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Utah Shakespeare Festival artistic directors manage a plethora of responsibilites

Published: Saturday, July 19 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

David Ivers (left) and Brian Vaughn in Utah Shakespeare Festival's 2001 production of "Arsenic and Old Lace." Vaughn and Ivers both began their careers at the festival as part of the acting company before they became co-artistic directors in 2011.

Karl Hugh, Utah Shakespeare Festival

CEDAR CITY, Utah — They had already answered emails, managed understudy rehearsals, greeted donors, hosted guests and read scripts and it was only 11:30 a.m.

On top of that, they were preparing for a gala and board meeting over the weekend, not to mention the fact that their director’s notes for the 2015 season of the Utah Shakespeare Festival were due in just over a month.

“August 11, and we’re freaking out,” David Ivers said.

“It’s really 24/7,” Brian Vaughn added.

To say Vaughn and Ivers, artistic directors for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, have a lot on their plates is an accurate statement, but busy is just the way they like it: “It’s about having the artistic muscle flex in an artistic position — all across the board on all fronts,” Vaughn said.

Together they have struck a balance that has allowed the festival to not only survive but also thrive. Since taking on the roles of artistic directors in 2011, Vaughn and Ivers have spearheaded the Complete the Canon and History Cycle initiatives, assisted in the plans to move forward with the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts and more.

The artistic directors consider the USF a sort of home where they’ve grown up in the world of theater. Both began their journeys at the festival early on in their careers, and each has since logged more than 40 acting roles at the festival over the course of Vaughn’s 20 seasons and Ivers’ 18 seasons.

Vaughn first joined the company ranks as a performer in The Greenshow, a preshow song and dance performance open to the community, in 1991 when he was a student at Southern Utah University. The following year was Ivers’ first season as an intern in the acting company.

For over a decade, Vaughn performed with the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and Ivers performed with the Denver Theatre Company during the year, and both returned to Cedar City summer after summer to participate in the festival.

“The time in Denver was for about eight months out of the year, and then I’d rush here for the four months or so, and I know Brian (Vaughn) was doing the same,” Ivers said. “I think being immersed in the idea of company and watching the companies work has informed us a lot about the direction we are trying to take with this organization.”

After going from journeymen to members of the acting company to directors and on to artistic directors, Vaughn and Ivers consider the festival an integral part of their lives and history professionally and personally. Both met their wives while participating in the festival.

The festival’s tradition of having two artistic directors overseeing the creative vision for the company may seem like having too many cooks in the kitchen, but Ivers and Vaughn see it as essential to the process: “It’s a different model, but it’s one that we kind of grew up with here, so it doesn’t feel all that strange to me,” Ivers said.

This year, 11 shows are being shown in repertory over the course of approximately four and a half months, almost double the number of plays that many other theater companies tackle in a year. The festival also offers literary seminars, play orientations, backstage tours and educational outreach to other communities, all of which is supervised by Ivers and Vaughn.

“It’s a very large piece of the pie for one person," Vaughn said. "So having two people working on that has been very advantageous in the sense of continually moving forward."

Yet in the midst of all of their administrative responsibilities, Vaughn and Ivers continue to act and direct during the festival. Vaughn plays the Baker in “Into the Woods” and directed “Henry IV Part One.” Although Ivers chose to take this year off from acting to focus on other matters, he directed “Twelfth Night.”

It’s a process Ivers refers to as a “cross pollination” that others engage in as well. It’s not uncommon for acting company members to serve as directors or choreographers at various times.

“At the center for Brian (Vaughn) and I for the vision of the company is the art,” Ivers said. “The more present … the platform for opportunity becomes for both our own staff but also people we’re cultivating, the more our vision and mission stays true to what we’re trying to do.”

Additionally, it gives the artistic directors the opportunity to remember their roots; acting is where the love of theater began for both men.

“For me, that’s sort of where I came from here,” Vaughn said. “It’s something that I am passionate about.”

And while it certainly adds to the workload, this level of hands-on participation in festival production is exactly how they flex and develop their artistic abilities.

“There’s some value in our presence since our title starts with artistic, being immersed in the artistic process,” Ivers said. “It provides challenges because we’re spread pretty thin when we’re doing that, but I think for now the challenges are outweighed by the opportunities that coincide with our work.”

Email: wbutters@deseretnews.com, Twitter: WhitneyButters

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