News From the Festival

Q&A with Henry VIII Director

Q&A with Director Derek Charles Livingston on Henry VIII

Photos, left to right: Derek Charles Livingston; Topher Embrey as King Henry in Henry VIII, 2024. Photos by Karl Hugh.

Derek Charles Livingston, the director of new plays at the Festival, directed this season’s production of Shakespeare’s political drama, Henry VIII.

In past few years at the Festival, Livingston served as the interim artistic director, and the director of last season’s A Raisin in the Sun. He also played Thurgood Marshall in the Festival’s production of Thurgood in 2022. Livingston was previously the managing artistic director at the Celebration Theatre, program manager/production and new play producer at the Playwrights Project, and the artistic producer for Plays in Progress at Cygnet Theatre. He won the New Hampshire Drama Award for his leading role in Driving Miss Daisy, and the LA Scenie Award for directing Sweeney Todd and M Butterfly.

Livingston received an MFA from the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, as well as a BA in theatre arts from Brown University.

The Festival talked to Livingston and asked him about his preparation and experience directing this historical drama.

The Festival: Why were you excited to direct Shakespeare’s Henry VIII?

Livingston: It’s not done often, so it’s a chance as an artist to delve into a Shakespeare play that a lot of people don’t know, to give it shape. I’m always thrilled by political intrigue because the human decisions, selfishness, and selflessness come from people’s internal wants.

I’m excited for audiences to get to see the character of Katharine who I think is one of the best female characters Shakespeare ever wrote. People know about Lady Macbeth and Kate [from The Taming of the Shrew] and Beatrice [from Much Ado About Nothing] and Juliet, but Queen Katherine has some amazing monologues. Anytime we can elevate the voice of women within Shakespeare, we should do it.

The Festival: King Henry’s love affairs often get a bad rap. What should we know to better understand the circumstances in this play?

Livingston: He has an awful reputation when it comes to wives and women. It’s important for our audiences to know that we are the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and that we’re presenting the Henry that Shakespeare wrote—which requires some context and understanding. Shakespeare couldn’t disparage Anne Boleyn, because that would be to disparage Queen Elizabeth [who was Henry and Anne’s daughter], and was very loved. He was walking a tightrope in creating this play, and what he chose to focus on were specific moments of crisis.

This play focuses on two relationships: his relationships with Katharine and Anne. The audience should come in expecting to learn about Shakespeare’s interpretation of the relationships.

Deservedly so, Henry has a bad reputation when it comes to his wives and other women—as there were extramarital relationships as well—but there was almost seven years between the time Henry met Anne and declared his interest, and when he made her his wife—which speaks to me that there must have been a real affection and love there [to span that time period].

The Festival: For those that are intimidated by Shakespeare’s more political plays, what would you say? Why should they come see Henry VIII?

Livingston: We think we know who Henry was, but here’s a chance to see the alternative of it. My plan was to stage and create a show that anyone can follow the storyline without necessarily understanding every nuance of the language. There are moments that are visually arresting, such as the coronation for Anne and the christening of Elizabeth.

[In addition], Bill Black, one of our longest-serving costume designers, does his best work in this [time] period, and he designed this show. It really should offer something for people that just lean into pure theatricality, to be able to enjoy, and the language will come.

Go to our seminars and orientations, as it really helps set up the context of the play. That’s why Fred [C. Adams] started them, so people could approach Shakespeare fearlessly.

The Festival: As playgoers, what should we watch for in this show? Are there any special “Easter eggs” you have implemented into the play as a director?

Livingston: Patrons should look for paper. Anytime a piece of paper appears onstage, someone’s life is about to change. That to me is the level of political intrigue in which we are playing. I want people to watch for how decrees and papers and letters are almost used as a sword.

Our set designer Apollo Weaver and I talked about what some of the emblems on the flags in Henry’s court should look like, and plan to combine the house of York and Lancaster to create the Tudor line symbolically.

There’s [also] the great seal, which is something that would mark an official letter, carried by Wolsey, and patrons should watch how this becomes an important moment, along with Wolsey’s ring.

The Festival: What statement/realization/feeling do you hope audience members leave with after seeing the play?

Livingston: I want people to leave saying, “Henry really emerged and pulled that off. He went through that crisis and emerged as his own person.”

I hope they walk away appreciating the moments of royal pomp and pageantry. I hope that patrons, especially if they came with the preconceived notion of who Henry is, go and do their own research to understand how and why Shakespeare wrote the play the way he did.

There’s been a recent book on Anne Boleyn that explores her mind and her position within the time, and she was far more than just the lady-in-waiting. She was a woman with her own mind and was probably very influential to Henry on the idea of moving away from the Catholic church. [We aimed to make] sure that Anne comes across as an intelligent woman with her own mind, so audiences will be intrigued by her as well, because history gives her a bad rap.

The Festival: What challenges came with preparing to direct this play?

Livingston: The biggest challenge is the known story of Henry, and all the variations and interpretations of the Tudor family—so I think people approach this play with a very strong notion of who they think Henry VIII is. The challenge is acknowledging that, but also being faithful to the story that Shakespeare is trying to tell.

Because Shakespeare wrote the play for an audience that understood [royalty], those things aren’t necessarily explained to our modern audience. This can get very lost on a modern American audience, and so part of the challenge has been to make sure to tell the story of this king who is in romantic, constitutional, political, and moral crises in a royal realm without the audience necessarily having to know what each of these royal ranks mean and represent.

The Festival: You have a long history of directing highly-acclaimed shows. What draws you to be a director?

Livingston: I continue to direct because I love bringing stories to the stage and I love creating compelling and interesting moments where the audience leans in and really listens. I love working with actors and being in the rehearsal process, and the collective discovery that can happen.

To purchase tickets to Henry VIII, visit or call 800-PLAYTIX.

Shakespeare Under the Stars: Theatre in the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre

For 63 years patrons have enjoyed their yearly dose of Shakespeare and live theatre under the stars at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. Prior to 2016 they thronged to the outdoor Adams Memorial Theatre, a beloved but retired performance space. Since then, performers and patrons alike have delighted in Festival performances in the open-air Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, where the majority of productions presented are written by the Bard. Both the Adams and Engelstad Theatres were inspired by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

There is something so unique and special about seeing live theatre in an outdoor space where night falls, stars come out, and temperatures cool off while you sit and revel in the incredible performances on the stage. This season, already off to a great start, patrons can experience this very memorable opportunity by seeing Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, The Winter’s Tale, and The Taming of the Shrew in the Engelstad.

A scene from Henry VIII, 2024. Photo by Karl Hugh.

Make sure not to miss Henry VIII this season. Besides being done outdoors, another reason to catch this play is that it is rarely performed. The last time the Festival produced this regal history was nearly 30 years ago! It is also a part of the Festival’s “Complete the Canon” initiative as well as the final piece to the “Shakespeare’s History Cycle” initiative, both started over a decade ago.

Artistic Director John DiAntonio says, “Audiences won’t want to miss this rare opportunity. The production is filled with grand pageantry, including the coronation of Anne Boleyn and the christening of Princess Elizabeth. But none of that will take away from the gripping human drama at the story’s center.”

A scene from The Winter’s Tale, 2024. Photo by Karl Hugh.

Another brilliant production in the Engelstad this season is The Winter’s Tale. Though originally grouped with Shakespeare’s comedies, it is now considered a romance (Elizabethan romance contains both tragedy and comedy, a melancholy tone, and the remedy of a past injustice). Centering around the actions in two dynamically different European kingdoms, Utah Theatre Bloggers call this production “highly entertaining and accessible…[with] tremendous professional acting and impressive staging…[it] deserves to be seen and appreciated.”

A scene from The Taming of the Shrew, 2024. Photo by Karl Hugh.

The third show in the outdoor theatre this season is the hilarious and touching The Taming of the Shrew. Often considered a problematic story for modern audiences, the Festival’s production is considerate of problematic plot points and is “packed with zany comedy and ingenious comedic performances,” says Utah Theatre Bloggers.

Presented as a play-within-a-play (not often done with this show), the fiery Katherine and the braggart Petruchio discover ways to meet on common ground and as Front Row Reviews say, “We are left pondering the definition of selfless love and what it means to truly care for each other.”

Get your tickets now for these outstanding outdoor performances. They are experiences you don’t want to miss. Visit or call 800-PLAYTIX for more information.

The Festival Opens 63rd Season

A scene from The Winter’s Tale, 2024. Photo by Karl Hugh.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival officially opened last week, and is celebrating its 63rd season in Cedar City, offering an enriching and fun cultural experience that captivates audiences of all ages. The Festival has become a cherished tradition for many theatre lovers, families, and newcomers alike. If you’ve never been, come and discover the magic this summer!

The play lineup in the Festival’s three theatres includes Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, The Winter’s Tale, The Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado About Nothing, along with the hilarious comedy The 39 Steps, the moving and tender Silent Sky, and the inspirational The Mountaintop. The latter two will open on July 15 and 16, respectively.

“The Festival’s 2024 Season focuses on history makers and extraordinary characters,” says Artistic Director John DiAntonio. “This dynamic line-up of plays invites audiences to explore the question: ‘Who can we trust?’ Living in an age of endless choices, updates, and opinions, it’s an important theme to explore.”

“Strong female characters are another theme this season,” comments Executive Managing Director Michael Bahr, “with Queen Katherine, Queen Hermione, ‘Kate the Cursed,’ and Beatrice teaming up to represent some of Shakespeare’s strongest women. They are not to be outdone, however; the women from The 39 Steps, Silent Sky, and The Mountaintop are all exceptional too!”

In addition to the mainstage productions, enjoy free family fun at The Greenshow every evening at 7:10 pm, Monday through Saturday. This year’s themes are Royals, featuring Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots (before performances of Henry VIII), Folk Festival (before performances of The Winter’s Tale), and Commedia (before performances of The Taming of the Shrew). These dynamic family-friendly outdoor shows feature singing, dancing, stories, music, and audience participation. Bring a blanket and stretch out on the grass or cozy up on a bench for these lively 30-minute pre-show performances. Also this season, the Festival again welcomes the Paiute Tribe of Utah with special Greenshow performances on July 8 and 23, and August 7 and 29.

What is affectionately known as the Festival Experience ensures that audiences’ participation goes beyond––and sometimes behind––the stage. An expansive array of seminars, orientations, Backstage Tours, Repertory Magic, classes, camps, and more aim to enhance patrons’ understanding of Shakespeare and other playwrights’ works and the process of repertory theatre. Some are free; others have an admission fee. Much of the Festival Experience is thoughtfully designed to demystify the Bard’s language and themes, making his works accessible and enjoyable for all, regardless of prior exposure to Shakespeare.

For those interested in even more theatrical experiences, the Festival also hosts a new play reading series called Words Cubed in August where audience and actors come together with playwrights to experience and discuss their new works. Additionally, students from London’s renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) will present a condensed touring production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream July 30-August 3 in the Anes Studio Theatre.

We invite you to experience the magic of the Utah Shakespeare Festival this season. Whether you’re sharing the joy of Shakespeare with your family for the first time or rediscovering his or other playwrights’ genius, the Festival offers a welcoming, engaging, and unforgettable experience for everyone. Get your tickets today at, by calling 800-PLAYTIX, or visiting the Ticket Office near the clocktower.

Spotlight on Familiar Faces: Returning Actors Shine at the Utah Shakespeare Festival

Bailey Savage (left), Tracie Lane, Tom Coiner, and Michael Doherty in The 39 Steps, 2024. Photo by Karl Hugh.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival kicks off its 63rd season on TONIGHT (on June 17) and invites audiences to experience a lineup of timeless classics and compelling new works through October 5. Celebrating the return of beloved patrons, the Festival is equally thrilled to welcome back many esteemed members of the seasonal company.

Each of the Festival’s productions listed below not only showcases the performing talents of returning actors, directors, and artists, but also underscores the Festival’s commitment to nurturing a community of artists who grow and evolve alongside their audience.

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare

Festival Director of New Plays/Artistic Associate Derek Charles Livingston is directing Shakespeare’s final history play, Henry VIII, which is rarely produced and last at the Festival nearly 30 years ago. Last season, Topher Embrey charmed Festival patrons as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This year he leads Henry VIII in the title role, with Cassandra Bissell returning as Queen Katherine and Chris Mixon as Cardinal Wolsey. Other returning actors joining them on stage include: Evelyn Carol Case, Christopher Centinaro, Trent Dahlin, Darin F. Earl II, John Harrell, Geoffrey Kent, Marco Antonio Vega, Spencer Watson, Henry Woronicz, and Braedon Young.

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

Filled with contrast, one of Shakespeare’s later and lesser-known plays, The Winter’s Tale, balances themes of jealousy and love. Audiences will journey from conflict to reunion with returning actors Geoffrey Kent as Polixenes and Tracie Lane as Hermione. The cast also includes other familiar faces: Michael Doherty, Topher Embrey, John Harrell, Chris Mixon, Bailey Savage, Christopher Centinaro, and Kinsley Seegmiller.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

After delivering a sparkling Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical in her Festival directorial debut last season, Valerie Rachelle returns to direct The Taming of the Shrew. Returning actors include: Chris Mixon as Baptista Minola, Blake Henri as Grumio, Cassandra Bissell as Tranio/Huntsman, Topher Embrey as Christopher Sly/Curtis, and Melinda Parrett as Josephina/Widow/Server. The cast also features returning actors John Harrell, Geoffrey Kent, and Christopher Centinaro.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Beloved director Brad Carroll returns to direct Much Ado About Nothing. Returning actors bringing this romantic romp to life include Henry Woronicz as Leonato, Jimmy Nguyen as Claudio, Melinda Parrett as Beatrice, and Marco Antonio Vega as Don John. Additional familiar faces include: Ashley Aquino, Evelyn Carol Case, Trent Dahlin, Darin F. Earl II, Blake Henri, Matthew Wangemann, Spencer Watson, and Braedon Young.

The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow

Having played a clown in the Festival’s 2010 production of The 39 Steps, Aaron Galligan-Stierle is returning to the play, this time as the director. Audiences will laugh out loud with returning actors Michael Doherty as Clown #1, Tracie Lane as Annabella/Margaret/Pamela, and Bailey Savage as Clown #2.

Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson

Directed by Festival veteran Melinda Pfundstein, Silent Sky features Katie Cunningham returning to the Festival to portray Henrietta Leavitt. Additional returning actors include Kat Lee as Margaret Leavitt and Sarah Shippobotham as Williamina Fleming.

The Mountaintop by Katori Hall

Cameron Knight is returning to direct The Mountaintop at the Festival, having directed The Tempest and Richard III in the past. Following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., audience members watch as he confronts both his mortality and the future of his work. “It puts a human touch and human connection on the legend that is Martin Luther King Jr. and brings him back down to the people,” Knight said.

Tickets for Henry VIII, The Winter’s Tale, The Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado About Nothing, as well as The 39 Steps, Silent Sky and The Mountaintop can be found online at or by calling 800-PLAYTIX.

Welcome 2024 Anes Company Members

Anes company members attend their welcome meeting.

As the curtains prepare to rise on the Festival’s 63rd season, beginning this week in the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, and the following week in the Randall L. Jones Theatre, a delightful blend of returning and new artists arrived last week on Monday, June 10, to begin the process for two productions in our third space, the Anes Studio Theatre. These shows will open in mid-July and run through October 5.

The gathering was filled with anticipation, nostalgia, excitement, and some nervous energy. Artistic Director John DiAntonio gave a warm welcome by saying, “You are in an extraordinary place and it’s easy to take that for granted…but you are surrounded by some of the best artists in the country and in a community that is thrilled to have you…I hope you fill up your cup this summer through the art and through connections.” Featuring two captivating period pieces penned by esteemed contemporary playwrights, this group of theatre technicians have since jumped enthusiastically into their work.

Audiences can expect to be transported by these stories––Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Melinda Pfundstein, and The Mountaintop by Katori Hall, directed by Cameron Knight––that delve into the lives of some important historical trail blazers.

The inspiring narrative of Silent Sky tells a story of indomitable spirit about pioneering astronomer Henrietta Leavitt. Her relentless pursuit of knowledge and truth weaves a tale not only about difficult challenges she faced but also of discovering light and love within.

The Mountaintop tells a fictional but powerful story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final night on earth. While his legacy is full of potency and grace, this poignant story also serves as a reminder of his struggles, vulnerabilities, and pressures to be a leader in a pivotal time.

Both directors have a strong history with the Festival, and lead artistic teams and casts who are preparing extraordinary productions. One of the advantages of performing in the Anes Theatre is the opportunity to experience these stories in an intimate setting. With only 200 seats, audiences are very close to the action onstage. Another exciting element in this space this season is the use of projection to tell the stories. Without giving anything away, it will be something not to be missed.

Welcome to the 2024 Anes company!

Tickets and information for Silent Sky and The Mountaintop, along with the Festival’s other productions including Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, The Winter’s Tale, The Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado About Nothing, as well as the hilarious whodunit comedy The 39 Steps, can be found online at or by calling 800-PLAYTIX.

The Greenshow: 10 Fun Facts

Emily Wheeler (left) and Matthew Wangeman as Featured Performers in The Greenshow, 2024. Photo by Karl Hugh.

From the early years of the Festival, The Greenshow has always been an audience (and performer) favorite. First developed by the late Barbara Adams over sixty years ago, this free 30-minute family-friendly entertainment before the evening plays happens every Monday through Saturday at 7:10 p.m. beginning June 17 through September 7.

This season, returning director Britannia Howe has created three distinct and exciting themes which rotate in correspondence with the evening shows in the outdoor Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre: Royals Night, Folk Festival Night, and Commedia Night. In addition, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah returns as part of The Greenshow and will perform four special evenings throughout the season.

“I love the spirit of The Greenshow,” says Howe. “It invites audiences into our space to play. It is vital for our world-building, to create a joyful experience with our guests.”

Whether you are a first-comer to The Greenshow, or have attended for over sixty years, here are some fun things to know about this Festival staple held on the Ashton Family Greenshow Commons.

  1. Howe is returning for her fifth year as writer and director of The Greenshow, having also helmed it in 2018, 2019, 2021, and 2023. She has created 14 Greenshows for the Festival so far and is always looking for new stories, themes, and music, while striving to keep the nostalgia of the traditional Greenshow.
  2. Royals Night, which plays on the same night as Henry VIII, is inspired by the lineage of King Henry VIII with songs from English, Irish, and Scottish folk traditions. Special appearances include Queen Elizabeth I; Mary, Queen of Scots; and a couple members of a favorite Loch Ness family.
    2024 Production Renderings: scenic designs by Ben Hohman.
  3. Folk Night, which plays the same night as The Winter’s Tale, draws on those Shakespearean characters who live in the Bohemian wilderness. With themes of a summertime arts festival, there will be folk songs, lively stories, and artistic characters to enchant the audience.
  4. Commedia Night, which precedes performances of The Taming of the Shrew, is inspired by Italy and features stock characters from Commedia dell’Arte. There will be lots of fun tricks, jokes, and plenty of puns.
  5. Don’t miss our friends from the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah who will take the stage on July 8 and 23, and August 7 and 29 for their very own Greenshow performances, including traditional drumming, dances, music, and regalia.
  6. Many of the props used in The Greenshows have an important feel of nostalgia because they have been used in past seasons. One to look out for on Royals Night is the Mama Nessie puppet which was first used in The Greenshow and The Royal Feast over 25 years ago and requires two people to manipulate. Also, Mama Nessie appears during an original song composed by Festival Music Director Brandon Grayson with lyrics by Grayson and Howe. (BONUS FUN FACT: Grayson has either arranged, music directed, produced, or composed 100 songs exactly for The Greenshow in the past five years!)
  7. All The Greenshow performers this season are alumni or current students of Southern Utah University. (Go T-Birds!)
  8. This is Trey Plutnicki’s first year as a choreographer for the Festival and The Greenshow. He was a featured performer in The Greenshow in 2019 and 2021. Some may recognize him from the reality television show Squid Game: The Challenge.

    Ashley Aquino (left) and Gracelyn Erickson as Featured Performers in The Greenshow, 2024. Photo by Karl Hugh.
  9. When writing The Greenshow, Howe says she tries to include references to the history of the Festival. For example, one of the songs this season references the large sycamore trees that shade The Greenshow stage.
  10. This is the first time The Greenshow costumes have been co-designed by longtime Festival employees Diana Girtain and Jeff Lieder. They were especially excited about designing and crafting the gowns for the two queens on Royals Night. “I have wanted to have Queen Elizabeth appear on The Greenshow stage for years,” says Howe. “This year I thought it was the right opportunity because of the connection to Henry VIII, as she was his and Anne Boleyn’s daughter.” Girtain and Lieder designed her and Mary, Queen of Scots’ dresses in such a way that the actors could still dance and move about with ease.

The Greenshow is a perfect way for families and patrons of all ages to enjoy the Festival Experience. Don’t forget to book your tickets to the mainstage productions of Henry VIII, The Winter’s Tale, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, The 39 Steps, Silent Sky, and The Mountaintop. Visit or call 800-PLAYTIX for tickets and information.

The Greenshow Through the Years

The Greenshow was created in the early years of the Festival by the late Barbara Adams, wife of Festival founder Fred C. Adams. She was adamant that there be nightly pre-show entertainment that featured music, dancing, and––for many years––a Punch and Judy puppet show. Today the tradition of singing, storytelling, dancing, and audience participation on the green continues.

Enjoy these photos from previous productions of The Greenshow!

A scene from The Greenshow, 1993 (with the same Mama Nessie head being used in this year’s Greenshow).
A scene from The Greenshow, 1996
A scene from The Greenshow, 2002
The Greenshow director Britannia Howe (then Britannia Bahr) selling tarts at The Greenshow, 2004
A scene from The Greenshow, 2012
Audiences enjoy The Greenshow, 2016
A scene from The Greenshow, 2019

Silent Sky: 10 Fun Facts

2024 Production Renderings: Scenic design by Jo Winiarski. Costumes by David Mickelsen.

Set in the intimate Eileen and Allen Anes Theatre, Silent Sky tells the true story of the unforgettable female scientist—Henrietta Leavitt––and her cohorts at the Harvard College Observatory who had an incredible impact on astronomy in the early 20th century.

“I am thrilled to explore this inspiring story of breaking barriers and the light in all of us, with a brilliant creative team of collaborators at the Festival,” Director Melinda Pfundstein said. “I can’t wait to begin.”

This is the first time the play has seen Festival stages, so enjoy these ten fun facts below to prepare you for the production. Visit our study guide to learn more about the characters to fully appreciate the facts listed below.

  1. Pfundstein is returning to the Festival, having directed The Book of Will, The Merchant of Venice, and All’s Well That Ends Well, among others. She has acted in over 30 Festival productions throughout the years, some of her favorites being Mother in Ragtime, Margaret in Richard III, and Constance in King John.
  2. Lauren Gunderson also wrote the play The Book of Will, so although this is Pfundstein’s first time directing Silent Sky, it isn’t her first Gunderson play.
  3. Gunderson isn’t only a playwright, but also a musical book writer, screenwriter, and short story/children’s author. She also writes for The Huffington Post and The Wall Street Journal. She has also been one of the most produced playwrights in America (American Theatre Magazine) since 2015, topping the list three times.
  4. Before devoting her studies to writing, Gunderson once dreamed of being a physics major. This makes sense as many of Gunderson’s works highlight scientific progress.
  5. Henrietta Leavitt made a scientific discovery that changed the world of astronomy forever. She is known for the discovery of the relationship between period and luminosity in Cepheid variable stars. This led to the first distance measurement for a galaxy outside the Milky Way. Ultimately, Leavitt’s discoveries made it possible to map out the universe. The pictures of stars on glass plates that Leavitt used to make her discoveries are still in the Harvard archives.
  6. Leavitt worked alongside the famous Scottish astronomer Williamina Fleming, who is known for her discovery of the Horsehead Nebula in 1888 and many other astronomical contributions. Leavitt’s coworker Annie Cannon’s work was also imperative to the development of stellar classification.
  7. Following her 1892 graduation from Radcliffe College, Leavitt lost most of her hearing after contracting a serious illness.
  8. Projections will be used in the Festival’s production to replicate and illuminate the starry sky. “Light and projection, designed for our play by Jaymi Smith and Joe Payne, will literally paint the picture of the galaxy and the various scene settings, as we navigate the characters’ journey to understanding the light of the stars,” Pfundstein said.
  9. Katie Cunningham, who is playing Henrietta Leavitt, was last at the Festival in 2019 and played roles in The Book of Will, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night.
  10. Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha is taking on the role of Peter Shaw in Silent Sky, alongside playing Martin Luther King Jr. in The Mountaintop.

Silent Sky previews on July 12 and runs until October 5. Visit to purchase tickets.

Meet the Cast: Silent Sky

The Utah Shakespeare Festival is excited to announce the cast of Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Melinda Pfundstein.

Telling the true story of nineteenth century scientist Henrietta Leavitt, the play is a celebration of science, family, discovery, female achievement, and the light in all of us.

“I hope this story inspires our audience to consider the wonder in their own lives. The relationships they hold dear, and the legacy they hope to leave through the expression of their own light in the world,” Pfundstein said. “I believe that this play is an invitation to do just that.”

The cast is as follows:

Katie Cunningham

Katie Cunningham is returning to the Festival as Henrietta Leavitt in Silent Sky. Previous roles at the Festival include Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Rebecca Heminges in The Book of Will, Maria in Twelfth Night, and more. Off-Broadway credits include those at The Actors’ Company Theatre. Other credits include eleven seasons at Clarence Brown Theatre, Asolo Rep, PlayMakers Rep, and more. She received a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Florida State University and a bachelor of arts degree from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Cunningham is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and Head of Acting at University of Tennessee, Knoxville and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association.

Kat Lee

Kat Lee is returning to the Festival as Margaret Leavitt in Silent Sky. Previous roles at the Festival include Mrs. Weston in Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical, Lady Montague in Romeo and Juliet, and Ensemble in Ragtime and The Greenshow. Other credits include A Christmas Carol at Denver Center, Clue at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Into The Breeches at Lyric Repertory Theatre, and more. Lee received the Festival’s 2023 Michael and Jan Finlayson Actor Award. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Otterbein University.

Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha

Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha is debuting at the Festival as Peter Shaw in Silent Sky and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in The Mountaintop. He has performed at LaJolla Playhouse, Seattle Rep, and Asolo Rep, and many others. Television credits include Days of Our Lives, NCIS-LA, All My Children, and more. Film credits include Shirley (starring Regina King) and 8989 Redstone. Murtadha is a founding member of Africana Repertory Theatre of IU Indianapolis, an ensemble member of the Fonseca Theatre Company, and on the artistic board of Crescent City Stage in New Orleans. Awards include Best Actor at the New Orleans Short Film Festival and the NAACP Award for Best Ensemble at The Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles. He is an Assistant Professor in the BFA Acting program and Co-Artistic Director of The Mosaic Theatre Company at Auburn University. Murtadha received a Bachelor of Arts from Indiana University and Master of Fine Arts from University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Actors’ Equity Association.

Alia Shakira

Alia Shakira is debuting at the Festival as Annie Cannon in Silent Sky and Camae in The Mountaintop. Other credits include The House That Will Not Stand at Horizon Theater, A Lady and A Woman at Impact Theater, numerous plays at New Federal Theatre, and more. Television credits include The First Lady, The Come Up, Woke, and the film The Color Purple. Shakira received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from Howard University and is thrilled to be making her Festival debut.

Sarah Shippobotham

Sarah Shippobotham is returning to the Festival as Williamina Fleming in Silent Sky. She previously played Duchess of York in Richard III and multiple roles in Pericles, The Comedy of Errors, and The Conclusion of Henry VI: Parts Two and Three at the Festival. She recently wrote and performed in the world premiere of her one-woman show Can I Say Yes to That Dress at Salt Lake Acting Company. She has worked as a voice and dialect coach at the Shaw Festival for eighteen years and as a dialect coach at Pioneer Theatre Company. She received her education at the Royal Central School of Music and Drama in London and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, Wales, and is thrilled to be back for another season.

Produced in the intimate Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre, Silent Sky previews July 12 and runs until October 5. Visit to purchase tickets.

Welcome to the 2024 Seasonal Company

Executive Managing Director Michael Bahr and Artistic Director John DiAntonio snap a selfie with the company during the opening meeting in the Randall L. Jones Theatre.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival welcomed this summer’s seasonal company on Monday, May 6, with an opening meeting and a day full of first rehearsals, costume measurements, tours of the facilities and workspaces, and more for those working to put the 2024 season together.

While there have been some seasonal staff in Cedar City who started the build process earlier this year, the majority of the performing company, production artists, stage managers, and company management staff began on or around May 6. Additionally, the lead design teams, including directors, designers (scenic, costume, lighting, sound, and projection), choreographers, dramaturgs, music director, fight/intimacy directors, voice and text coaches, props, and hair and makeup artists began their work last fall, though most didn’t arrive on site until last week.

Executive Managing Director Michael Bahr and Artistic Director John DiAntonio enthusiastically welcomed all those in attendance at the opening meeting in the Randall L. Jones Theatre.

“You are in an extraordinary place,” said DiAntonio. “You’re at 6,000 feet elevation, in a rural mountain town––where it can snow at any instant [referencing the late spring snow storm the day before]––surrounded by national parks, some of the best artists in the nation, and a community that is thrilled to have you. I hope you fill your cup this season.”

That evening the Guild of the Utah Shakespeare Festival hosted a welcome dinner in the courtyard of the beloved retired Adams Memorial Theatre for all those artists spending their summer in Cedar City. Also in attendance were year-round staff, families and friends, and special guests.

Over 300 seasonal staff come to town, many of whom return year after year, calling the Festival their artistic home. They come from all over the country, including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Denver, among many other places. Later, closer to the shows’ openings, more staff will arrive, including house management/ushers, ticket office staff, and concessions personnel. In addition, volunteers from the local community fill out the ranks of people it requires to put on a successful season.

The casts and crews have approximately six weeks to rehearse and build five shows for the Engelstad and Randall Theatres, as well as three different Greenshows, with preview audiences arriving on June 17. The second wave of performing company members, lead design staff, and production artists arrive mid-June to prepare two more shows, these for the Anes Studio Theatre. These productions welcome audiences on July 12.

“It’s simply incredible the amount of work and artistry that goes into making sure the season is ready to welcome our guests––the audiences,” says Bahr. “Our 63rd season promises to be one celebrating history makers and extraordinary characters. Don’t miss it!”

Tickets are available by calling 800-PLAYTIX or visiting The season runs through October 5.