I moved to Las Vegas last summer and ever since, when people find out I study Shakespeare, one of the most common reactions is, “Have you been to Cedar City?”
Located about three hours away from Las Vegas, and four hours from Salt Lake City, tiny Cedar City is home to the Utah Shakespearean Festival, a major point of pride among the literary types in this part of the country. The festival, which started in 1962, has become the second largest Shakespeare festival in the country, staging nine productions a year and attracting an estimated 150,000 people for its 2010 season.
The USF season is split into two parts, with six productions running in repertory in July and August and three more running in September and October. This year’s summer season features three Shakespeare plays: Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, and The Merchant of Venice. With the 2010 season just recently underway, I spoke to David Ivers, who, along with Brian Vaughn, was recently named the USF’s new co-artistic director.
Ivers is in his 15th season with the USF as both an actor and director. He has worked with the Oregon, Alabama, and Idaho Shakespeare festivals and is the former associate artistic director and head of education for the Portland Repertory Theatre. He and Vaughn will assume their full duties as artistic directors next January, but this year he is starting to transition into the role while also acting in two productions: Much Ado About Nothing and The 39 Steps.
The USF is known for its outdoor, Elizabethan-style theater — the Adams Shakespearean Theatre — which will host all three of its Shakespeare productions this summer. Ivers says, “Our trademark is producing Shakespeare classically in an open air theater. It is what we’re known for and it presents a great challenge for the artists, actors, and designers involved.” However, USF is not completely opposed to more contemporary reinterpretations and often stages them in its other venue, the indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre. Says Ivers, “While the outdoor theatre is dedicated to classical, traditional productions, our indoor theatre is the space where we re-examine Shakespeare. In our fall season this year, we have a very conceptual production of Pericles in the indoor theatre.”
In addition to the outdoor theater, USF is also known for its various activities that turn the festival into an all-day experience. Says
Ivers, “If you want, your day at the festival can start at 8 AM and go until 9 PM. In the morning we have our discussions in the Seminar Grove where scholars discuss the two plays from the previous day. And then at 6:30, between the afternoon and evening shows, we have the free Greenshow on the courtyard lawn featuring music and dancing.”
Another USF tradition is the annual Wooden O Symposium, which brings scholars and practitioners together to discuss Shakespeare during a three-day conference on the campus of Southern Utah University. “The Wooden O represents the intersection of literature and implementation,” says Ivers, “The plays lose their intent without the ability to be witnessed and this conference allows scholars the ability to present their ideas on Shakespeare and see his plays performed at the same time.”
While he is mainly focused on acting this year, Ivers has begun the transition into his new position, saying that this year, his time is “about 80% acting, 20% other.” Maintaining USF’s success while keeping it current and relevant will be his biggest challenge: “We’re asking ourselves, ‘how do we maintain the integrity and tradition of the festival and still move forward?'” One of Ivers’ first goals is to make more of a commitment to the actors and artists: “One thing I am going to be committed to doing is hiring artists earlier than the norm. This may seem like a minor thing but it is far more significant to the success of the productions than people realize.”
Ivers is also dedicated to reaching out to new audiences, starting with their newly redesigned website and increased presence on Facebook: “Theater and arts organizations often lag behind in marketing and making use of new technologies. We are trying to change that. We are trying to reach out to and create another generation of theatergoers in order to sustain us into the future.”
The Utah Shakespearean Festival summer season continues through September 4. For more information, visit their website www.bard.org.