For Fred Adams, this week's opening of the 27th annual Utah Shakespearean Festival is exciting . . . and terrifying.

"In many ways the festival will never be the same again," said Adams, the visionary impresario who has sure-handedly guided the Cedar City-based festival through the travails of birth, an unsteady infancy and on into a solid, internationally respected maturity. "I have very mixed feelings about it."On the one hand, Adams is sad to see the festival's long-standing tradition of presenting three Shakespearean classics in repertory each summer end when this summer season closes Sept. 3. But on the other hand, he anxiously awaits the summer of 1988, when the festival will be expanded to include three plays by "Shakespeares of other lands" in the new Randall L. Jones Theatre in addition to the traditional Shakespearean offerings in the Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre on the Southern Utah State College campus.

"What I feel is a bittersweet feeling," he said. He paused, glanced up for a moment as if analyzing his emotions, then added: "And a little fright."

Of course, this isn't the first time Adams has confronted a significant change in the festival's operating procedure hesitantly. "I had the same feeling when we first opened the Adams theater," he recalled. "Now I look back on the temporary facilities we used to use and compare them with what is generally considered one of the finest Shakespearean theaters in the world, and I realize I wouldn't go back to the old way for anything.

"In two or three years," he continued, "I'll probably feel the same way about the festival's new emphasis."

But in the meantime Adams is going to savor USF's 27th season, which he claims promises to be among the festival's most successful ever.

"We're opening a week earlier so we can present more performances than we ever have before, but already we have 26 nights sold out," he said. "And the shows themselves are looking good, with strong casts and wonderful design and direction."

The Utah Shakespearean Festival opens Thursday at 8:30 p.m. with a production of the beloved comedy "As You Like It." It continues Friday with the powerful drama "Othello," followed Saturday by "Cymbeline," a fantasy that is among the least familiar plays of the Shakespearean canon. The festival continues Mondays-Saturdays through the first weekend in September. (for more information on the plays, please see the accompanying story.)

But as anyone who has attended USF in the past will tell you, the Shakespearean Festival is more than just Shakespeare. It is a whirlwind of activities throughout Cedar City which the entire town seems to throw itself into headlong. During the opening weekend there's a downtown Processional Saturday morning at 9 o'clock and a Highland Heritage Festival at the City Park. And from July 14-16 and 21-23 there's the traditional Midsummer Renaissance Faire at the City Park.

More closely associated with the theater side of the festival are a host of events intended to enhance your enjoyment of the plays, including daily pre-show orientation sessions and a Greenshow ("The best we've ever had," says Adams) at 7:15 p.m.; daily literary seminars at 10 a.m.; daily production seminars focusing on actors, costumes and music at 11:30 a.m.; backstage tours; a Costume Calvalcade; a Royal Tea; and the traditional Renaissance Feaste.

"The whole festival just seems to get better and better." Adams said. "That's why in addition to attracting new people, we also have people who keep coming back year after year. With new plays and new peoplem its a new experience every year." Especially next year, when the company will present "The Tempest," "Macbeth" and "The Winter's Tale" right along with "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams, "The Imaginary Invalid" by Moliere and "Nothing Like The Sun," a new play about Shakespeare and Ben Johnson by USF staff member Doug Christensen.

As the Bard of Avon himself said in "Cymbeline": "We are not constant, but are changing still."