Summarized by Kent Larsen
LDS Impresario's Shakespearean Vision Honored
CEDAR CITY, UTAH -- The 2000 Tony Awards have validated the vision of LDS
Church member Fred C. Adams, the founder and executive producer of the Utah
Shakespearean Festival. The Festival was given the Tony Award for the Best
Regional Theatre in June, drawing the attention of the theatre world to
Cedar City, Utah, including a rather lengthy article recently in the New
Adams grew up in central Utah, yearning to be an actor. An LDS returned
missionary, Adams also reportedly served in the US Army before going to New
York City, where he tried to start a career as an actor. While he managed to
work in a few Broadway shows, including as an understudy in the 1953
production of Cole Porter's "Can-Can," he eventually gave up and returned to
Utah, landing a position at what is now Southern Utah University, then a
junior college, and asked to set up a drama department.
While Adams felt that the community needed him, the situation was still
difficult, "The community was going through a real letdown. The iron mines
had closed. The economy was shattered. At that point I said to the mayor and
the city council that I wanted to start a Shakespeare festival. They thought
I was crazy. The idea of Shakespeare didn't seem to impress any of them."
But Adams persisted, visiting the Oregon Shakespearean Festival for
inspiration and persuading the local Lions Club to support the first season
The first season was a success, both on the stage and in the pocketbook, as
the community came out not only to see the plays, but also to play roles on
the makeshift stage. The festival managed to make a profit of $2,000 that year.
Adams has said that Cedar City is a natural place for Shakespeare, claiming
that the immigrants that Brigham Young sent to the area, often from Ireland
and Wales, were natural entertainers. According to Adams, Cedar City
initially had more entertainment than Salt Lake City.
Since its founding, the festival has steadily grown, adding plays and
facilities until today it attracts more than 150,000 ticket-holders to its
two theatres over a ten-week season. And winning the Tony Award is a big
boost to the festival, which plans further expansion, including an
additional two theatres as part of a multi-block-long Renaissance center.
The festival's reputation has also grown since 1962, as theatre audiences
outside of Utah have started traveling to attend the shows. "I was dubious
at first about Shakespeare in Utah -- and very reluctantly I went," said
Kenneth Adelman, who has taught Shakespeare courses at Georgetown and George
Washington universities. "And it blew me out of the water. This place is in
the middle of nowhere. And what you get is extraordinary."
Of course, because of the predominantly Mormon community in Cedar City and
Utah, the festival does make some accommodations. The selection of
non-Shakespeare plays is somewhat limited because of concerns over sex,
blunt language or edgy themes, and while the festival has done plays like
"Glass Menagerie" and "A Streetcar Named Desire," Tony Kushner's "Angels in
America," which includes a gay Mormon as a character, would probably not be
considered. The festival says, "We don't restrict ourselves because of the
content of plays but rather because of whether the audience would go. So we
wouldn't do 'Angels in America' because we probably wouldn't get an audience
to watch it."
But many plays also touch Mormon sensibilities. "The Merchant of Venice,"
part of this year's festival, has always been popular with Mormon audiences,
according to Adams, "They see the victim in Shylock. Having been victimized
themselves in their history, Mormons take great comfort in seeing this
portrayal of humanity victimized by people who profess to be Christians."
And this year's production is particularly sympathetic to Shylock, playing
up the anti-semeticism of the Christians in the play, and even including
dramatic elements that echo the holocaust.
Winning the Tony Award now gives the festival visibility it hasn't had, and
validates its decisions, perhaps even its slight accommodation to Mormons.
Adams expects audiences and fund-raising to surge as a result of the award.
And, it also gives him a sweet triumph, "At long last," he said. "We've been
Far Out in the Land Of Shakespeare
New York Times pg5 30Jul00 A6
By Bernard Weinraub
Utah Shakespearean Festival Website