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.

Hollywood Comes to Cedar City

Gronway (left) and Chauncey Parry 1917

Gronway (left) and Chauncey Parry 1917

It began when brothers Gronway, Chauncey, and Whit Parry relocated from their Salt Lake City home to the rural southwestern Utah town of Cedar City.  Gronway, the oldest, saw this community as an opportunity to succeed in a variety of business enterprises, including transportation and lodging. He quickly advised his brothers to come and share in his success. The Parry brothers soon capitalized on the national interest in Zion and Bryce Canyons and the natural amphitheater at Cedar Breaks.

Chauncey, having trained as a pilot during WWI, combined his loves of flying and photography and spent many hours creating amazing aerial footage that he would soon market to the film studios in Hollywood. In 1924, the Fox Film Corporation announced that the world’s most popular cowboy Tom Mix would film his next movie Deadwood Coach in the area.  Cedar City was now in the viewfinder of Hollywood movie studios and fervently opened their community to them.

Cast of "Forlorn River" leaving Cedar City, 1926

Cast of “Forlorn River” leaving Cedar City, 1926

Upon leaving Cedar City, Tom Mix prophesied “We have pioneered the picture production business in your section much to our satisfaction and that of the director, and we feel that our reports on the possibilities of your country will induce many other companies to follow.” And follow they did. Movies such as: The Good Earth, Union Pacific, Drums Along the Mohawk, Brigham Young, Can’t Help Singing, My Friend Flicka, and Proud Rebel were all filmed in Cedar City and the surrounding areas.

The Gem Photoplay became the first theater in Cedar City. In 1919 Thomas A. Thorley built the Thorley Theater, replacing the Gem. Throughout the following decades, the Thorley would undergo a series of name changes including theAvalon and the Utah but by the 1950’s it would come to be known as the Cedar Theater.

Gem Photoplay - 3rd from left

Gem Photoplay – 3rd from left

Cedar Theatre, 1968

Cedar Theater, 1968

The Thorley Theater served as the location for the Utah premier of the Cecil B. DeMille film Union Pacific in 1939. Union Pacific was one of many motion pictures filmed in the area. Local resident York Jones remembers, “It was a thrill to watch the premier because you could recognize the people who were extras.” The Cedar Theater has become a local landmark and is directly tied to the history of the Cedar City and southern Utah area. It is the last of the traditional movie houses in the community as its sister theater the Parks, formally the Orpheum, was destroyed by the great main street fire of 1962.

Parks Theater, 1940's

Parks Theater, 1940’s

Filming on Cedar Mountain, 1930's.

Filming on Cedar Mountain, 1930’s.