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Shakespeare? Here?
The Bard and Natural Beauty in Southern Utah

 

CEDAR CITY, Utah (Feb. 25, 2004) — Nestled in the valley at the foot of southwestern Utah’s juniper studded mountains, Cedar City knows something about contrast. There are the seasons, of course. Wintertime tourists have been coming here for years to sample nearby Brian Head’s greatest snow on earth. During the warm summer months the international tourists have joined in, looking for a jumping off place from which to be awed by the grandeur of Cedar Breaks, Zion Canyon and more natural beauty than the senses can take in. They mostly just took their pictures and left.

About forty-three years ago, an idea, a dream took shape that has steadily enhanced the cultural landscape and, oh, has it created a contrast!

If you were to walk into one of the local Cedar City eateries nowadays during any of the summer months, you would probably notice a couple of the local ranchers sipping their coffee and talking about the weather, the price of hay or the condition of the livestock market. That hasn’t changed, genuine cowboys and ranchers are a basic part of the area’s rich pioneer culture and heritage. Across the aisle, however, things might be very different from what they were way back when. You might, for example, see a table with six or seven people seated around it, engaged in an animated discussion. They might be speaking German, French or Sheffield English. Oh, they’ve taken their pictures of Zion Canyon, but, for some reason, they haven’t left. The topic of discussion? Who is Shakespeare’s most complete, utter, remorseless villain, Iago or Richard III? And don’t be too surprised if one of the ranchers leans over and says, “Iago. Hands down, no contest.” Shakespeare? Here?

Didn’t you notice the brightly colored pennants and banners swaying gently in the warm breeze, suspended from the light standards that line Main Street? Didn’t you see the beautiful play posters in the window you just walked past?

In case you didn’t know, Cedar City is home to the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival, and theatre is definitely spoken here. Every year, from June through October, people from all over the world come here to be entertained, enriched and included in the revelry.

In 1959, a young actor from New York City by the name of Fred C. Adams moved to Cedar City to take on the job of theatre instructor at the College of Southern Utah, now Southern Utah University. It seemed to him that the thousands of tourists who came to see the local national parks might stay around a bit longer if there were something else to entertain them. Why not organize a dramatic production or two on the local college campus? In fact, why not Shakespeare?

Working from an outdoor stage that was dismantled during the winter, those early productions by Adams and his students were well received, attracting several hundred people for each performance and taking in enough money to offer encouragement for expansion. Fred and his wife, Barbara, dreamed of something more than an occasional few plays on a temporary stage, however. They had a Shakespearean festival in mind. It should be well received, they reasoned. The pioneers who settled Southern Utah were largely of European stock, people who knew and loved the theatre, and especially their Shakespeare.

Ashland, Oregon’s festival was the standard by which all others were judged, so, that’s where the Adamses went to study and observe.

In 1961, the Utah Shakespeare Festival became a reality. Volunteers from the college and community helped with almost every aspect of their new festival. They assisted with the acting, costume design, set construction, and the all-important advertising. The first season opened in 1962 with student actors on that temporary stage. Performances of The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, and The Merchant of Venice attracted an audience of over 3,000 patrons and netted $2,000 to be used for the next year’s season.

Forty-two years later, during the 2003 season, the Festival was attended by more than 150,000 patrons, and its budget topped $5 million. It is now a year-round operation with a full-time staff of 27, and a seasonal staff of over 300. Needless to say, the Festival has become internationally known and respected.

There are currently two separate Festival production seasons. The summer season consists of 185 performances, shown over a ten-week period, beginning in late June and extending through early September. Six shows are produced in repertory, meaning the shows rotate on a daily basis, three or four performances each day, six days a week. Three plays are presented in each of the Festival’s two landmark theatres, the Globe replica outdoor Adams Shakespearean Theatre, and the non-Shakespearean productions at the indoor, state-of-the-art Randall L. Jones Theatre. The fall season was added in 1999, and presents three shows in repertory and runs from mid-September to the end of October. Fall productions are all performed in the Randall L. Jones theatre.

The Adams Theatre, named for Thomas and Luella Adams, early supporters of the Festival and located on the campus of Southern Utah University, is one of the most authentic Elizabethan theatres in the world. The theatre seats 887 and was dedicated on opening night of 1977. The BBC chose the Adams Theatre in 1981 as the location for filming part of its Shakespeare series. The visiting artists and technicians, including actor Jeremy Irons, agreed “There’s not a theatre like this in England, Asia, or Europe.” It is indeed, one of the closest representations of Shakespeare’s Globe in North America.

The Randall L. Jones Theatre was built in 1989, a part of the continuing growth of the Festival and the quality of its productions. Named for a pioneer of tourism in southern Utah, it was designed as a modern, state-of-the-art theatre with gold leafing and velvet seating for 769. It has been featured in Architecture magazine for its beauty and style. This theatre’s purpose is to feature the plays of “Shakespeares of Other Lands.” Its repertoire has spanned more than three centuries of playwrights and has included the classics of France, England, Norway, and the United States.

The high point to date in the Festival’s history was reached on June 4, 2000, when it was the recipient of the coveted Tony Award for America’s Outstanding Regional Theatre. The Antoinette Perry “Tony” is bestowed annually for “distinguished achievement” in theatre. It is the most prestigious and sought-after award in live theatre, the equivalent of the Academy Awards in film. The award honors a regional theatre company that has “displayed a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theatre nationally.”

Remember, this is a festival and there are many activities intended to create a total Elizabethan theatre experience.

The Greenshow is a series of complimentary performances presented six nights a week, prior to the evening theatrical performances. There are costumed actors, musicians playing strange looking renaissance instruments and dancers who may invite you to join them in one of the dances that take place on two small stages in the courtyard of the Adams Theatre. Hence, it is “on the green.” Peddlers may also tempt you with souvenirs, and there are even several comely “tarts” selling . . . tarts.

The Festival also offers a variety of educational activities, including play orientations, daily seminars and lectures, workshops, backstage tours, printed publications, a new play series called Plays-in-Progress, and Shakespeare-in-the-Schools, an annual touring production of a condensed Shakespearean play. Many of these activities are free to the public and are marvelous ways to supplement the play-going experience.

As for the future of the Festival, administrators plan to break ground soon on a complex of buildings to be called the Utah Shakespeare Festival Centre for the Performing Arts. It will include a third theatre for “Shakespeares of Tomorrow,” new costume, properties and scene studios; a renaissance feast hall, administrative offices; a clock tower; retail and restaurant facilities; and stunning fountains with bronze statuary.

Contrast. That’s what the Utah Shakespeare Festival and Cedar City are all about. It’s a place and an attitude you’ll definitely want to experience. You’ll take home more than pictures; you’ll leave relaxed, rejuvenated and have a treasure of memories.

Don’t be surprised if you also find a genuine desire to return among your souvenirs.

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