Add Utah Shakespeare Festival to the list of summer traditions that are coming back after COVID-mandated cancellations in 2020. After altering and ultimately cancelling the Cedar City festival last summer, organizers are planning on a mostly back-to-normal season with safety precautions in place.
Frank Mack, Executive Producer of USF, said last summer was “heartbreaking and worrisome” as theaters that usually welcomed hundreds of guests daily remained empty. While organizers tentatively prepared for the 2021 season last winter, Mack worried that COVID-19 would once again shut down the Festival. During this time, the community rallied around USF—the State Legislature provided financial aid, and the Southwest Utah Health Department reassured USF that their company could be fully vaccinated.
That support demonstrates important the Festival is to the small college town. Beyond the obvious financial benefits—more than 100,000 annual visitors and $35 million in economic activity—is something more intangible. “This summer theater festival has been a large part of the identity of Cedar City,” Mack explains.
The return comes just in time for the theater’s 60th anniversary season. This season is dedicated to Fred C. Adams, the founder of USF who passed away in February 2020. One of this year’s productions, the 1879 operetta The Pirates of Penzance, was chosen in honor of Adams, who memorably played Major-General Stanley in USF’s 2001 production.
Along with Pirates, the Festival will produce four Shakespeare classics—a historical tragedy, Richard III, a slapstick comedy, The Comedy of Errors, and the romances Pericles and Cymbeline, which fall somewhere in between. The Festival season also includes two productions about Black Americans in the early 20th century. Ragtime, which opened on Broadway in 1998, uses the titular music style to follow African-Americans, Jewish immigrants and wealthy whites in New York. Lynn Nottage’s play Intimate Apparel is about a Black lingerie seamstress making her own way in 1905 Harlem. Rounding out the lineup is The Comedy of Terrors, a spooky/goofy horror comedy inspired by Shakespearean farce. As in years past, The Greenshow, a free outdoor concert, will play throughout the Festival.
After a year where most Utah theaters either switched to virtual performances or closed entirely, USF finally provides a chance to gather in a large crowd and soak up the unique intimacy of live drama. “We’ve sold $2 million in advanced ticket sales, which is terrific for us in a normal year, so in this year it’s even more exciting,” Mack says. He says audiences are especially eager to gather together again and see live theater—and for the team at USF, the feeling is mutual. “We’re always excited to see our audience come to Cedar City, but having not seen them for a year, it’s almost indescribable.” For the many locals and tourists who make the Festival an annual tradition, this 2021 season should be a welcome return to normal. “I often hear from the artists who work here that one of their favorite things about working at the Utah Shakespeare Festival is the engagement with our audience…To see the artists and the audiences together again, that’s what I’m looking forward to most.”