CEDAR CITY — As the Utah Shakespeare Festival continues in full swing, audiences can continue to delight in and be enlightened by the productions they attend. But also available to festivalgoers, free of charge, are additional events to help patrons get the most out of their experience and gain greater appreciation for the work that goes into the shows they view.
“(The festival) happens through a great deal of care and consideration to make the right choices so that the scenery, the lights, the costumes, the acting — everything — tells the story and brings that home to the performance and the audience,” said Jeffrey Lieder, costume director for USF. “And through these backstage seminars, people get a glimpse into what it takes and appreciate it more deeply.”
In addition to the seminars featured here, play orientations, in which festivalgoers can learn more about the show they’re about to see, and actor seminars, in which festival actors talk about their roles and experiences, are also available free of charge.
For a schedule of the seminars and play orientations, as well as other festival offerings, visit bard.org.
To begin his presentation at a recent costume seminar, Lieder, who is in his 29th season with USF, displayed some sketches by the costume designers and showed how they demonstrated the characters’ clothes, manners and hairstyles.
“These are beautiful drawings, but they’re really the blueprints for what ends up on stage,” Lieder said.
He gave a brief overview of the process to take a costume from a drawing to a completed garment: Once the final sketches are in, he and his staff break them down to try to fit the materials and labor costs to their budget. With the costs approved, they move on to production, and 55 measurements are taken of the actor’s bodies. A draper makes the costume patterns by hand, and a muslin mockup of the costume is tried on and adjusted so no expensive fabric is cut until it’s certain that everything will fit perfectly. Then the final costumes are created.
Lieder explained that the costumes have to look the same throughout the season. Washing the costumes is kept to a minimum, with dress shields and other undergarments used to help keep things clean.
Beyond the technical side, Lieder discussed what costumes can do for an actor’s art.
“The creation of the character that happens in the fitting room is really quite magical,” he said.
In some productions, Lieder said, actors may have as little as 20 seconds or even less to change their costumes between scenes. “It’s a beautiful ballet that you’re never going to see,” Lieder said, comparing the process to a NASCAR pit team servicing a race car.
Some actors require extensive costuming to match them to their role. Henry Woronicz, who plays Sir John Falstaff in “Henry IV Part One,” wears a special fat suit to help him fill out his part. The padding in the fat suit gives him the bulk he needs, and ice packs placed within it help keep him cool onstage.
The costume seminars will be offered at the festival through Aug. 29.
Creating props for a show is a whole different animal from costumes — or in some cases, a whole bunch of different animals.
USF’s 2014 production of “Into the Woods” includes 12 perched birds, 19 “flying” birds, one hen, two cows and a wolf’s pelt and skull.
Benjamin Hohman, properties and display director, has worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival for 21 seasons and hosts the festival’s free prop seminars.
“Props,” he explained to attendees at a seminar in July, “are anything you would put into a moving truck.”
In his hourlong presentation, he teaches seminar attendees about the work that goes into creating props for six shows in six weeks and the goals behind the construction of the props.
The props aren’t recycled from show to show, he said, because each show has a new director and a new approach.
The 2014 production of “Measure for Measure,” he said, “has a decayed, distressed look.” Among the props designed for the production were bunches of weeds — which were obtained from the yard of a friend of his and then dried and preserved in glue.
“My job is really weird, by the way,” Hohman said.
Sometimes creating a prop requires destruction as well as creation. Such was the case with some of the lumber used in “Henry IV Part One.”
“You spend all this time making something beautiful and then you’re like, ‘Now we’re going to destroy it!’ ” Hohman said.
Each production presents different challenges, Hohman said. “The Comedy of Errors” required a porcupine — built using 340 lollipop sticks for quills —and a tumbleweed, as well as a leakproof water trough for some slapstick gags.
Despite all of the work that goes into creating the props for a production, Hohman said, “You should never walk into a show and notice the props first.”
But after attending the props seminar, audiences may not be able to help themselves.
The prop seminars will be offered at the festival through Oct. 17.
At 9 and 10 a.m. on most mornings at the USF, a group gathers in the pine grove near the Adams Shakespearean Theatre to talk and learn about the previous evening’s theater productions in literary seminars.
In a discussion of “The Comedy of Errors” led by Nancy Melich, literary seminar director for USF, attendees were treated to facts and anecdotes about the development of the play, as well as information on the plays themselves.
“We go into the words,” Melich said.
She shared that when director Brad Carroll presented his idea for the 2014 production of “The Comedy of Errors,” “his idea was met by 30 seconds of silence, then (artistic direction Brian Vaughn) started laughing. She said his response was then, “Go for it, dude! Let’s do it.”
Carroll’s staging for “The Comedy of Errors” placed the characters in 1849 gold-rush era San Francisco, with the characters Adriana and Luciana being Southern belle transplants.
Based on the feedback she’s heard from other audiences, Melich said, “The Southern drawls have made it so for some reason audiences can better understand the lines.”
But not everyone in the audience was pleased with the gold-rush interpretation, and the seminar provides the opportunity for guests to voice their thoughts and opinions about the show.
“I hate to be a skunk at a garden party, but ” one man began as he asked about why some productions are moving further from being “as true as we could guess to Elizabethan,” which he said had been a goal of festival founder Fred C. Adams.
Melich gave other attendees some time to offer their opinions before weighing in.
The big question, she said, is “Did the staging harm the story?”
“It’s a collaborative effort,” Melich said of the final outcome of a performance after all of the actors’ contributions during rehearsal. The same could be said of the literary seminars; their content varies based on the insights and questions of those who attend.
Literary seminars are offered at 9 and 10 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Aug. 31 and will be offered at 9 a.m. Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 6-14; and at 9 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday, Sept. 18-Oct. 18.