Utah Shakespeare Festival shortens 2020 season because of coronavirus

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Jade Payton performing in the Utah Shakespeare Festival's Green Show in 2015. Festival announced on Monday, April 13, that the 2020 festival will be delayed and have a reduced number of plays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing readers free access to critical local stories about the coronavirus during this time of heightened concern. See more coverage here. To support journalism like this, please consider donating or become a subscriber.

The play’s the thing, and Utah Shakespeare Festival will go on in 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, in a condensed form.

Festival officials announced Monday they will stage a shortened season of the Tony-winning theater festival, which draws thousands of theater-loving tourists to Cedar City every summer. The season will run July 9 to Sept. 5.

Frank Mack, the festival’s executive producer, said in a statement that organizers have consulted with state and local health officials and Southern Utah University President Scott L. Wyatt in devising “a plan that is safe, responsible and enables us to fulfill our mission to present great theater."

Safety measures include: hand-sanitizing stations posted around the SUU grounds, increased cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and strategic seating of the audience to maintain social distancing. Actors arriving in Cedar City will have to self-quarantine for two weeks, and follow guidance from public health officials.

Brian Vaughn, the festival’s artistic director, said in a statement, "The changes to our season are necessary, but we are committed to providing creative, reimagined works of art that audiences can enjoy during this difficult time.”

The festival’s first performance will be July 9, a preview of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” in the Randall L. Jones Theatre.

Three Shakespeare plays will debut in succession in the outdoor Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre: the historical play “Richard III” on July 20, the royal drama “Pericles” on July 21 and the farcical “The Comedy of Errors” on July 22.

The festival will remount one of last season’s popular productions, Duncan Macmillan’s drama “Every Brilliant Thing,” in the Anes Studio Theatre, starting July 21.

Backstage tours, play orientations and seminars will begin July 9, and the festival’s outdoor Green Show will take place starting July 20.

Sets, props, lighting and costumes will be scaled back for each production. Festival organizers promise to develop new ways to deliver behind-the-scenes access, through online content, social media and streaming videos.

Audiences, Vaughn said, "will have a chance to see these talented actors do what they do best — act. By stripping away the artifice of design, they will showcase the beauty of language, the impact of story, and the resonance of life under a lens that will celebrate the heart of theater.”

The festival is cutting five plays that had been scheduled for this season: Shakespeare’s romantic drama “Cymbeline,” the comedy “One Man, Two Guvnors,” the World War II homefront comedy “Into the Breeches!,” the Shakespeare-inspired musical “Desperate Measures” and the farce “Shakespeare’s Worst!”

The festival’s ticket office will contact anyone who bought tickets for canceled shows to help in rescheduling. All fees, including exchange fees, are waived this season.

The festival had been scheduled to start its season June 1, but in mid-March announced a delay to June 10.

Festival officials are putting on hold their plans to bring actors from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to Cedar City this season.

The festival announced in February that it had committed to hire at least one RADA student or graduate for its acting company each season for the next five years, and a touring production by RADA’s second-year students would perform in Utah every July.

Because of travel restrictions, no RADA actors will be performing at USF this year, a festival spokesman said. The touring production is scheduled to perform at the Anes next year, and two actors from RADA’s roster will be hired for the 2021 company.

The year had already been tumultuous for the festival, with the death in February of founder Fred C. Adams, at age 89.

“This might be the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s most important season," said Wyatt, SUU’s president. The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has helped people “understand the value of quality theater, and the arts generally, in healing hearts and bringing us all back together.”