The stage is set for the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s new outdoor theater, with Las Vegas’ Engelstad Family Foundation playing a key role in the project.
On Thursday night in Cedar City, Southern Utah University — home of the award-winning festival — announced a $6 million gift from the Utah-based Sorenson Legacy Foundation to create a $30 million arts center that would include new festival facilities and the Southern Utah Museum of Art.
But last fall’s $5 million donation from the Engelstad foundation — the largest gift in festival history — “really set the tone to carry this project forward,” said L. Scott Phillips, the festival’s executive director, who called the Engelstad contribution “the catalyst that got us off the dime.”
Annually, about 25,000 Southern Nevadans attend the Cedar City festival, which won the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 2000. The festival’s 52nd season begins June 24.
Current funding for the arts center stands at $28 million “with gifts and pledges,” Phillips said. “We’re closer now than we ever have been.” He said officials are “very confident” that they will be able to raise the remaining funds for the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, named for a longtime Utah arts and education advocate.
SUU President Michael T. Benson said “a soft groundbreaking” would take place later this year, but “we’ll be moving dirt” next March and April.
The center’s New Shakespeare Theatre will replace the festival’s 1977 Adams Memorial Shakespeare Theatre, which was modeled after Shakespeare’s Globe and other Elizabethan-era playhouses.
Like its predecessor, the new 890-seat USF theater “will still be a ‘Wooden O,’ ” Phillips said, using Shakespeare’s term — from the “Henry V” prologue — for the Globe.
“Our hope is that it will still feel the same” as the current theater “when people look up at the stars,” Phillips said.
Even on rainy nights, however, the new theater’s retractable roof will enable the show to go on. (Currently, the show does go on when it rains — but only after the production, and the audience, moves from the outdoor Adams theater to an adjacent indoor auditorium.)
Along with enhanced production services, the new theater will allow the festival to extend its season beyond the summer months.
A planned Artistic/Production Center, meanwhile, will provide a central location for the festival’s staff and performers to prepare eight annual plays and three free Greenshows.
In addition to administrative offices, education spaces, rehearsal halls and costume, hair and make-up shops — now scattered off campus — the center will include a 200-seat studio theater.
The studio theater will permit the festival to expand its annual New American Playwrights Project and provide a stage for the works of such established playwrights as Harold Pinter and Tennessee Williams, Phillips said.
Anchored by the festival’s indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre, which opened in 1989, the Southen Utah University arts complex will include sculpture gardens and other outdoor features.
To accommodate the expansion, Cedar City officials agreed to close a street to create a two-block, pedestrian-friendly cultural center, Benson said.
It’s a “scaled-down” version of a mammoth $90 million Renaissance study center — fondly dubbed “Willy World” by festival patrons — that festival founder Fred C. Adams dreamed of creating “when the dollar was really worth something,” Phillips said.
“But this is still a wonderful addition to the community” that “will only enhance” the festival experience, he added.
“We’re very pleased that we can do it while Fred is still here,” Phillips said of Adams, who stepped down as the festival’s executive director in 2005 to devote himself full-time to making the center a reality.
Despite tough economic times, Adams and Benson maintained their fund-raising crusade, Phillips said.
“They would never say no,” he recalled. “They were tenacious.”
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.