its permanent orchestra and gallery seating. The Adams Theatre was dedicated in 1977 and so closely resembles Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London that the British Broadcasting Company chose it as the location for some of their filming of their Shakespeare series. The Adams Theatre features three plays each season (usually Shakespearean), mounted by professional directors, designers, and actors from around the world, along with graduate students from top professional graduate schools.
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 will discontinue use of the aging Adams Theatre, replacing it with the new Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts on the campus of Southern Utah University. The center will also include the current Randall 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.
Top photo: Halie Merrill in The Greenshow, 2015.