Curtain to rise at Utah Shakespeare Festival this summer despite COVID-19

Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, an outdoor theater for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The Engelstad opened in 2016 and replaces the former Adams Shakespearean Theatre. It is located within The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts on the campus of Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of SUU, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — After careful consideration and consultation from public health officials, the Utah Shakespeare Festival is moving forward with plans to produce a 2020 season. Necessary changes to ensure a safe and quality experience include producing fewer shows, modifying the schedule to start later in the summer and altering show designs.

“These are unprecedented times as we all navigate the impact of COVID-19” Frank Mack, executive producer, said in a press release. “However, with guidance from local health professionals, state officials and Southern Utah University President Scott L Wyatt, we have a plan that is safe, responsible and enables us to fulfill our mission to present great theatre. The health and safety of our artists, staff, audience and community members is the top priority, and we feel like we’ve taken the right steps to ensure we can still produce a quality season and protect everyone.”

Along with the season adjustments, the festival will also mitigate health risks through a variety of methods, including implementing numerous hand sanitizing stations, increased cleaning and disinfecting procedures and strategic audience seating. As company members arrive in Cedar City they will self-quarantine for two-weeks and follow guidance offered by public health officials.

“The changes to our season are necessary, but we are committed to providing creative, reimagined works of art that audiences can enjoy during this difficult time,” Brian Vaughn, artistic director said in the release. “I am so glad we have been able to develop a solution that will enable our talented team of artists and technicians to tell these magnificent stories.”

Performances will begin July 9 with Gilbert and Sullivan’s hilarious and ingenious operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” in the Randall L. Jones Theatre. The outdoor Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre will commence with Shakespeare’s powerful history “Richard III on July 20, the odyssey-like epic “Pericles” on July 21, and the whimsical and delightfully funny “The Comedy of Errors” on July 22. The season will be rounded out by a remounting of the popular “Every Brilliant Thing,” which was part of the 2019 season and toured to Utah schools. It will open July 21 in the Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre. All five shows will run in rotating repertory through Sept. 5.

Michael Doherty performs in the one-man play “Every Brilliant Thing,” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George/Cedar City News

Backstage Tours, Play Orientations, Play Seminars, and Production Seminars (actors, costumes, and props) will be offered beginning July 9. The festival’s free outdoor “Greenshow” will begin July 20.

In order to present the outlined season, the festival will limit building sets, props, lights and costumes for each show and focus on innovating storytelling and powerful acting. All productions will be fully rehearsed and feature a full company of outstanding professional actors, dancers and singers.

With the reduction to the technical show elements, the festival is already developing innovative and creative ways to deliver typically exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to the artists through additional web content, social media and streaming videos. Audience members will be invited to engage online and “peel back the curtain” to witness how a show comes to life.

The festival will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation very closely as it is impossible to know for certain what conditions will be like in July and August. The decision to move forward with an altered season was made under consultation with state officials, local health experts and SUU administration. The festival will continue to work with these entities, and if conditions are not satisfactory the season will be canceled and all tickets refunded.

“This might be the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s most important season. While our community, and the world, moves beyond COVID-19 we understand the value of quality theater, and the arts generally, in healing hearts and bringing us all back together. Our plays this summer will be perfectly presented to help us laugh and cry and think deeply about what we all care so much about,” Southern Utah University President Scott L Wyatt said in the news release.

“We think this will be an exciting experience for playgoers,” Vaughn added. “They will have a chance to see these talented actors do what they do best — act. By stripping away the artifice of design they will showcase the beauty of language, the impact of story and the resonance of life under a lens that will celebrate the heart of theatre.”

Donn Jersey, director of development and communications, said, “We are excited to welcome our patrons back to Cedar City for these great stories that we need now more than ever. We will take every precaution and follow the advice of our public health officials to ensure the health and safety of our audiences and company.”

If patrons have purchased tickets for plays that have been canceled, they will be contacted by guest services personnel, or they can contact the Ticket Office at 800-PLAYTIX for help in rescheduling. All fees, including exchange fees, will be waived for the 2020 season.

Tickets for the season are now on sale at and 800-PLAYTIX.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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