By Ellen Fagg Weist | The Salt Lake Tribune
Cedar City • To open the new Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred C. Adams held a lit candle — the same candle used to retire the Adams Memorial Theatre at the end of last season — then left it onstage for the actor opening “Henry V.”
Larry Bull, who plays the Chorus, raised the flame on Thursday night to illuminate the famous “O for a muse of fire” speech, opening the play with the same line offered at the end of “Henry IV, Part Two.”
“Welcome to our new home, our glorious new Engelstad Theatre, made possible through the generosity of so many of you,” said R. Scott Phillips, the festival’s executive director, before the production.
The history play about war and leadership opened the theater company’s 55th season, the first in its new digs on an arts complex that represents Adams’ longtime dream.
The 1970s-era Adams theater, across the street, has been returned to Southern Utah University, which will use it for educational programs, said President Scott L. Wyatt.
The festival’s opening unfolded at the end of a day of celebrations and ribbon-cuttings on SUU’s two-block Beverley Center for the Arts, which included flourishes such as a band of heralds, confetti streamers and a processional by a bagpipe band.
Earlier in the day, speeches by state and local officials — ranging from Gov. Gary L. Herbert to Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson — underscored the transformative power of art while thanking donors for their collective efforts to build a world-class arts complex in an unlikely geographical location.
Herbert cited a scripture from Proverbs about how people falter without a vision. The new center represents how a dream, like that of festival co-founder Adams, inspires people to prosper, Herbert said.
During the ceremony, Adams received a standing ovation from a crowd that emcee Ken Verdoia, head of the Utah Arts Board, referred to as “a gathering of great friends.”
Just as fitting, before the ceremony Adams and Phillips could be seen exhibiting their hands-on philosophy as they set up additional chairs in overflow space behind the stage.
Herbert applauded the public-private partnerships that led to the completion of the $39.1 million, 8-acre arts complex, designed around the theater company’s 1989 Randall L. Jones Theatre.
A gold-ribbon cutting on Thursday marked the opening of the Southern Utah Museum of Art and the massive-looking, but intimate-feeling, outdoor Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre. (It’s like an inside-out TARDIS, theater company officials joked behind the scenes, referring to the “bigger on the inside” phone box that houses a time machine on the BBC’s “Doctor Who.”)
University and theater officials invited the entire town of Cedar City to the weekend’s opening ceremonies, and more than 700 turned out Thursday morning, filling chairs in the plazas outside the new Anes Studio Theater.
Later that morning, the local Scarlet & Black bagpipe band led celebrators to the plaza outside the new arts museum for a second ribbon-cutting. “Today feels like Christmas, and I’m so glad you’re all here to help unwrap this package,” said Donna Law, who led museum fundraising efforts and now heads SUU’s Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service.
Financially supporting the arts is an investment in the economy and entertainment, but also builds society, said Wyatt, underscoring the five pages of donor names printed in the event’s program.
The day felt especially historic for Wilson, a Cedar City native.
Stories about Adams’ vision for the theater company were woven into bedtime stories recounted by her mother, who danced in the first Greenshow as a child, and her grandmother, who choreographed early plays. “What this will mean to our community is beyond any of our wildest dreams,” Wilson said.
On Friday morning, town officials are scheduled to officially transform two blocks of College Avenue into Shakespeare Lane.
For Jack Livingood, CEO of Big-D Construction, the arts project provided plenty of drama, with an incredible setting, plot twists and conflict. “And antagonists — you know who you are — as well as heroes,” Livingood said, to laughter from the crowd.
“We’ve had heroic efforts, we’ve had ghosts haunting us at night, we’ve had a ‘Comedy of Errors,’ ” added Livingood, a longtime playgoer and former theater company board member. “We’ve had a battle or two where we couldn’t find our horse.”
Festival and SUU officials presented original artworks to members of the Sorenson family, whose foundation donated $6 million to the project in 2013.
Philanthropist Beverley Taylor Sorenson, who died later that year, was described as an “arts angel,” a fitting memorial, said daughter Ann Sorenson Crocker, former president of the Sorenson Legacy Foundation. When asked why she cared so much about financially supporting the arts, Beverley Sorenson always offered ready answers.
Learning to present a monologue teaches a child confidence, learning to play the piano teaches perseverance, rehearsing a play or opera teaches collaboration, while dancing teaches communication.
“She knew art changes the world,” Crocker said, recalling watching her mother, at age 80, dancing with students in an elementary arts program.
Her name is memorialized in the signs throughout the complex, which is now anchored by two major buildings that were designed to invite the public inside. “I love what this project has become,” said architect Kevin Blalock. “And now, the entire facility — The Beverley Center for the Arts — belongs to all of you. I leave it in your hands.”
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