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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended July 30, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 15Aug00

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 York Times.

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 in 1962.

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 recognized!"

Far Out in the Land Of Shakespeare
New York Times pg5 30Jul00 A6
By Bernard Weinraub

Utah Shakespearean Festival Website


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