The play's the thing for the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival. A new $26.5 million theater will make it even more so, said festival administrators during a Thursday morning announcement.
"What we provide now for our patrons and the state, we'll be able to increase manifold with this new theater," said R. Scott Phillips, executive director, at Salt Lake City's Alta Club.
The nonprofit, professional company's new theater replicating its outdoor Adams Shakespearean Theatre, which was based on London's Globe Theatre has been years in the planning.
At Thursday's announcement, festival leaders said construction is set to begin in the fall of 2013, with completion scheduled for early 2015. With $18 million of funds raised, Phillips said he's confident about the prospect of raising another $8.5 million.
The new facility on the Southern Utah University campus will feature amenities other theaters take for granted, such as patron restrooms and cast dressing rooms. The difference in seating between venues 900 seats in the new theater compared with 819 in the old is negligible, but it's the new theater's retractable roof that will make all the difference, which means Shakespeare plays can run longer into the fall season.
And that longer season is expected to draw another 30,000 patrons to the company's annual total of 150,000, Phillips said. That means $8 million more in patron spending and tax revenues, on top of the more than $35 million it's estimated the festival generates each year. Construction of the new theater is also expected to bring some 300 temporary construction jobs.
"We are a great economic engine, not only for Southern Utah, but the American Southwest as well," Phillips said, noting that one out of three theatergoers come from cities outside the state, primarily Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver.
The new theater will be built two blocks east of the festival's existing outdoor theater, which will remain in operation during construction. "We can't afford to miss a season," Phillips said.
A modern update of the theater bearing his name has been a longtime goal of Fred C. Adams, who co-founded the festival in 1961 with his wife, Barbara. He took an emeritus title in 2005, stepping down from day-to-day operations to focus on raising $44 million for the new theater and a planned Shakespearean village in downtown Cedar City.
The economic downturn, plus an urgency for the new theater, resulted in a scaled-down timeline for those plans, Phillips said. The festival still hopes to eventually build a Shakespearean village as part of a private-public partnership.
"We've been in the fundraising process for so long, I don't even know when it started, I was so young," said Adams, an octogenarian.
In designing the new theater, architects were told they should recreate the look and feel of the 1977 model. "You must create what our audience already knows after 40 years," he said.
Over the years, the theater became the festival's icon, even as actors dressed in tents and other makeshift quarters. But growing patronage revealed bigger drawbacks. Adams found it embarrassing when patrons rushed to use restrooms located in nearby campus buildings during intermissions, and the demand meant some theatergoers couldn't make it back to their seats before the action resumed.
Company actors look forward to the day when they no longer have to crawl through five-foot underground tunnels originally viaducts for heating and air to access basement dressing rooms and the nearby Randall L. Jones Theatre, said David Ivers, co-artistic director.
Robert J. Eaton, whose Salt Lake City-based Eaton Architecture firm will design the new theater, said he's already flown to England for a consultation with Shakespeare experts from Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. His firm has made theater construction something of a specialty, with designs for the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, the Kingsbury Hall renovation and the Sandy Amphitheater.
Working off a design dating from Elizabethan England is a new experience, however. "It's transferring a footprint, then filling it in with all the elements the old theater doesn't have," Eaton said.
Utah Shakespeare Festival's plans for dramatic new digs
What • A new $26.5 million Shakespearean theater, with construction to start in fall 2013, slated for completion in early 2015.
Where • Two blocks east of the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, on 200 West between Center Street and College Avenue, Cedar City.
Why • The existing Adams Shakespearean Theatre, weathered and weary since its 1977 completion, no longer accommodates either the festival's growing patronage or performing cast.
Features • The new theater will offer restrooms on all three floors, large backstage dressing rooms for cast, heating and air conditioning, and a retractable roof that will extend the festival's performing season.