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Three Actors' Journey from The Shakespeare Competition to Festival Stages

Photos (left to right): Marco Antonio Vega as Snout in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Allie Babich as Emma in Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical; and Rhett Guter as Chris in The Play That Goes Wrong. Photos by Karl Hugh.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival is hosting its 47th annual Shakespeare Competition on October 5-7. 

Students between third to twelfth grade from across the country will compete in acting, dance, music, technical, and theatre competitions for the opportunity to earn scholarships and work alongside theatre, dance, and music professionals. 

In an effort to inspire students and cultivate the art of theatre, dance, and music, the Shakespeare Competition has been impacting students since 1977. 

“I was so inspired meeting young performers my age from across the country who all shared a love of language and rhetoric,” Actor Allie Babich said of her time at the competition. “It was incredible, inspiring, and I’m so honored to be working here now, and to get to witness the next generation of outstanding young people.”

For some, like Babich, the Shakespeare Competition proved to be the start of a lifelong theatre career. The Festival excitedly visited with actors from the 2023 season that once were participants themselves. 

Allie Babich

This season, Allie Babich was cast as Emma Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical, and Balthasar in Romeo and Juliet. She was also an understudy for Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet. Other roles she has performed at the Festival include Ensign Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (2015) and Ela Delahay in Charlie’s Aunt (2015). 

But years before lighting up Festival stages, Allie had her first brush with the Bard as a teenager.

At 17, Babich competed in the Shakespeare Competition.

“I was assigned Paulina’s ‘what studied torments, tyrant’ monologue,’ [from The Winter’s Tale]” Babich said. “A nice, gentle entry point to the dramatic classical monologue, no?”

Babich found strength in Paulina as she explored “a powerful woman who had something to say and the right words to say it.”

“It was the first time I understood how we use language to try to change other people,” Babich reflected. “And Shakespeare always finds the right words for you to use to get what your character needs most.”

Babich said she not only took this lesson with her through plays she’s worked on, but in life. 

At the Shakespeare Competition, Babich recalls rehearsing a group scene from Romeo and Juliet in a parking lot outside of their hotel. 

“I remember thinking, ‘This is it––I want to do this forever,’” Babich said. “And I do now! And I get to do it here.”

The 17-year-old didn’t know it at the time, but years later, Babich would perform on Festival stages in the 2023 production of Romeo and Juliet, the very play she and her group performed in at the Shakespeare Competition years before.

Rhett Guter 

Guter shared that the Shakespeare Competition was his introduction to Shakespeare, Southern Utah University, and the Utah Shakespeare Festival. 

“It has played a major role in the person and artist I am today,” Guter said. 

His words could not ring truer. From that brief weekend spent at the Shakespeare Competition, Guter ended up becoming the first student to graduate from the bachelor of fine arts–musical theatre program at Southern Utah University. He also received a bachelor of science in dance. 

Just like Babich, Guter went on to pursue a career in theatre. As well as performing in over twenty Festival productions, the actor is also a magician and prolific choreographer. 

This season, Guter can be seen on Festival stages as Mr. George Knightly in Jane Austen’s Emma The Musical and Chris in The Play That Goes Wrong.

Marco Antonio Vega 

Marco Antonio Vega was Snout in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Paris in Romeo and Juliet this 2023 season. He was also an understudy for Theseus/Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Mercutio/Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet.

Rewind to Vega as a high school student at the Shakespeare Competition, when he first saw professional theatre. 

“I didn’t even want to go to college, but I won a scholarship to SUU here at the competition,” Vega said. “The rest is history!”

Like Guter, Vega is a Southern Utah University alumnus, but his life might have been very different if he had not attended the Shakespeare Competition. 

“It was a very significant reason I became an actor,” Vega said.

For Vega, the value the competition provides is unmeasurable.

“Not so competitive in nature; people come to share space, listen to one another speak and activate poetry, and awe in the artistry,” Vega said. “These skills are more valuable now than ever before, and truly priceless.”

It’s not too late to see these actors on Festival stages. To purchase tickets before the season closes October 7, visit bard.org or call 800-PLAYTIX.

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© Utah Shakespeare Festival 2024 www.bard.org Cedar City, Utah