The Utah Shakespeare Festival: Part 4- The Past is Prologue

Chris Mixon as Charlie Brown in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2002 production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright 2002 Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

The Utah Shakespeare Festival has undergone great change since its first season in 1962. Facilities have been constructed, productions have grown in size and scope, and the Festival staff has grown to include a number of full-time employees. In 2002 the larger format, three-play fall season debuted with I Hate Hamlet, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Twelfth Night. In 2011 the Festival announced that, for the first time, a play would run through the traditional break between the summer and fall seasons.

Fred and Barbara Adams, circa 1960

Tragedy befell the Festival when on October 22, 2008, Barbara Gaddie Adams, Fred’s wife and longtime partner and confidant, succumbed to a long illness and passed away. Barbara, along with Fred, had shepherded the Festival from words on a little yellow notepad to a nationally recognized, Tony award-winning theatre company. Barbara had coordinated all the preshow activities, the music, singing, puppet show, and dancing that provided the atmosphere for Festival goers as they prepared for the transition from the contemporary to the Elizabethan. Barbara Adams’s creative spirit is memorialized by a bronze plaque located on the wall of the Adams Theatre, near The Greenshow performing space—a fitting tribute to the program she proved instrumental in developing.

The Engelstead Shakespeare Theatre

The expansion of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s artistic and technical company and a longer theatrical season required new spaces.  The much loved Adams Theatre had served its purpose in enriching, entertaining, and educating the lives of those who sat in her seats and witnessed her bounty. Like the stage before, the passage of time and changing technology have taken their toll. In 2016, the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre opened its doors and a new Wooden O now stands guard over the works of the Bard and serves as an anchor for the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s future.

John Wascavage (left) as The Suspects and Paul Helm as Marcus Moscowicz in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of Murder for Two. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2016.)

Additionally, the Eileen and Alan Anes Studio Theatre, now serves as a creative space for the development of new plays. This flexible 200 seat venue is able to be configured in a variety of seating styles to better enhance the vision of the playwright, designer, or director. The Anes theatre allows for the exploration of the theatrical experience and provides Festival patrons the opportunity to discover the diversity of the world stage. The Anes Theatre is home to the new plays program where scripts are workshopped and tested with a small audience before being moved to the larger Festival stages. This theatrical laboratory shows the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s continuing commitment to the development of theatre professionals and to the expansion of America’s influence on world drama.

USF Founder Fred C. Adams – at the beginning.

The future of the Utah Shakespeare Festival is rooted in the tradition of what it does well and in a commitment to utilize that shared past as a springboard for the future. The expanding and deepening of programs, the construction of new theatres, and the development of a core artistic company are not without challenges. However, these same difficulties were met and faced fifty years ago by a young drama teacher, and we all know how that turned out.

To find out more about the Utah Shakespeare Festival and see what is coming in the future, visit their website, www.bard.org

The Utah Shakespeare Festival: The 1980’s & 90’s

1981 ticket

Fred and Barbara Adams had built their dream. The summer productions in the new Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre had sell out crowds nearly every night, operating at 98 to 99 percent capacity, which offered no room for growth. The Festival had become too successful for the current space.

A construction tour of the Randall L. Jones Theatre.

Festival and college representatives turned to the Utah State Legislature for assistance in funding the construction of the new theatre. The legislature, while agreeing that the project sounded interesting, refused to fund the building. A representative advised them to look into the mineral lease money that the mining companies operating in Iron County had been paying into for over fifty years. The mineral lease fund was established to offset the impact made by the mines on schools, hospitals, roads, and other public works projects. A large sum had been paid in, but very little taken out. The mineral lease board agreed that a new theatre for the Festival was worthy of funding and awarded most, but not all, of the construction costs. The descendants of Randall L. Jones, an early booster of southern Utah, provided the remainder of the needed funds, and the new theatre would now be named the Randall L. Jones Theatre.

Sunset at the Randall.

The 1989 season, the first using both the Randall Theatre and the Adams Theatre, featured six plays, three in each theatre, the most the Festival had ever produced in one season. Festival producers decided they would need two separate companies. They duplicated every position, one for the Adams Theatre and one for the Randall Theatre. This proved very expensive. The 1989 season ended with a $379,000.00 deficit. Relief came from Paul Southwick, vice-president of finance for Southern Utah University, who had been pulling some of the Festival profits each year into a rainy day fund, which had more than enough money to cover the deficit, and the Festival was saved. The Utah Shakespeare Festival did not repeat the mistakes of 1989 and began double casting roles for both the Randall and the Adams theatres.

Karen Thorla (left) as Helena, Alexis Baigue as Demetrius, Stefanie Resnick as Hermia, and Brandon Burk as Lysander in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 Shakespeare-in-the-Schools production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2017.)

Fred C. Adams believed in the power inherent in Shakespeare’s texts to change lives for the better, and the Festival created an education program to take that message to schools across the West. Fred’s traveling show, Costume Cavalcade, evolved into the Shakespeare-in-the-Schools Tour, a traveling group of trained actors who perform abbreviated versions of Shakespeare’s major plays in schools throughout the region. The actors also meet with the students after the show, answer questions, provide training, and help them better understand the concepts brought to life on the stage.

Brian Vaughn (left) as Smudge, Jered Tanner as Jinx, Michael Fitzpatrick as Frankie, and Gregory Ivan Smith as Sparky in the 1999 Utah Shakespeare Festival production of Forever Plaid. (Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

By the late 1990s the business community of Cedar City began asking the management team of the Festival if they would extend their season in an effort to keep the much needed tourism money flowing into the local economy. Southern Utah University worked with them for a test run in 1999. The Festival would pick two very small plays, Forever Plaid and The Compleat Works of Wllm. Shkspr (Abridged), and see if a fall season could be economically viable. The plan worked, and the fall season began.

R. Scott Phillips (left), Sue Cox, Douglas N. Cook, Fred C. Adams, and Cameron Harvey receiving the 2000 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. (Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

In May of 2000, the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League announced that the Antoinette Perry or “Tony” Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre would go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The Tony, comparable to the Academy Awards in film, is the most highly sought after accolade in American theatre and, for the Festival, was the culmination of nearly four decades of hard work and superior artistry.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival – The First Two Decades

Keith Seegmiller (left) and Ron Carpenter playing the fanfare, 1962

Despite the summer heat, the audience for the first performance of the newly inaugurated Utah Shakespeare Festival numbered over five hundred. It was July 2, 1962, and everything was ready: every detail had been carefully looked to, every contingency planned for, or so they thought. Two young trumpeters had been recruited to play a fanfare announcing the beginning of the play. As the notes rang through the air, director Fred C. Adams realized that the cast had not rehearsed a way to get from the dressing room to the stage. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a torch from the rack of Hamlet props, lit it, and presented it to the costumed pages, directing them to lead the cast, in full view of the audience, to the stage. This actors processional, from the dressing room doors, across the patio, and to the platforms became a Festival audience favorite for many years.

1963 Ticket

The initial two-week Festival season proved very successful, bringing in 3,726 visitors and over $2,000—enough to prove that this could be a profitable venture. Fred began assembling the creative team that would guide the Utah Shakespeare Festival to national prominence. This group would soon include directors Michael Addison and Tom Markus, scenic designer Douglas N. Cook, lighting designer Cameron Harvey, and technical director Gary M. McIntyre, among many others.

In 1965, Fred made a decision that would forever change the course of the Festival. He had built the organization using local talent, but his creative team, most of them college instructors from outside the area, wanted to give some of their students an opportunity to perform. Fred decided that he would open auditions to students from across the country. They realized that this influx of actors exposed audiences to a host of new talent and increased the notoriety and production ability of the Festival.

Early stage

Throughout the 1960s, the Festival productions would be carried out on a portable stage that would be built and removed after each summer season—with tremendous effort. However, the enthusiasm of the nightly audiences, sitting on their folding chairs, made the effort worthwhile.

Douglas N. Cook had joined the Festival in 1964. Cook was especially adept at designing scenery for Shakespeare productions. Under his guidance, the props department blossomed, and the sets better reflected the periods that designers were trying to represent. At the conclusion of the 1969 season, Cook applied his talent for design to work up some rough sketches for a new outdoor theatre space to replace the aging stage.

Early design by Doug Cook

Based upon his research, Cook knew that the new theatre would need to have three essential elements. First, it must have a thrust stage (this meant that the performance space would be surrounded on three sides by seats); second, it must have a gallery or multi-level seating; and, third, it must be open to the air. All of these designs were in every major Elizabethan theatre of Shakespeare’s day and would be necessary for the Festival’s new space. Technical and electrical planning also factored heavily into the design of the Adams Theatre. Technical director Cameron Harvey worked tirelessly to design a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system that would be unnoticeable to the audience but enhance the performance. Everything the Utah Shakespeare Festival had learned about producing the Bard would go into the design of the theatre.

Adams Theatre Performance

In 1977 the Adams Theatre, named after Thomas and Luella Adams (no relation to Fred) was complete, and despite having to remove the construction scaffolding forty-five minutes before the first performance, the actors and the patrons loved the new stage.

The Festival introduced its first matinee performance and its first musical, by presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado in 1977. Drawing from local talent, including a live orchestra and a young R. Scott Phillips as the Lord High Executioner (his only acting role for the Festival), The Mikado proved that the Festival could branch out into dramatic fields other than William Shakespeare.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival entered a new era when in 1981 it introduced its first Equity actors to its audiences. The Actors Equity Association is the professional union for theatre acting and stage management professionals.

Fred Adams, circa 1970

The 1970s proved to be an amazing decade of growth for the Festival. A new theatre was added, programs and staff were expanded, and professional actors joined the company. Still, Fred Adams had another idea, what if patrons could see more—works from other important playwrights, the “Shakespeares of other lands.” Of course the Adams Theatre would remain the domain of Shakespearean plays; what was needed was another space, another theatre

Cedar City: A Look Back – The Utah Shakespeare Festival

This year marks the opening of the 56th season of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. We thought you would enjoy this photo of the founder Fred Adams as he directs the cast of The Taming of the Shrew. This was the first play of the first season. For the rest of July we will be detailing the history of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, an organization that still brings over 100,000 people to the local area each year.

Founding Director Fred C. Adams offers suggestions prior to 1962 opening night.