Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why Visit The Utah Shakespeare Festival?

So, this week I've been reviewing the plays from the Utah Shakespeare Festival's 2014 season:

And I realized that there may be people wondering why on earth they should drive to a little college town in southern Utah to see Shakespeare.
Well, folks, I've seen Shakespeare performed by amateurs and professionals -- and the professional productions have included not just the Utah Shakespeare Festival, but also traveling companies performing in Salt Lake City (usually at Kingsbury Hall or the Pioneer Memorial Theatre), in London (yes, at the Globe Theatre), the Ashland, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and even in Stratford-on-Avon, England (birthplace of the Bard himself).  I've seen some mighty good stuff.  But I'm a big fan of the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  (If that link doesn't work, go to

(This statue of Sir John Falstaff stands behind the newer Randall Theatre, where shows are presented indoors.)

First of all, it's a FESTIVAL, not just a play.  You can, if you're short on time, see six different plays in 3 days' time during the summer season, and 3 plays in a day and a half in the autumn.  Plus, the actors play in multiple plays, so you can see your favorites over and over again.
Because it's attached to Southern Utah University, you can take classes for college credit (undergrad or grad credit, even).  You can see free greenshows every night, pay to take backstage tours, or attend free seminars with actors, directors, or prop experts.
Now, I notice that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is beginning to copy some of these ideas.  That's all well and good, and I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from going to Oregon, but I can tell you I had to pay a lot more for tickets there, and their parking situation was stupidly ridiculous.  The whole layout of the Cedar City festival is much, much better.

(The Adams Theatre was, at the time it was built and until the reconstruction of the Globe in London in the mid-1990s, the most accurate Elizabethan theatre anywhere.  It is now outdated and will be replaced by a new complex in two years.)

Also, at the Utah festival, it is common for ordinary audience members to bump into and speak with the actors during the day; they do not hide from the patrons as if we were lower life forms.  And the festival artistic directors, Brian Vaughn and David Ivers, are about and around, talking to people nearly every evening before the shows and getting feedback and/or constructive criticism.  (It's OK to walk right up and say, "Hey, David, I really loved what you did with 12th Night, but I had a hard time hearing when .....")  And, of course, festival founder and local legend Fred Adams is available nearly every night to meet and greet the crowds -- and to do play orientations.

I've never experienced this anywhere else.

(This statue of Titania, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, stands at the main entrance to the Randall Theatre, which will remain as part of the new complex.)

The Utah Shakespeare Festival also often has other displays of art, history, costumes, etc. to see in the few moments you're not already busy with plays, orientations, seminars, and classes.  Above is a photo of a first folio edition of Shakespeare, which was on loan for their 50th anniversary season.  That was quite the thing to have in a small town in Utah!

(As you'd expect, there are plenty of tee shirts and souvenirs available.)

So, yes, you should see Shakespeare whenever and wherever you can, but if you get the chance to visit Utah, don't miss the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where it's not just seeing a play or two; it's immersing yourself in a whole experience for as long as you're there.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review of Comedy of Errors. I went with a sister who has little experience with Shakespeare (and claimed she didn't like his plays), and improved her opinion quite a bit. It was the perfect play for a Shakespeare / classic literature newbie.