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Goodbye Adams theater, hello Engelstad

I couldn’t bring myself to ask the man crying toward the end of “King Lear” if he was emotional because of the play or because the Adams Shakespearean Theatre in Cedar City, Utah, was going to be torn down after 38 years.

I suspect his tears stemmed from the excellent production of Shakespeare’s play about troubled relationships between fathers and their adult children.

But he could have been one of the 150 people who came for a reunion the weekend of Aug. 14-15, a gathering of those who have worked at the Adams theater in various capacities over the years.

“That was reunion weekend, but they’ve been coming all summer just to say goodbye to the Adams theater,” said Nikki Allen Koontz, media and public relations manager for the festival.

On reunion weekend, she said, “There were not as many tears as there were stories being shared.”

Longtime festival fan Gayle Stucki said goodbye in a unique way. She paid $750 so she and her daughter could spend the night in a tent on the Adams stage on Aug. 15, listen to ghost stories, and have breakfast the next morning with Fred Adams, the jovial founder of the festival that started in 1961.

Festival officials say farewell Sept. 5 to the Adams theater, the courtyard and the grove where plays are discussed the next morning.

However, nearby construction workers are pounding away on a new outdoor theater — the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, a portion of the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

When the plans for the center were announced in 2013, it was estimated to be a $30 million project. It was to be finished by 2015. And to my joy, the outdoor theater would have a retractable roof.

Now it’s a $38.6 million project. It will be finished by 2016. And to my dismay, the outdoor theater will not have a retractable roof.

Realize that many of the more than 25,000 Southern Nevadans who attend the festival each year drive up anxiously watching the afternoon clouds threaten the evening’s outdoor show. On average, twice per season the Adams is rained out and audiences of up to 800 move into an indoor auditorium to finish the show. But the new theater will not be able to use the auditorium, which is the property of Southern Utah University.

The center will have many things — the Southern Utah Museum of Art, administrative offices, artistic and production facilities, a Greenshow stage, a grove and a small studio with seating for 200 people. The existing Randall L. Jones Theater built in 1989 is indoors and not bothered by weather issues.

But there will be no indoor auditorium available for Adams patrons in case of rain, as once promised.

Koontz explained that in keeping with other outdoor theaters’ practices, if the stage manager decides it’s not safe for the actors to continue and stops the show before the intermission, patrons will be given a credit on their account. If the show is stopped after intermission, patrons are out of luck and get no show and no credit. Expect serious grumbling when that happens when tickets can be as high as $77.

The retractable roof was abandoned for two reasons. Money and time.

Scott Phillips, executive director of the festival, told the Review-Journal’s Carol Cling the decision was “primarily a financial one,” while Co-Artistic Director David Ivers told her they wanted to be sure the building was ready for occupancy next year when the season begins June 27.

Building the roof could delay the theater’s opening six to nine months, meaning they would miss the 2016 season for the outdoor plays.

Phillips said in one grove seminar the roof would cost an additional $3 million.

As of this week, the $38.6 million goal is just $750,000 short, without the cost of the roof. If the last $750,000 doesn’t come in, the landscaping is likely to suffer, according to Koontz. “Landscaping will not be as big or tall for a while.” Four large sycamore trees were not cut down so it won’t be a barren wasteland.

And all those afternoon rain showers are good for the landscaping, even if they cause theatergoers anxious moments. Another upside, with the threat of rain, Scott predicted that in 2016, “We’ll be selling a lot of ponchos.”

People asked why they don’t just keep using the Adams theater.

Quick answer: Utah officials are uncomfortable with a wooden theater posing a fire and safety hazard. If you pay attention, you can see chains holding the balcony up. No one wants any tragedies to occur, except those meant to be on stage.

Yes, the Adams will be missed. But the Engelstad has one big advantage over the Adams: It will have restrooms.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Thursday. Leave a message at 702-383-0275 or email at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @janeannmorrison




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