Utah History Encyclopedia


By Ann Engar
The Utah Shakespearean Festival, founded by Fred C. Adams, is located on as well as adjacent to the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City. Each summer it typically presents three plays of Shakespeare and, with the addition of a second theater, other plays from world drama.

The idea of a Shakespearean center located on the Southern Utah University campus was being developed as early as 1960. The first plays were performed in 1962 on a makeshift stage outside under pine trees and stars. The performers and technicians were college students, teachers, and Cedar City townspeople. The first season lasted one week.

The goals of the Shakespearean Festival from the beginning have been to present quality productions of Shakespeare's plays for Utah residents and visitors and to educate young students about the pleasures and values of Shakespeare's and other dramatists' work.

For sixteen years the festival had no theater of its own. In 1977, however, the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, named for Luella and Thomas Adams (early settlers who fostered the arts in southern Utah), was dedicated. It was designed by Douglas Cook, associate producer of the festival, and architect Max Anderson to incorporate as many Tudor design elements as possible. Its thrust stage places the audience in close proximity to the performers--no seat is more than nine rows from the stage. The theatre holds approximately 800 people.

The company usually consists of around 50 performers, who are each supported by up to seven backstage workers, for a total of more than 300 workers. The actors are chosen from hundreds of applicants. Some Equity actors are used, but most often para-professionals from various graduate programs around the country participate.

The festival includes much more than the plays themselves. Greenshows with music and dancing and foyer entertainment precede the productions. There are also Renaissance feasts, backstage tours, acting workshops, and a high-school Shakespeare competition, in which thirty-seven schools took part in 1988. Each season the festival also produces a study guide which has synopses of the plays, descriptions of the characters, and study questions.

Attendance at the festival grew from 3,250 in 1963 to 32,192 in 1981 to 116,976 in 1993. In 1982 the British Broadcasting Corporation filmed the "All the World's a Stage" segment of their "History of the Theatre" series at the Adams Memorial Theatre. In 1989 the Randall L. Jones Center Memorial Theatre opened with plays by Moliere, Tennessee Williams, and Doug Christensen as a world drama complement to the plays of Shakespeare. Future plans for the festival include a performing arts center with more theatres, a Renaissance study center, and shops. The festival has helped establish Utah as a state that is interested in and supports serious drama.