Shakespeare Fest: Repertory theater is the original binge watch

Jacob Coakley

With all the hype around Netflix releasing whole seasons of shows at the same time and the behavior it induces, it’s easy to forget that repertory theater was the original binge-watch. The Utah Shakespeare Festival has perfected the model, and it drops six new productions for voracious viewers this weekend.

“People love coming, and they love being able to see true rotating repertory theater,” says Brian Vaughn, co-artistic director of Utah Shakes. He directed Henry IV Part Two this summer and is also starring in Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare’s classic tale about romantic war). “They can see a musical in the afternoon, Shakespeare in the evening; the next afternoon they can see a comedy or contemporary American drama. There’s not a whole lot of organizations that really operate that way anymore.”

And Utah Shakes doesn’t stop there. There are literary seminars every morning where patrons can talk about the plays and productions, costume and prop seminars to learn how the shows are built—and for those who really want to collect them all, a “Complete the Canon” scorecard so people can track how many of Shakespeare’s works they’ve seen.

Since this is the last year for their famed outdoor Adams Theatre—constructed in the same style as Shakespeare’s Globe, “We really wanted to celebrate the space,” Vaughn says. So they stocked it with some of Shakespeare’s greatest hits, including a Game of Thrones-influenced King Lear; Henry IV Part Two, which features several actors continuing in their roles from last year to give it a deeper sense of characterization and connectivity; and Shrew, which is directed by Utah Shakes founder Fred C. Adams. It all leads to a season focused on change, possibility and revolution.

“King Lear is very much a play that revolves full circle by the end of it. And Henry IV has elements of that too, with its transition of father to son and the son inheriting the sins of the father,” Vaughn says. “And Taming of the Shrew is the first play that opened in our outdoor space. Finishing the season in that space with Adams coming back to that, it’s a full circle.”

This year Utah Shakes is also presenting Amadeus, a portrait of artistic genius and twisted jealousy; the classic farce Charley’s Aunt; and musical favorite South Pacific. Audience members can dip in for an enjoyable show—or go full throttle and see them all, finding their own connections.

“You begin to find these similarities in the plays and how they relate to each other,” Vaughn says. “And that’s one of the thrilling things for our audience, to be able to see some connective tissue.”

Utah Shakespeare Festival 255 W. Center St., Cedar City, Utah, 435-586-7878, bard.org.

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