Utah: beautiful red plateaus, gargantuan canyons, untamed wilderness,
gun-totin’ rednecks, national parks galore, pick-up trucks, wildfires,
wildlife and Lake Powell.
It is the quintessential outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. And of course,
Southern Utah appears to be another safe haven for the senior citizens
who inundate any vacation spot with their motor homes and license plates
that represent the whole Midwest and Texas. It seems to be the perfect
escape from urban America and a perfect place to complain about the lack
of urban American assets, such as a Starbucks on every street corner.
Rather, Southern Utah has more truck stops than you can shake a stick
at (Yum…love that Flying J coffee).
Amidst the wide-open spaces and acres of three-story polygamist homes
is an anomaly to the rugged atmosphere of rural Utah known as the Utah
Festival's the Thing
RED Interview (Fred C. Adams)
RED: How did you end up in Cedar City from New
Adams: Have you ever heard of college debt? [chuckle]
I had some considerable college debt by the time I had finished
my work. I was in New York and got myself a job as a swing dancer
in a musical. Not a great deal of money and the writing was on the
wall; the show was going to close and I was going to be out of a
job. My cousin, who lived in Cedar City, called me and said they
are going to have a one-year appointment for someone to start up
a theater program at what was then the College of Southern Utah.
I said "Oh, get me the information…" I was interviewed
in New York and got the job. It was just for one year, so I kept
all of my contacts in New York because I would be coming back. I
fell madly in love with Cedar and never went back.
RED: When did you decide to incorporate other theater
repertoire besides that of Shakespeare?
Adams: For several seasons we had experimented
a little on our audiences…We [did] matinees of non-Shakespearean
pieces just to see, you know, how our audience would take to them.
The first time we did was in 1977 and we did a matinee of "The
Mikado" twice a week—Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado.
And it sold like hot cakes, it was so very well attended and very
popular. In 1981, in conjunction with the University of Utah (Pioneer
Memorial Theatre)…we mounted a production of Molnar’s
"The Guardsmen"…[we later mounted it] as a matinee
here in the summertime. That again was very successful. So we knew
that non Shakespeare [plays were viable].
So in 1987 we began the search for enough funding to build ourselves
a space, an indoor space just for the "Shakespeares of other
lands.” So we thought that we could do other classics of the
world, and it’s proven to be very successful for us.
RED: Do you feel like you have been able to take
more liberties as to what repertoire you use?
Adams: People trust us with Shakespeare. And our
crowds with Shakespeare are pretty consistent. But, they were a
little more reticent when it was a non Shakespeare production. Eventually,
that has caught on to where now we have a fairly successful following
for what I consider more modern or contemporary classics. But every
once in a while we like the idea of doing something that pushes
the envelope a little…and our audience for the most part will
buy in wholeheartedly…or sometimes some of our audience will
say "Oh that’s a little too modern to me.” We walk
a tight rope, in fact, with the selections [non-Shakespeare] of
those all of the time. If you’re going to a meal, you don’t
want to just eat meat; sometimes you need a little salad, you need
a little vegetables, you need a little dessert. Most of the time
we stay with pretty much standard classics.
RED: Tell me about the Plays-in Progress program.
Adams: I think this is our twelfth year of Plays-in-Progress…We
bring four playwrights with works that have not been seen that are
ready to be workshopped. And we receive hundreds of scripts. And
our readers go through them to select four that they feel have potential.
[Plays-in-Progress] are cast here amongst the acting company. They
are performed as staged readings with the author in residence…audience
has feedback…the [playwrights] are there to listen and many
times rewrite before the next day. It has become…a very valuable
exercise for promising playwrights. This program answers the need
for "Shakespeares of tomorrow."
RED: How are these plays attended?
Adams: There is a crowd that follows them…they
want to see these original works. It’s a program that we’re
not pushing, we’re not making it an overwhelming facet of
the festival. But it answers a need for audiences that want to see
what’s now being done.
RED: What do you see happening in the future of
Adams: I would like to get our outreach [educational]
program deeper into Arizona, higher into Idaho and out into southern
California. I would like to strengthen that and make sure we are
getting into every high school in the state of Utah. With the festival
itself, our major goal of course is construction and money. We desperately
need a major endowment. We have just over $1 million in endowment
and we need $10 million in endowment. Its going to take a long time,
but that’s a major push that we’ve got to do. We just
cannot rely on ticket sales.
There is a problem that lies within theatrical arts in rural areas. What
is purported by rural communities as great artistry is, in reality, nothing
but substantive mediocrity. A rural theatre such as the Utah Shakespearean
Festival has a corner in the market because people will go and support
the small-town theatre at any expense.
What of the Tony Award, won in 2000 for Best Regional Theater? Well, didn’t
Cats win a Tony back in the day? Is the Tony a real defining relic of
great theatre? It took a day at the festival to come up with the answers.
Review: A Rebirth of ‘Born
My generation’s familiarity
with “Born Yesterday” probably goes as far as the 1993 film
starring Melanie Griffith and John Goodman. Regardless, the essence of
the story is captured in its truer form on stage. Kathleen F. Conlin directed
this year’s festival production. What do an East Coast business
thug, a smug lawyer, a less-than-less-educated showgirl and an overzealous
reporter have in common? Not much—except they all live in Washington,
D.C., and are all Americans. It is this commonality that emphasizes the
differences between the characters.
Harry Brock (Craig Spidle) plays the bullying yet unintelligent businessman
who wants to bend all of the rules to allow his profiteering while squashing
out the competition. His girlfriend, Billie Dawn (Anne Newhall), plays
the unassuming, quiet and not-so bright woman role. The lawyer, Ed Devery
(A. Bryan Humphrey), does all the talking and covering up of Brock’s
bad business practices. Paul Verral (Kurt Ziskie), plays the reporter
for the New Republic, who purports a mission to expose the big, bad and
ugly of capitalism—namely Brock.
Despite Brock’s lack of education, he still manages to throw his
weight around to get what he wants by buying out whomever he needs. But
his weight stops when Billie, through the help of Verral, starts to smarten
up and realize that the abuses and advantages that Brock has pushed upon
her are simply wrong. Through a lot of period comedy, the play teaches
a lesson of the power of knowledge when used the right way.
Despite this play being very "period," with jokes that sometimes
go beyond corny, the feat of transcending the explicit interpretation
of texts to the more implicit portrayal of their meanings was accomplished
unabashedly by the cast, the witnessing of which makes it well worth the
Review: “Measure for Measure”
But of course, the festival wouldn’t
live up to its name without having a Shakespearean play. The Adams Memorial
Shakespeare Theatre provided a unique atmosphere to see the production
of one of the bard’s lesser known works, “Measure for Measure.”
The interesting aspect of this play is that it is neither comedy nor tragedy.
It is rather a “tramedy.” “Measure” is a commentary
on the difficult circumstances that come to pass when a government tries
to police morality. An illustration on how the power to not only be forgiven,
but also forgiving, is a virtue more precious than justice.
“Measure for Measure,” directed by Liz Huddle, is set in Vienna,
where immorality is running rampant and the laws to obfuscate such actions
are lying dormant. Duke Vicentio (Henry Woronicz) bequeaths his position
of leadership to Angelo (Scott Coopwood) while blending in secretly with
the community as a friar. Having this new power, Angelo decides to put
the old law of putting seducers to death into practice once again. As
one can realize, this complicates the whole structure of a supposed immoral
society. Claudio (Phillip Herrington) is found guilty of breaking this
new law when his betrothed bride, Juliet (Kelly Lamont), shows signs of
expecting a child.
Claudio pleads for help from his sister Isabella (Elisabeth Adwin), who
is close to finishing up her preparations for becoming a nun. She is beautiful
and wise, pleading before Angelo. He will only lift the charge if Isabella
promises to sleep with him. Of course, this proposition is like death
to her. Virtue is the noblest attribute of a woman in the service of God.
Through the friar’s (Duke’s) intervention, a plan is devised
that would allow Isabella to keep her virginity and still fulfill the
obligations of Angelo’s proposition. Angelo was at one time promised
to marry a woman named Mariana (Kaci Gober); however, he ultimately jilted
her at the altar. The Duke therefore proposes that Isabella should go
forward with Angelo’s tryst, with Mariana pretending to be Isabella.
Soon after, we learn that Angelo still allows for the execution of Claudio.
At this point it looks like a tragedy. But the Duke (Friar) has more tricks
up his sleeve that turn the play around through a happy yet head-scratching
The text in the play is some of the most difficult Shakespearean English.
Yet there wasn’t any difficulty in understanding the story and the
overall message of forgiveness and what we associate with forgiveness.
In a sense, we think that when we have been wronged, the perpetrator should
be given the just measure for the wrongdoing. What is done so beautifully
by the cast is the message of not revenging measure for measure, but forgiving
measure for measure.
You can catch “Measure for Measure” or “Born Yesterday”
during this summer season, which finishes up on Aug. 30. Other plays include
“Much Ado About Nothing,” “Richard III,” “1776”
and “The Servant of Two Masters.”
The Fall Season goes from Sept. 18 to Oct. 18. The plays include Comedy
of Errors, Little Shop of Horrors, The Importance of Being Earnest and
I Hate Hamlet. Students can get student rush tickets one half hour before
the show for half price. For more information visit the Web site at www.bard.org.
are More Things in Heaven and Earth than Are Dreamt of in Your Philosophy
So, is the Utah Shakespearean Festival
small-town mediocrity? Well, that is for the audience member to decide.
But the experience of seeing Shakespeare in the open-air with the stars
as the ceiling made me question the very thought of mediocrity. The Utah
Shakespearean Festival isn’t small town at all; it is a large community
of entertainment and education that is nestled in a backdrop that one
won’t see in any big city…the backdrop of the red cliffs and
the bright stars—the scenery that existed before Shakespeare.
About 40 years ago, a man named Fred Adams found himself in Cedar City,
Utah, via New York City, NY. He thought of a great idea. Each year the
national parks in the vicinity attracted hundreds of thousands of summer
tourists. Yet, when the sun went down, the options for nightly activities
were very limited. These observations led to two simple equations: Tourists
+ Southern Utah = tourist trap. Tourists + nothing to do at night = captive
audience. Put the two together and you have all the necessary tools to
start a theater festival. After years of research and scouring the country
for ideas regarding theater festivals, the summer of 1962 was the birth
year of the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City.
The original cast, consisting of college students and townspeople who
doubled as set and costume designers, put on “The Taming of the
Shrew,” “Hamlet,” and “The Merchant of Venice”
as the inaugural plays of the Utah Shakespearean Festival.
Forty years and one Tony Award (2000, Best Regional Theatre) later, this
great idea of Fred C. Adams has turned into a formidable festival and
forum for the theatrical arts. It has accumulated local and national attention
and support. With the help of a substantial budget, the festival has been
able to embrace theater of various genres and origins outside the realm
of Shakespeare. Additionally, the festival has engineered an educational
outreach program that includes workshops and a touring production of one
of Shakespeare’s plays each season.
Within this vast enterprise of entertainment and education is a relatively
new program called the Plays-in-Progress Series, directed by Florida State
University professor George Judy. This unique program provides a forum
for up-and-coming playwrights to be a part of the process of seeing their
plays rehearsed, performed and critiqued.
The growth of this festival demanded the construction of new theaters
on its home campus of Southern Utah University. The most unique of them
all is the Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre, the design of which closely
resembles that of the Globe Theatre in London. Since its dedication in
1977, the Adams Theatre has housed three Shakespearean plays each season.
A decade later, the Randall L. Jones Theatre was erected. It has since
become known for its repertoire, which spans the globe and history. There
are now plans to complete the Utah Shakespearean Festival Centre for the
Performing Arts with additional buildings, including study centers and
two more theatres.
What started as a form of entertainment for the tourist has turned into
a center of education and opportunity for the artist, both professional