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

Published: Saturday, May 31 2014 4:35 p.m. MDT

Although the Utah Shakespeare Festival is well-known for its annual productions, it also offers many other elements and activities geared toward cultivating understanding for the Shakespearean culture.

“Somebody can spend all day at the Shakespeare Festival and not be bored,” Koontz said. “There is something going on every hour because we know that they’re traveling such a long distance.”

Half-hour orientations are offered before each show to give audience members an overview of what will occur onstage.

“This was started way back in 1961-62. Fred (Adams) wanted people to feel comfortable,” Bahr said. “He doesn’t tell them the whole plot; he just gets you just enough information so he can get you going.”

Literary seminars held each morning are designed to cultivate discussion and understanding as dramaturgs, or theater scholars, lead discussions and answer questions about the plays.

The Greenshow, which is held each evening, features singing, dancing, juggling, puppet shows, food and more.

“It started at the beginning of the festival as a way to help immerse people into kind of this Elizabethan atmosphere, to kind of tune their ear to the language,” Koontz said.

All of these activities, as well as prop, costume and actor seminars, are free for festivalgoers.

“Part of that ticket cost is all of these free experience-based educational opportunities because part of our mission is very education-focused,” Koontz said. “We want people to feel really comfortable in the spaces, like their home.”

Other offerings, such as backstage tours and Repertory Magic, where audiences can watch the stage crew and technicians change everything over from the matinee show to the evening show, are ticketed events and cost $8 each.

“It’s worth the time and the energy to be transported by these plays,” Vaughn said.

Future and continuing projects

The Utah Shakespeare Festival continues to plan for the future with current and upcoming projects.

Ivers and Vaughn began the Complete-the-Canon Project in 2012 with the goal to produce all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays by 2023.

It will be the first time the festival will have performed all of the plays. In its 53 years, it has not yet performed all three parts of “Henry VI” separately and in their entirety and has also not performed “The Two Noble Kinsmen.” Each of those four plays, as well as others of Shakespeare’s plays that have been performed less frequently at the festival, will be performed as part of the project.

“A lot of it is not only doing those plays we haven’t done, but it’s also revisiting those plays that have had very little stage time,” Vaughn said.

Within the Complete-the-Canon project, the festival also began its initiative to perform all of Shakespeare’s history plays in chronological order. As some of the characters appear in multiple plays, some of the actors have been contracted to return to play their character in future seasons.

Additionally, the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s administration has planned for approximately 25 years to expand its facilities, and the organization broke ground on March 27 for the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

Thanks to donations large and small, the nonprofit organization has raised the funds to begin the construction project. The $35 million facility will include two new theaters, administrative offices, a costume shop and rehearsal hall, and will be equipped with the latest technology to take the festival’s productions to a whole new level.

“It’s going to be dusty and muddy and noisy (during construction), but it will be beautiful when it’s all completed and well worth the wait,” Phillips said.

The building is set to open in 2016 in time for the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death.

Festival organizers also plan to eventually expand the festival's season and create more of a year-round program to provide more people with the opportunity to experience the festival.

“You’ll have the opportunity to see more plays and more offerings in the coming years,” Phillips said.

Email: wbutters@deseretnews.com, Twitter: WhitneyButters

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