Wandering the West
July 1, 2008
Methinks you’re missing one of those only-in-Utah experiences (and I mean that in a good way) if you don’t some summer do the counterintuitive thing and head to hot, sunny Southern Utah for a little red rocks and culture.
For nearly fifty years now, some of the best Shakespeare performed in the world has been performed in Cedar City. If that sounds like overly enthusiastic local boosterism, consider that the Cedar City Shakespeare Festival has won the Tony Award for Best Regional Theater, and that when no less than the BBC wanted an authentic location to film Shakespearean plays, it went not to Stratford upon Avon but little old Cedar. I’ve talked to actors there before, and they come from all over and are thrilled to land a Cedar City gig. It is a prestigious credit on an acting resume.
Credit Fred Adams, an enthusiastic actor fresh from New York City who landed in Cedar City at the little College of Southern Utah and decided to capture some of the thousands of tourists passing through town on their way to southern Utah and northern Arizona national parks. It grew and grew to the point that the campus now boasts not one but two classy venues for stage performance. The Fred Adams Shakespearean Theater is an outdoor venue done to resemble the original Globe Theater of Elizabethan times. To see Shakespeare outdoors in a theater much like where it was first performed centuries ago is a thespian’s dream and an audience member’s delight.
To continue the theater tradition beyond the summer months, the festival in 1989 built the Randall L. Jones Theater for more traditional classics. The Jones and the Adams are both busy all summer, and when the outdoor theater closes at the end of summer, the indoor venue will continue.
Going to the Shakespeare Festival involves a whole lot more than just going to plays. An hour before curtain, the Greenshow begins on the lawn outside. Jugglers, storytellers, singers and dancers entertain the arriving crowd as they would have in Shakespeare’s time.
But wait, as they say, there’s more. You can get to the Southern Utah University campus by nine in the morning and start the first of a series of seminars, special events and tours related to the festival. There are backstage tours and seminars on props, costumes and acting. There are literary seminars dissecting the Bard’s work line by line. If you want to learn about Shakespeare, there’s a whole lot more in Cedar City than made the "Shakespeare in Love" movie.
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Cedar City motel rates are pretty high at festival time and the rooms pretty average, but there is great alternative lodging out of the desert heat. Try camping at 10,000 feet at Cedar Breaks National Monument and then drive down Cedar Canyon every night to catch a play. Others stay over on the cool rim of Bryce Canyon National Park and make the commute down to Cedar. Both places offer stunning scenery of eroded sandstone and tall ponderosa pines. It’s the perfect combination some cool hiking in the daytime followed by comedic and dramatic performances each night. You can also head just south of town on I-15 and pull into the Kolob Canyon section of Zion National Park. This seldom-visited corner of Zion is isolated from the rest of the park and higher in elevation and has some nice hikes and Zion-esque scenery.
The lineup each summer features Shakespeare and classic American theater. This year the Bard’s offerings include "Two Gentlemen from Verona" and "Othello" playing outdoors along with a non-Shakespearean offering, "Cyrano de Bergerac." Indoors at the Jones Theater you’ll find the Bard’s "Taming of the Shrew" and more modern classics like "Fiddler on the Roof" and "School for Wives." When the outdoor season ends, the Jones Theater will switch to Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" and a Victorian melodrama called "Gaslight" along with the classic "Moonlight and Magnolias."
Parting is such sweet sorrow, but it’s time.
Free-lance writer Larry Warren has been wandering the West covering news stories for television and magazines since he landed in Utah in the mid-1970s. In this column he writes about the favorite places he goes back to when he can.
THE VITALS: Park City to Cedar City 251 miles
Insider tip: Iron Mission State Park a few blocks north of campus tells the story of Mormon pioneers sent south to mine a deposit of iron ore for Brigham Young.