There are few better ways to watch one of Shakespeare’s works than under the stars.
Outdoor theater not only provides a unique feeling and memorable experience for the audience, but it has become a huge part of the production itself and it wouldn’t be a Shakespeare Festival without it.
The Englestad Shakespeare Theatre was built in 2016 and was a result of the late Fred Adams’ dream that began over half a century ago when he started the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City in 1961.
Before the Englestad Theatre was built, the festival used Adams Theatre, named after founder Fred Adams. The theater can still be found on SUU’s campus.
The Englestad was dedicated right before the festival opened with Shakespeare’s play “Henry V,” and has been a vital part of the $45 million complex ever since.
Modeled after the Globe Theatre located in London, where many of Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed, the Englestad Shakespeare Theatre stands as the newest replica to date.
Both of these theaters are open-air theaters, which means the top of the theater is left open, providing the audience with fresh air and a unique play-watching experience.
Donn Jersey, the USF Director of Development and Communication and previous publisher of the “Las Vegas Sun,” explained that this outdoor experience plays a significant role in what the audience will receive from the plays.
“When you’re sitting down in an outdoor theater, your mind starts to prepare to open up and feel something. And you’re going to feel something, whether it’s a Shakespeare tragedy or romance,” Jersey said.
The 2020 season will host three outdoor shows. “Pericles,” “The Comedy of Errors” and “Richard III ” will be held in the Englestad Shakespeare Theatre, where the USF hopes to connect with audiences once again.
“This is our fifty-ninth season, and so our outdoor theatre productions have become an expectation. It’s like how people say they don’t just walk into Starbucks for the coffee, but for the feeling they get being in there. It’s the same thing with outdoor theater. It’s that feeling you get 30 minutes before showtime sitting under the stars.”
Along with the positive impacts outdoor theater provides, it also brings challenges. Because the theater doesn’t have a roof, it makes the audience, actors and staff vulnerable to the weather. Wind can make it hard for the audience to hear, and rain and snow can provide hazards for the actors and audience members as well.
Although the USF has an executive team that checks the weather before each production, they hardly ever cancel the shows. Pausing the shows to adjust to the weather is much more common, but that still hardly ever occurs.
“I think we’ve canceled one show ever. In our 2019 season, we only held one show due to weather. It’s like they say, ‘The show must go on.’”
Because outdoor theater might not be for everyone, the USF also offers indoor options, such as the Randall L. Jones theater that seats almost 800 people.
If there are theater fans craving more of that outdoor experience, the Greenshow also functions as a major part of the Shakespeare Festival.
The Greenshow consists of singing and dancing on the lawn that provides a lighthearted environment for those to enjoy before the major plays are shown that night.
It’s free and open to the public and is held on the Ashton Family Greenshow Commons at 7 p.m. before every production in the Englestad.
“We have 50-60,000 people come see the Greenshow, and it makes us happy to provide a theater experience for those to be able to enjoy the festival for free. There are three Greenshows, and they often contain actors that are also in the season shows, so there’s incredible talent.”
Southern Utah is known for its outdoors, and because outdoor theater has been around since Shakespeare began writing the plays, it sets the stage for a memorable and authentic theater experience.
Like Jersey said, “We’re in southern Utah, so being able to do outdoor theater just makes sense.”
For more information on the Utah Shakespeare Festival and their upcoming plays, visit bard.org
Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos by: Utah Shakespeare Festival