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'What's in a name?': Utah Shakespeare Festival's offerings go far beyond its namesake's plays

Published: Sunday, June 1 2014 10:04 a.m. MDT

The Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre, located on the campus of Southern Utah University, was dedicated in 1977. Many of the Utah Shakespeare Festival's Shakespeare plays are performed on this stage.

Provided by Utah Shakespeare Festival

It begins with a vision.

Up to 18 months of planning, designing, searching, casting, rehearsing and dreaming turns the vision into reality.

A staff of 35 people jumps to approximately 300 administrators, actors, directors and more. An almost tangible energy is in the air as they busily prepare for the last week in June when the opening performances begin.

And it is William Shakespeare who inspires all the bustle.

“Even though it was written (more than 400) years ago, there’s still something about those characters, about those situations, that still speak to us today,” said R. Scott Phillips, executive director for the festival.

For 53 years, the Utah Shakespeare Festival has brought Shakespeare’s works to residents and visitors of Cedar City, Utah, with the hope that his plays will continue to teach life lessons. With his plays as a base, the organization also seeks to create a varied experience by providing additional plays and learning opportunities.

A foundation

Fred C. Adams, founder of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, wasn’t bringing anything foreign to Utah; he was building on a foundation that already existed. “Right from the beginning, when it was the state of Deseret, Brigham Young was promoting quality theater,” Adams said.

Brigham Young once said, “The people must have amusement as well as religion,” according to the book “The Place Which God Prepared” by Scott C. Esplin and Kenneth L. Alford.

Adams further noted that even in the midst of construction on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Salt Lake Temple, the Salt Lake Theatre opened in 1862 to meet that need for amusement, and a legacy of love for theater in Utah was born.

Adams said this early foundation of appreciation for theater, along with the desire to boost Cedar City’s economy and provide evening activities for summer tourists, served as his motivation for establishing the festival in 1961.

“I think probably as important as any (reason for founding the festival) was to keep alive this passion that the early settlers had in the arts, in classical music, in classical literature and especially in the writings of William Shakespeare,” Adams said.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival has continued to grow and to earn recognition on a national level.

“I don’t think people realize how far-reaching this Shakespeare festival is in terms of how many top-notch people in this industry are excited and clamoring to work down here in southern Utah at this organization,” he said.

In fact, the Utah Shakespeare Festival was awarded a Tony Award in 2000 for Outstanding Regional Theatre, but many residents throughout the state and surrounding region have yet to visit it.

“It’s like living in Arizona and never going to the Grand Canyon a little bit,” said Brian Vaughn, who works as an artistic director with Ivers. “Right in our backyard is this world-renowned organization that is doing some of the finest work in theater in the nation.”

Finding relevance

Shakespeare’s works may be considered classics, but that doesn’t mean they are always popular.

Adams explained that one of the challenges the Utah Shakespeare Festival faces is overcoming some people’s aversion to the Bard of Avon’s work because of a lack of understanding. One of the organization’s primary missions is to help as many people as possible understand the meaning behind Shakespeare’s writings.

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