News From the Festival
The Utah Shakespeare Festival is excited to host its 47th annual Shakespeare Competition on October 5-7, 2023.
The largest of its kind in the country, the Shakespeare Competition began in 1977 and now hosts schools from around the country. Each year, approximately 3,000 students ranging from third to twelfth grade travel to Cedar City to compete on Southern Utah University’s campus.
The mission of the competition is to “cultivate the art of theatre, dance, and music by providing active observation of peer and professional performance, educational creations based on Shakespeare’s works, and personal evaluation by working professionals.”
Not only does the competition give participants the opportunity to grow and learn in the world of theatre, but it has an extremely positive impact on the local community—both educationally and economically.
The Educational Impact
The Shakespeare Competition is meant to inspire, educate, and encourage young people interested in the worlds of theatre and Shakespeare, but its impact can also be seen in a more indirect way on Southern Utah University’s campus.
SUU Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre Lisa Quoresimo said the Shakespeare Competition’s impact manifests on campus by bringing an inspiring environment of energy and hope.
“The sight of thousands of joyous high school students filling every spare room and scrap of lawn as they rehearse their monologues and scenes in everything from traditional Elizabethan costumes to full-Jedi Knight regalia gives us all hope for the future of theatre,” Quoresimo said.
Many of those assisting in the competition were once participants themselves—direct proof of the mark the Shakespeare Competition has had on those involved.
“Many of our SUU students were once participants, and they love the feeling of giving back as they volunteer to help the next generation of theatre fans to find their way,” Quoresimo said.
Many theatre fans have, in fact, not only found their way, but forged a successful career path in the world of theatre.
The Festival’s current Associate Education Director Stewart Shelley was once a Shakespeare Competition contestant himself. As a former teacher, he went on to spend 20 years bringing his own students to the competition. In his current position at the Festival, Shelley plays a vital role in planning and managing the Shakespeare Competition, giving students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of Shakespeare as he once did.
“Participating in the Shakespeare Competition as a student changed the course of my life,” Shelley said. “The camaraderie we built as a team made life-long friendships. However, the greatest impact was the spark for me to become a theatre educator.”
Shelley wanted to ensure that as many students as possible would be able to experience the same magic of the Shakespeare Competition that he did.
“Coaching a team was very different from competing as a student, and now my current capacity being an administrator of the competition is again a very different experience,” Shelley said. “However, the goal remains the same.”
According to Shelley, the goal is cultivate a love of performing, an opportunity to “speak the speech,” and experience a marvelous weekend with thousands of other students who are equally passionate about their craft.
In addition to staff that has been a part of the competition, many of the acting company that performs each summer has a personal connection as well. Rhett Guter, Allie Babich, and Marco Antonio Vega were also once Shakespeare Competition participants—now shining stars on Festival stages throughout the 2023 season. To learn more about their stories, click here.
The Economic Impact
Maria Twitchell, Executive Director of Visit Cedar City • Brian Head noted that the Shakespeare Competition continues to be one of the top events that generates considerable economic impact on Iron County.
“Last year, participants spent $572,000 on local lodging alone, occupying 91 percent of our city’s hotel rooms,” Twitchell said. “Lodging expenses aside, we estimate each participant/chaperone spends about $42 per day within our community on food, snacks, fuel and supplies, which equates to approximately $504,000 in spending in our local businesses.”
Overall, the Utah Shakespeare Festival Competition equates to over $1 million dollars in economic impact on Cedar City over a single weekend.
For more information on the Shakespeare Competition, click here. To learn more about the Festival educational opportunities, visit bard.org/education.
10 Things to Know About This Year’s Anes Shows at the Utah Shakespeare Festival
Don’t miss out on two rarely-performed Shakespeare plays––Timon of Athens and Coriolanus, both closing in a few weeks on October 7.
We invite you to come and believe in the power of theatre in our intimate Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre. It’s a must-have experience! Here are ten things you should know about these two shows before you come:
- Lisa Peterson made her directorial debut at the Festival this season. She is a two-time OBIE Award-winner and her most recent production, Good Night, Oscar starring Sean Hayes who received a Tony Award for his performance, is currently on Broadway.
- Actor Elijah Alexander, known for his roles as Atticus Aemilius in seasons two and three of The Chosen TV series, is in both Anes productions as Timon in Timon of Athens and Tullus Aufidius/Roman Citizen in Coriolanus.
- This is the first time that both shows in the Anes have both been works of Shakespeare.
- Scholars consider Coriolanus unusual for Shakespeare’s works, as it follows a single narrative line. Still, Director Lisa Peterson considers the play to be one of Shakespeare’s most powerful.
- Although Coriolanus enjoyed military success as a legendary Roman hero, his temperament was not suitable as a leader, which resulted in his downfall. This brings up an interesting theme that Peterson plays on in her production, asking the question: “what does it take to step up and lead?”
- This season’s production is only the third time the Festival has produced Coriolanus in its sixty-two year history, with previous productions being in 1977 and 2007.
- Peterson made the artistic decision for Coriolanus to be produced in a modern setting this year at the Festival.
- Timon of Athens, will, however, be set in the time of its creation––around 1607. Patrons can expect traditional ruffs and pumpkin pants.
- The last––and only––time the Festival has produced Timon of Athens was 30 years ago!
- Shakespeare wasn’t the only playwright for Timon of Athens. It is theorized that Thomas Middleton also worked on the play. Director Lisa Peterson loves that Shakespeare collaborated with the younger writer and found new ways to tell stories.
For more information or to purchase tickets for the 2023 and 2024 season, visit bard.org or call 800-PLAYTIX.
Director Lisa Peterson made her directorial debut at the Festival this season, directing not one, but two plays. Both staged in the Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theater, Peterson took on the “giant brain tease,” as she called it, of directing Timon of Athens and Coriolanus in repertory.
Peterson is a two-time Obie Award-winner for her productions of An Iliad and Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. Recent credits include Shipwrecked, Motherhood Outloud, and The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek. Shakespeare productions include Antony and Cleopatra at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Hamlet at Oregon Shakespeare Theatre, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hartford Stage.
She has also directed at the Mark Taper Forum (where she was Resident Director for ten years), La Jolla Playhouse (where she was Associate Director for three years), and Guthrie Theatre, to name a few. Peterson is also a member of Ensemble Studio Theater and on the executive board of Stage Director and Choreographers Union.
The Festival had the chance to visit with Peterson about her experience directing these two plays.
The Festival: What should our patrons know to help them understand the plays better?
Peterson: The first and most important thing is that these two plays speak to each other. The idea of doing these two plays in repertory is what captured my imagination from the beginning. I’m hoping that people will see both plays, so [that they see] there are themes between the two plays that are very much aligned with each other.
In a way, it’s the same story told twice. Even though they’re set in very different worlds— Timon is a rich patron and it’s about money, and Coriolanus is about war, look first to see how it’s the same story, and then look for the differences.
The Festival: Are there any special “Easter eggs” you have implemented into the plays as a director?
Peterson: At the end of Timon of Athens, there’s the suggestion of a coming war, and to me, the fun order in which to see the plays is first Timon, and then Coriolanus.
They are a couple of props that are used in both shows. This was so both patrons seeing the shows would notice and to emphasize the similarities between the two plays.
The Festival: What do you hope audience members walk away with from these productions?
Peterson: First, to be newly appreciative of the range of Shakespeare’s writing talent. Timon is experimental and quite funny, but it feels quite modern. It’s kind of like a farce meets existential poem. Then, when you get to Coriolanus, you say, “Wow, he could really write drama.”
[I hope patrons] have appreciation of the actors and what magic acting is— how people can transform in front of us, and represent humanity in front of us. And lastly, to think about how hard it is to be a good leader after seeing Timon of Athens and Coriolanus, as I think it’s [really about] the responsibilities of citizenship and what makes a good member of society, as well as how it goes wrong when it goes wrong.
The Festival: Why should our patrons see Timon of Athens and Coriolanus?
Peterson: I think they should come see both plays to do a deep dive into this part of Shakespeare’s career, when he was quite well-known. He’d written Romeo and Juliet, but hadn’t written King Lear. It’s interesting to me because you’re diving into a year and a half of Shakespeare’s writing life. I don’t know if anyone ever has been able to see these two plays back to back— it’s highly unusual.
And, I’m proud of the work the actors are doing. It’s smart and funny and offbeat and honest, in a way that Shakespeare isn’t always. Both plays feel very modern, though they were written 500 years ago.
The Festival: What were the challenges of directing this play?
Peterson: These plays are for people who like to challenge themselves and like an intellectual puzzle, and who are excited about a kind of radial theatricality. This is what drew me to working on both plays.
I’ve done about a dozen Shakespeare plays, including Hamlet, but Coriolanus is one of the hardest I’ve ever directed. It’s dense, and it’s about hard things, such as betrayal. But it feels as if we excavated it. It feels like we went at a mountain with a pick and a shovel and got out on the other side of it so others can go up and see the view.
The Festival: How long have you been directing? Why do you continue to direct?
Peterson: I’ve been directing plays for 30 years now. I started when I was very little in the acting world. When I was in high school, my friends and I started a theatre company. I went to Yale as an undergraduate, and it was in college that I discovered that my gift might actually be as a director and not an actor.
I fell into the new play world in New York, but at the same time wanted to keep my hand in directing classics. I don’t want to get categorized as one kind of director, so it’s been important for me to keep my hand in new plays, classics, and musicals. After [so many] years, I still love rehearsing. I love being in a room with a bunch of smart actors, figuring out how to tell a story.
But I still love going to theatre. You can sit in a room with strangers and listen to a story and have a reaction at the same time. It’s just so . . . human.
For more information on Peterson, visit playwrightshorizon.org.
To purchase tickets to Timon of Athens and Coriolanus, visit bard.org or call 800-PLAYTIX.
By Liz Armstrong
Director Geoffrey Kent said that The Play That Goes Wrong is one of the funniest comedies written in the past 10 years. As an accessible, family-friendly play that will have your sides hurting from laughter, it’s a must-see this season.
But for those involved, this play was extremely challenging to pull off. Because it is so technically complex and physically demanding, we chatted with Kent and Properties Director Ben Hohman to find out how they made The Play That Goes Wrong. . . go right.
Without giving too much away, we’ll let you in on part of the behind-the-scenes process.
“We have a hard time talking about The Play That Goes Wrong, because the premise of the play is given in the title, but we don’t want to give spoilers,” Kent warned.
However, he and Hohman shared some fun facts that won’t interfere with the element of the surprises the play brings.
Kent noted that something that made the process run smoothly was starting on the show as early as possible.
“We knew we had to get ahead of it. We had our first design meeting in August of 2022,” Kent said. “[The Festival] was still producing Clue, and we had already designed the set and costumes.”
Several decisions were made very early, such as prioritizing and spending extra time on actor safety.
“We spent lots of extra time before our typical ‘tech’ period working with the actors, design team, director, and stage management, both in the rehearsal room and on set to work through the more complicated technical elements,” Hohman said. “[This way], we had time to adjust and improve the items and action to keep storytelling front and center while also ensuring actor and crew safety.”
As Kent mentioned, set design was planned out before the 2022 season at the Festival had even closed.
“We decided early on to not employ any motors, solenoids, or other electronics to pull off the tricks, so everything is manually controlled by crew people backstage,” Hohman noted.
In the long run, this decision was made because of the goal of consistency. But, because of this decision, the research and development that went into the creation of all the scenery, props, costumes, and effects was much more intense.
“We do a lot of extensive impact, with sound effects using slapsticks offstage,” Kent said.
The problem was, that once they were on set, they discovered they could no longer hear the sound effects, and those operating the slapsticks couldn’t see what was happening in the play.
“To solve this problem, we drilled small holes in the set, where the sound effect actors can look through to see what’s going on,” Kent said.
Kent calls the chaise lounge in the show a “diva prop” because it takes up more time and attention than other aspects of the set.
“The chaise gets thrown around, fallen on, hidden behind, tripped over, climbed upon, and more. This means that it had to be light and strong, and still look like a period piece,” Kent said.
So the props department engineered it with this in mind; but in rehearsal, the actors kept breaking it. Eventually, the chaise was perfected.
“The chaise is built out of aluminum and is capable of doing much more than it [would normally] do,” Kent said.
Hohman said that through the rehearsal process, many items held up better than expected, while others required the making of several duplicates to get through the run of the show.
“Almost everything in the show we have multiple copies of, because of the abuse the set goes through in the play,” Kent said. “Everything had to be designed to go through 80 performances.”
To prioritize actor safety, some alterations to the set were made, one of which was the rug in the center of the stage.
“The rug is padded, because so many actors fall down on it, so we had to give them a little bit of protection to make it safe for them,” Kent said.
There’s something to be said about producing a play where everything goes wrong, but making sure that behind-the-scenes, everything else is going right.
“The show is frustrating to me because it makes it look like all the technical staff don’t know how to do their jobs, though making it look that way is really difficult to pull off,” Hohman said candidly.
Hohman said that The Play That Goes Wrong is one of the most challenging he’s encountered in over 30 years at the Festival.
“Everything needs to be designed to look like it was done by a community theater, which is a bit lower level of detail than we are used to creating,” Hohman said. “But it also needs to hold up to major abuse for months.”
Producing the show in repertory, nearly 80 times throughout the season, brought a whole new set of obstacles.
“Most people who do this show attach the set to their theater to help with the physics on the set, but our set is on casters and has to roll into storage [because our shows rotate in repertory],” Hohman said. “So the amount of work the scenery department had to do to figure out the stresses on the set and to counteract that was pretty extraordinary.”
Ultimately, the show is something that all involved are extremely proud of.
“I do appreciate that the audience doesn’t know what is supposed to (scripted) go wrong, and what on any given day does (mistake) go wrong,” Hohman said. “That is due to a remarkable cast and crew who keeps the story moving, as well as a great amount of preparation and planning from every department for a year.”
Hohman noted that this was followed by an amazing rehearsal period and a willing design team.
“[We were able to] pull together a show that is funny, charming, unexpected, and delightful, while also at times terrifying for theater people to watch,” Hohman said.
With just three weeks left to see the show, don’t wait to purchase tickets. Visit bard.org or call the ticket office at 800-PLAYTIX to get yours.
Geoffrey Kent directed this season’s production of The Play That Goes Wrong. This is Kent’s fourth season at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, with three seasons under his belt as an actor and fight director.
Kent first appeared at the Festival in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Complete) (2009). He returned as Oliver in As You Like It (2017), Billy Bones in Treasure Island (2017), and the Prince of Arragon in The Merchant of Venice (2018). He has also worked at DCPA Broadway, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and Arvada Center. Kent received a Henry Award for Excellence in Fight Direction. His teaching credits include University of Northern Colorado, University of Denver, and Asolo Conservatory.
This is the first time The Play That Goes Wrong has ever been produced in a repertory theatre, which is a big deal. This means that the play alternates alongside other productions. This is a difficult task, as the play is extremely physically demanding on the set, actors, and staff involved.
The Festival had the chance to visit with Kent about the exciting and challenging experience of directing such a difficult––and ridiculously fun––show.
The Festival: The Play That Goes Wrong is such a comical and fun play. Why should our patrons see it?
Kent: It’s one of the funniest plays written in the last 10 years, and you never want to pass up an opportunity to see a great comedy. Quite frankly, great comedies are harder to find than great tragedies.
And, it requires no prior knowledge to understand it, you can just show up and have a good time. It’s completely accessible and perfect for families. You can bring your kids and they’ll laugh alongside you.
The Festival: As playgoers, what should we watch for that would help us enjoy it even more?
Kent: The tricks can kind of upstage the story, if the audience is waiting for the next thing to go wrong versus how the characters are surviving. It will be [most interesting] for the audience to watch how our actors as the characters in the play do their best to keep the story alive and running—when what they should probably be doing is stopping.
The Festival: Are there any special “Easter eggs” you have implemented into the play as a director?
Kent: The portrait of the dog on the wall is of my dog that I lost in March to an accident. His name is Monty, and I sent a photo of him to our scenic designer Jason Lajka and he designed the portrait. It always brings a smile to my face when I see it.
Later, when the dog character is missing, as written in the script, Max is supposed to come running out with an invisible dog on a leash, but our Costume Designer Lauren T. Roark and Actor Jim Poulos together came up with this idea of, “What if he takes this big raccoon coat that he wears and rips apart and uses that as a solution to the problem?” We created a lot of humor with that, that a lot of other productions don’t have.
The Festival: What do you hope audience members walk away with from this production?
Kent: I hope their sides hurt from laughing. I hope that they have faith in the theatrical process. The motto we’ve built theatre around is “the show must go on,” and when it’s all over [these characters] have made it to the end of the play.
There’s something to be said about watching this team overcome hundreds of obstacles and still manage to get to the last line of the play, and I hope that the audience members feel proud and satisfied that they did that.
The Festival: What were the largests challenges of directing this play?
Kent: Physical safety. In a show that is this physically demanding, we were constantly asking ourselves, “Can we do this 80 times?” It is the most technically complex show I have ever directed. Every single page required specific choreography for safety or comedy.
The Festival: Why did you enjoy directing this show?
Kent: It felt like a dare. What draws me to theatre are plays that feel like they’re challenging you to stage it and try and pull this off. What excited me about this play was the challenge of creating a physical story this complicated that could be done safely all the way through October.
Also, I am drawn to laughter because it engenders empathy. Once someone makes you laugh, you care about them. [The actors] are all so funny, and so you care about them, and when everything goes wrong, you continue to care about them and go on that journey with them.
The Festival: How long have you been directing? Why do you continue to direct?
Kent: I’ve been directing for about 15 years. What drew me to directing was fight direction, because as a fight director, I had to interact with not just the actors and directors, but props, costumes, and more. Eventually that made me want a wider lens, because I was pushing at the boundaries as a fight director. I wanted to be the orchestrator of a complete story instead of simply part of one.
To purchase tickets to The Play That Goes Wrong this season, visit bard.org or call 800-PLAYTIX.
For more information on Kent, visit his website at geoffreykent.com or on Instagram @geoffreykent.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival is back with its 19th annual Fall Food Drive, taking place now through October 7.
This year, the Festival is collaborating with the Iron County Care and Share to make a meaningful impact in the community by supplying food to those who need it most. And by helping, you can get half-price tickets.
Residents of Iron, Beaver, Washington, Kane, Garfield, Piute, and Lincoln counties are invited to donate. For every five non-perishable food items donated, guests receive a half-price ticket to a play of their choice.
This special offer will replace the standard local discount for the duration of the food drive. There is no limit on the number of half-off tickets local guests can get. Please note that Premier Seating is not available for this promotion.
“Supporting local food and homeless shelters is not just an act of charity; it’s a powerful statement of our community’s compassion and resilience,” Director of Development and Communication Donn Jersey said. “When nourishing our neighbors in need, we nurture the bonds that hold us together, creating a stronger, more caring society for all.”
Iron County Care and Share is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to providing compassionate assistance and resources to individuals and families in need, offering them exits from crises and pathways to increase their stability and self-sufficiency.
It was founded in 1984 by local churches to address hunger in the community, and almost 40 years later, the Care and Share is still working to help those in need.
Executive Director of the Iron County Care and Share James Jetton expressed that Iron County faces the second-highest poverty rate in Utah, which means many face food insecurity daily.
“Through food drives, we come together, offering a helping hand to those in need,” Jetton said. “It’s not about being heroes, but about being good neighbors, ensuring everyone has a seat at the table.”
This season, there’s a heightened demand for items like canned meat, peanut butter, and beans. The pantry is also in need of pasta and rice.
The Festival typically receives over 3,500 pounds of food each year for the Iron County Care and Share. Hosting its 19th annual Fall Food Drive, the hope is to gather just as much - if not more - to contribute.
To participate, bring food items and proof of residency to the Festival ticket office, open 10 am–5 pm on Mondays and 10 am–8 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Phone service ends at 7pm. Seats may be reserved in advance. Tickets must be purchased in person, as this offer is not available online. For questions, call 800-PLAYTIX.
“The Festival cares deeply about our community. Please join us in supporting our local Care and Share,” Jersey said.
Monetary donations are accepted as well. Click here to donate to the Iron County Care and Share.
Terry Alexander has been a part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s seasonal artistic staff for a total of 22 years. This season is the stage manager for Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical in the Randall L. Jones Theatre.
“I love coming back here and working; it’s kind of my work home,” Alexander said. “It’s where I cut my teeth and have learned what I know about stage management.”
About Terry Alexander
Alexander received two bachelor’s degrees, one in business from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and another in theatre performance from University of South Florida, Tampa.
His first year as a production assistant at the Festival was in 1994, when he was in graduate school at University of Delaware. Although Alexander was originally accepted into the acting program at UD, he transferred into stage management, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts.
The first shows he stage managed were Henry V and The Boyfriend in 1997. Alexander loves stage management because he gets to be both creative and technical.
“I get to use both sides of my brain,” Alexander said. “I have a business and performance background, and so I get to use skills from both. I can contribute artistically, as well as in the maintenance of the show.”
Some of his favorite shows he has stage managed at the Festival include Stones in His Pockets (2005), The Foreigner (2018), Hamlet (2019), and The Pirates of Penzance (2001 and 2021).
About Stage Management
The job of a stage manager is critical to the production process and changes throughout the season. At the beginning, Alexander strives to create an environment where directors and actors are free to be creative in the rehearsal room.
“I make sure that the time we have in rehearsal is used efficiently, that actors know when they’re going to be needed, and act as eyes and ears for the designers,” Alexander said.
He also acts as a “hub” of communication between the various departments at the Festival that affect the production on which he is working.
“I write rehearsal reports, where I include questions from directors, what happens in rehearsal, and more,” Alexander said.
In the reports, Alexander will include notes about making alterations to costumes, when and where scenery or props should be moved on and offstage, and many other details. As stage manager, it is critical to communicate and keep track of specifics such as these during the entire process.
During technical rehearsals, Alexander works with the designers to coordinate lighting and sound effects. It’s during technical rehearsals that Alexander makes sure that costume, prop, and scenery changes run smoothly.
“After the director leaves once the show is open, the artistic integrity of the show is in my hands,” Alexander said. “The show continues to grow, and the actors do too as their relationships with the characters deepen. I oversee that their ideas still fit in with the director’s vision.”
In attendance at every performance of Emma throughout the season, Alexander will be behind-the-scenes with his headset, calling cues and helping run the show.
About Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical
“For Emma, I have about 400 light cues,” Alexander said. “I’ll call the cues and then the board operator will hit the button that the lighting designer has programmed into the show, which will change the lights into the next look.” The same process is followed for scenery changes as well.
Alexander noted he is constantly talking into the headset, communicating lighting and scenery cues. He also completes performance reports, which is a summary of the production and includes things that need attention or that may have gone wrong, such as costume mishaps.
Although he is working a show at the Randall L. Jones Theatre every day, Monday through Saturday throughout the season, Alexander said that performances aren’t repetitive because he is keeping an eye on so many things.
“Every show is different,” Alexander said.
And Alexander loves his job. He’s felt fortunate to work on Emma this year.
“I get to go to work every day and be around people who enjoy the same things I do. It’s something that you don’t get in every profession,” Alexander said. “I feel very fortunate to be here at this time with these people, as the interactions I have with them makes me a better person.”
Alexander loves Emma in particular because the play points out how complex it is to be a human being.
“We want to tell stories that resonate with people in different ways, and Emma helps us look at ourselves in a lighter way—we can laugh at ourselves and our foibles,” Alexander said.
Ultimately, Alexander likes being a storyteller and being a part of the communal aspect that theatre provides.
“Theatre brings forth what it is to be human in a very physical and visceral way…that’s what brings me back to loving what I do—being able to contribute to that.”
Don’t miss out on this season’s Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical, The Play That Goes Wrong, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens, which run through October 7. For more information, to purchase tickets, and more, visit bard.org or call 1-800-PLAYTIX.
Each year, the Utah Shakespeare Festival selects a group of Southern Utah University students to be a part of the SUU Fellowship Program, some in acting, others in technical theatre. This gives the university students the chance to perform with or work alongside theatre professionals before they even graduate.
“My favorite part of the Festival this year has been getting to see all of these brilliant artists do what they are passionate about,” SUU Fellow Zina Johnstun said. “The attention to detail that these performers have to make their characters fully fleshed-out is astounding.”
Students interested in joining the program send in video auditions and then must wait months to find out if they have been accepted into the program. Many of the roles of SUU Fellows in acting are to work as understudies, memorizing multiple parts in different plays. Oftentimes, it’s a demanding and thankless job—but the hard work is worth it, as students get the opportunity of a lifetime, working at a Tony Award-winning and world-renowned theater alongside professional actors.
Meet the Acting Fellows
This year, the acting fellows chosen for the 2023 season are Ashley Aquino, Zina Johnstun, Jarod D. Lewis, Avery Peterson, and Matthew Wangemann.
Ashley Aquino was cast as Mustardseed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Featured Performer for The Greenshow (front row in green in the photo above). She is also an understudy for Lady Montague/Paris’s Page/ensemble in Romeo and Juliet.
Zina Johnstun landed the roles of Fiddlefern in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ensemble in Romeo and Juliet, and understudy for Flute/Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Balthasar/Gregory in Romeo and Juliet.
“I believe that theatre is essential to humanity. It is a way of storytelling that one can physically see the emotions and experiences that are different from [oneself],” Johnstun said. “This creates an empathy that we need more of in this world.”
Jarod D. Lewis is Gregory in Romeo and Juliet, while understudying an astounding ten roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens.
“Keeping all those tracks straight in my head has truly been a huge task,” Lewis said. “This experience has given me confidence in my ability to learn quickly and hold lots of actor information all at once.”
Avery Peterson is in Romeo and Juliet as ensemble and The Greenshow as Featured Performer (back row in blue in the photo above), and is an understudy for five roles between Jane Austen’s Emma the Musical and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“I have made valuable connections that I hope will last a lifetime, and learned so much from so many talented professionals,” Peterson said. “It’s easy to be intimidated by such talent, especially when it’s your first professional gig, but I’m fortunate to say that I got to work with some of the kindest, most supportive performers around.”
Peterson noted that she was asked to sign her autograph for two girls in the audience.
“I used to practice my signature when I was little, in hopes that someone would think I was cool enough to ask for an autograph,” Peterson said. “It felt like a full-circle moment, since I remember asking actors for their autographs growing up, too.”
Matthew Wangemann was cast as Thistleweed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Featured Performer in The Greenshow (back row in the hat in the photo above) and various understudy roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet.
“I had the unique opportunity to cover a role for a couple weeks while a replacement was found, and the amount of love and support I received from the cast and crew was overwhelming,” Wangemann said. “I felt very seen and appreciated.”
Meet the Tech Fellows
For students interested in other areas of theatre, the Fellowship Program also selects five students to help in the technical area. The following were selected for the 2023 season: Mikayla Adams (hair and makeup/run crew), Nora Asplund (wardrobe), Ro Christiansen (carpenter/stage crew), Angella Lopez (carpenter), and Dora Watkins (production assistant to stage management and youth stage manager).
Nora Asplund expressed her gratitude for making lifelong friends at the Festival this season, and for learning valuable life lessons, one of which was the importance of advocating for oneself.
“I had to spend a lot of time learning that I was just as important as the shows are,” Asplund said. “If the members of the cast and crew are not at their best, the show will never be.”
This season, Asplund spent a lot of time creating and modifying costumes for Coriolanus and Romeo and Juliet. As the season progressed, she switched to primarily working on The Greenshow, where she was in charge of laundry, repairs, and making sure the costumes always looked their best.
“My primary focus is making sure the designer’s vision is upheld throughout the entire run of the show,” Asplund said.
Asplund believes that theatre is crucial to the world we live in, and that it is an amazing tool both for those who create it and those who watch it.
“Participating in theatre helps increase compassion and promotes an understanding…that is so crucial to living a healthy, happy life,” Asplund said.
Don’t miss out on witnessing the hard work of these SUU Fellows, so purchase tickets today.
The 2023 season lineup is Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Raisin in the Sun, and The Greenshow which close by September 9; The Play That Goes Wrong, Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens which run through October 7. For more information, to purchase tickets, and more, visit bard.org or call 1-800-PLAYTIX.
Diane and Steve Sharp have spent countless hours volunteering at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and it is with grateful hearts that we celebrate their nineteenth year of work, especially highlighting their time and dedication spent on Words Cubed.
“The Sharps have been the lifeblood of the Festival’s new play program for many years,” Executive Managing Director Michael Bahr said.
About Words Cubed
Words Cubed is the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s new play program that seeks to nurture and develop openly-submitted, solicited, and commissioned plays by providing a professionally supported platform for readings, workshops, and fully realized productions.
Part of an ongoing commitment to create a diverse body of work, playwrights spend a week at the Festival in rehearsals, working closely with actors, directors, the Sharps, and more, refining and rewriting their plays.
This past August Words Cubed featured two new plays. The Value by Nicholas Dunn, directed by Elijah Alexander, featured a cast with Dylan J. Fleming, Tim Fullerton, Alex Keiper, James Ryen, and Marco Antonio Vega. Horse Thief by Christine Whitley was directed by Lisa Quoresimo and featured Jasmine Bracey, Nathan Hosner, and Marissa Swanner.
The Sharps first started attending the Festival in 1992, although their love for theatre started long before that.
“I took Diane to a play right after we were married in Salt Lake,” Steve said. “We’ve been married 57 years. We’ve always loved live theatre, but never wanted to be involved in it.”
But that changed in 2005.
“We told Scott Phillips and [late Festival founder] Fred C. Adams that the Festival had given us so much, and now that we were both retired, we wanted to give back,” Diane said.
So, the Sharps began their volunteer work in the new play program. The couple candidly admitted that this is because they weren’t Shakespeare fans at first. That, of course, changed over the years, and although they now enjoy Shakespeare productions, their devotion to new plays stayed consistent.
“It’s been a real joy in our lives,” Steve said. “If you would have asked me 20 years ago if I would be doing this, I would’ve said you were crazy. But we have felt so embraced, and volunteering is our way to give back for all the good times we’ve had at the Festival.”
As the new play program developed and grew into what is now Words Cubed—and as the Festival has grown—the Sharps’ responsibilities shifted.
“No job is beneath them, from preparing apartments, transporting playwrights, copying scripts, preparing and setting up rehearsal, and house managing,” Bahr said. “They understand and respect the process of play development and cultivation of new work and are eager to do anything to assist.”
From initially taking on a company management role, volunteering at the Shakespeare Competition, and more, they now primarily serve as hosts for the new playwrights visiting. The goal through it all has been one thing—to give back.
“Words Cubed is a Gift”
“Little did we know, this volunteer work would change our lives,” Diane said.
Although the couple spends half the year in a retirement community in Arizona, they return to Cedar City from approximately March to September to volunteer at the Festival. But even out of state, they are still involved with theatre.
“There’s community theatre [in Arizona], and Steve works the light board and I work as an assistant director and producer,” Diane said. “It’s been so rewarding, and we realized how much we’ve learned from the Festival.”
The Sharps explained that Words Cubed has only deepened their love for live theatre, as knowing what goes on behind the scenes has taught them to appreciate productions more fully.
“We know now what it takes to put a play together, and can point out exactly why we like [certain plays],” Diane said.
Another joy the program gives the Sharps is discovering new talent. Because the program seeks out contemporary playwrights, the couple enjoys how Words Cubed gives these playwrights hope and highlights their up-and-coming work in theatre.
“We discover the future playwrights who are going to make a difference, and [in turn] their work is a gift to us,” Diane said.
Although they have formed a fondness for most of the plays that have come through the program because of their close work with the playwrights, Diane especially loves Shunned by Larry Parr, while one of Steve’s favorites is How to Fight Loneliness by Neil LaBute.
However, it’s not just their love for the plays, the new play program, and live theatre that keeps them coming back, but the relationships they have made through the years at the Festival.
“It’s been phenomenal. We’ve made amazing friendships with patrons, actors, and playwrights,” Diane said.
The Festival echoes these sentiments—expressing our gratitude for their work and friendship for nearly twenty years. Interim Artistic Director and Director of New Play Development Derek Charles Livingston expressed his gratitude profusely.
“Diane and Steve’s dedication [to the Festival and the new play program] is not just tremendous—but invaluable,” Livingston said. “Not only do they bring a ‘We’ll do anything spirit,’ and ethos, their longevity brings an institutional knowledge that rivals that of anyone on staff when it comes to Words Cubed work.”
For more information on the Words Cubed program that the Sharps have shaped, visit bard.org/plays/words-cubed.
John DiAntonio as Artistic Director and Michael Bahr as Executive Managing Director
Utah Shakespeare Festival (USF) is pleased to announce John DiAntonio as its new Artistic Director and Michael Bahr as Executive Managing Director. DiAntonio is currently the Producing Artistic Director at Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT) in Creede, Colorado, and brings seven years of executive leadership experience with a rotating repertory company in a rural destination setting.
Bahr has been serving as USF’s Interim Managing Director since November of 2022 and previously served as USF’s Education Director for over twenty years.
DiAntonio will join USF’s leadership team later this year with the newly appointed Bahr. Derek Charles Livingston, currently serving as the Festival’s Interim Artistic Director, will continue as Artistic Associate and Director of New Play Development.
“John has a great love for Shakespeare, experience with rotating repertory, and embraces the complexity and sustainability of theatrical processes,” Bahr says. “He will be a great asset to our present ensemble of artists, artisans, staff members, volunteers, and the community. I’m thrilled that he is joining our artistic team, building on the legacy of the past and illuminating our bright future.”
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, DiAntonio discovered theatre at age 16 through improvisation and the works of Shakespeare. He received his BA in Theatre and Psychology from Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his MFA in acting from the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver, Colorado, with additional training in classical acting from the British American Drama Academy in London. A member of Actors Equity Association, he and his wife Caitlin Wise DiAntonio, an actor who came up through USF’s education programming as a participant in its annual Shakespeare Competition, lived in New York for six years before beginning his leadership career with CRT. Before this, he was a freelance actor, director, playwright, and teacher. Under his leadership, CRT has achieved both artistic and financial success. DiAntonio and CRT are celebrated by two articles in the New York Times: “Friday Night Footlights: How Theatre Bonds a Colorado Town” and “In a Small Mountain Town, a Beloved Theatre Company Prevails.”
“What an honor to join the extraordinary artists of the Utah Shakespeare Festival,” says DiAntonio. “I cannot wait to connect with the Cedar City community, recruit more theatre lovers, and bring the magic of the Bard to the stage as we embark on the 63rd season.”
“From a board member’s perspective, John has a wonderful balance of vision for USF accompanied by proven administrative skills and artistic leadership,” said Bryan Watabe, immediate past board chair and co-chair of the search committee. “I believe the Festival will thrive with him as our Artistic Director.”
In addition, Bahr excels at community building and stresses that all Festival productions, orientations, seminars, and Greenshows are designed to bring artists and the community together to expand perspectives.
“I am so pleased Michael has accepted this important appointment," said Southern Utah University President Mindy Benson. “He has a long history of audience development, creative programming, and cultivating connections to art not only within the community and on campus but with patrons, donors, and those with whom he works daily. As a result, I have confidence and optimism about the future of the Festival.”
Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2023 season presents Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the American classic A Raisin in the Sun, which close by September 9; the hilarious The Play That Goes Wrong, the lovely Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical, and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Timon of Athens run through October 7. These productions are accompanied by other enriching and educational experiences such as backstage tours, orientations, literary and production seminars, and the ever-popular Greenshow. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit bard.org or call 1-800-PLAYTIX.