Compared to the Bard himself (he’d be 447 this year), 50 years might be no great shakes, but for Utah Shakespeare Festival, it’s a very big deal indeed. With a modified name (shortened from “Shakespearean”) and new artistic directors—Brian Vaughn and David Ivers, longtime company members, but only in their second season as co-ADs—Utah Shakes is leaning into the future while taking the time to celebrate its past this summer.
It all begins June 30, when Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes the stage for its opening night, followed over the next few days by the opening performances of the rest of the Fest’s summer season: Richard III and Romeo and Juliet from Shakespeare, The Music Man by Meredith Willson, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and Noises Off by Michael Frayn.
“We want to make sure that part of what we do this year is really honor our past and look at our legacy,” says executive director R. Scott Phillips. “But we want to make sure that what we do remains relevant.”
“Our goal is to make the shows as visceral and as true to right now in 2011 so that our audiences can walk away from it, going ‘Wow,’” adds Vaughn, who’s playing Harold Hill in The Music Man, a show and a role that let him explore the power of the transformative nature of the arts. Transformation is a key element of all their shows this summer as they charge into the next 50 years. “We want to recharge a new generation to the festival, the younger generation, so that they can be the playgoers who will follow us over the next 50 years,” Vaughn says.
The festival won’t stop paying tribute to where it’s been, though. It has special events every week this summer, including a Bard’s Beach Party at Cedar City’s new water park, a car show featuring a classic car built in each of the fest’s 50 years and more. There are also seven special exhibits running through the summer and fall, highlighting various aspects of the fest, like “Anatomy of a Season,” which guides visitors through the process of producing a Shakespeare Festival and “More Precious than Gold: The Works of William Shakespeare,” which will display a first folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Visitors who tour each of the seven exhibits will receive a gift from the fest acknowledging their dedication.
“Part of our idea in creating this season was a celebration,” says Vaughn, summing up, a thought echoed by Phillips: “It’s going to be a big, huge party.”