At precisely 7:10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City takes audiences on a journey.
One night, it may take them to Ireland. The next, they could be in England or Scotland.
Singers, dancers, musicians and even puppeteers take the stage to perform for guests seated on lawn chairs, blankets and bleachers.
Young men and women walk through the crowd dressed in Renaissance attire, carrying baskets of tarts to sell as children gather next to the stage for a closer look at the act.
It’s all part of the festival’s annual Greenshow, a free pre-show performance available to festivalgoers and community members alike to help them settle into the world of theater.
The Greenshow has been part of festival from the beginning. Festival founder Fred C. Adams and his wife, Barbara, wanted a way to transition people from the stress of travel and allow them to focus on the plays.
“It takes about 15-20 minutes to wipe the trip and getting tickets and getting parking away and sort of focus on the play,” said Joshua Stavros, associate education director for the festival. “(Adams) really wanted to create something fun and exciting that left it all behind for you and enveloped you in this sort of Renaissance world of Shakespeare.”
While the Greenshow started out with a tone indicative of the time when William Shakespeare penned his plays, its theme has evolved over the years. Stavros, who co-directed this year’s Greenshow with Adams, said most years the themes are related to a country or musical culture. In the past, the festival has staged several types of shows, from Italian to Romani to Vaudeville.
This year, there are three themes — English, Irish and Scottish — that play in repertory.
“It’s varied as far as what (the performers) do, and then for our guests that are here for three days to see the plays, there will be three very different experiences seeing the different Greenshows,” Stavros explained.
English night is what Stavros would consider the “most traditional” of the three shows.
“It’s the most Renaissance in terms of style of the music and the dances and the costumes,” he said.
It also features the return of the Punch and Judy puppet show, which has previously been a favorite of many longtime festival patrons and Cedar City residents.
Irish night is staged to feel more like a concert, with a lot of singing and not as much dancing, while Scottish night features a balance of singing, dancing and games, according to Stavros.
The same core group of eight actors and one musician stages the three different Greenshows. They are joined by two musicians on Irish night, two young girls on Scottish night and puppeteers on English night who perform the Punch and Judy show.
The actors are selected during the general festival casting process. Brian Vaughn and David Ivers, the festival’s artistic directors, travel the country watching hundreds of auditions to whittle the pool down to 60-70 cast members, assigning most cast members multiple roles in the company’s six plays and three Greenshows.
“It’s really nice to have that caliber of performer that gets cast at the full production level being able to do these Greenshows for our audience,” Stavros said.
Many people are taking advantage of the opportunity to see the free productions as crowds often fill the courtyard of the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, where the Greenshow is staged.
“I’ve seen one family that I know that’s been here almost every night because it’s this perfect, easy summer thing for them to do with their kids,” Stavros said. “They can get them up, get them out of the house, let them run around, go watch a show and then go home.”
And regardless of whether the fans of the show are there to partake of other festival offerings, Stavros believes the Greenshow fulfills one of its purposes by making a lasting impression.
“Whether or not they’re seeing a play tonight, they’re associating the Utah Shakespeare Festival with something that’s really fun every summer, and that is something that will be with them their whole lives,” he said.
If you go
What: Utah Shakespeare Festival Greenshow
Where: Courtyard of the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, Cedar City
When: Monday-Saturday through Aug. 30, 7:10 p.m.
How much: Free
Email: email@example.com, Twitter: WhitneyButters