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Kanab, Utah's Weekly Newspaper, Serving Kane County, Utah & the Arizona Strip

Southern Utah News Front Page: January 19, 2017

Southern Utah News Front Page Photo

Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred Adams

Kelly Stowell (r), director of CEBA, presented Fred Adams with a framed Maynard Dixon print in appreciation for speaking at the Raising Kane Summit.

By Dixie Brunner

To say that Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred Adams charmed the audience as the keynote speaker at the January 13 Raising Kane Business Summit, would be an understatement!

Adams said he loved being in Kanab, and praised the marketing theme, ‘Abrakanabra,’ as being brilliant. The first things Adams spoke about were some sound marketing suggestions. The delightful 86 year-old Adams, who founded the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City in 1961, knows more than his fair share of how to appeal to and bring visitors to an area!

“Have a product that someone needs,” stressed Adams, “and if they don’t know they need it, show them why they do!”

He encouraged business owners to make their place pleasant to visit, and to train help to be friendly. “You need to make sure your place is filled with smiles. Go the extra mile!”

Adams said that in keeping with the summit theme, there are safety and success in numbers! Support other businesses. “If you want people to shop in your shop – shop in theirs! Welcome criticism and fix it!”

He encouraged business owners to beware of ‘staff infection’ where employees don’t get along and subsequently give visitors a bad experience. “Hire the best people you can,” said Adams. “Share your dream with them, and let them know where you’re going. And when something fails, move on!”

The lively Adams recounted the fascinating story of how he initially fell in love with theater, and then later how that passion drove him to found the Shakespeare Festival. He said as a young boy in Clifton, Idaho, his father took him to see the movie ‘Thief of Baghdad.’ “I fell in love!” exclaimed Adams. “I went home to make my own production. I was so excited, I remembered the lines, described the costumes and I got to direct. I even had it down to the Genie in the bottle – it was fabulous!”

Adams said he later announced to his father that he was going to be a director when he grew up. “My father said, ‘just remember it’s hell working eight hours a day at something you don’t love.’ I’ve lived by that advice.”

Fred Adams kept to his vow to have a career in theater. As a young man in his twenties, he worked in New York. But he held on to a dream of bringing regional theater to the beautiful red rocks of southern Utah!

Adams and his wife eventually moved to Cedar City, where he approached the administrator of the College of Southern Utah with his idea of starting a theater and classes for the arts. “He wasn’t against it,” said Adams. “He just said there wasn’t any money!” He and his wife figured they would need $1000 to get started.

“I went to the Chamber of Commerce, the city, the Rotary, Elks, and Kiwanis, and they all turned me down,” admitted Adams. “But I had a friend who’s brother was the Lions Club President. I went and gave them my spiel, and they asked me how much I thought I could raise in ticket sales. I told them, and they took a chance on us!”

Adams began his dream that summer with 21 of his best students from the college. (In fact he said there were three Heaton boys from Kanab – Wayne, Wendell and Steven – who helped with that first production!) “We opened with three plays, Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice. We paid off the $1000 debt, and had enough money for the next year,” said Adams with pride. “We never ever took out another loan to operate the festival.”

And look at what’s has happened in the 56 years since. The Utah Shakespeare Festival is wildly successful, bringing amazingly talented actors to perform for scores of national and international visitors! “In 2016, we had a $7.2 million budget,” said Adams. “We now have 350 employees, and do nine plays for nearly three full months. Audiences now are in the hundreds of thousands.”

The Tony Award-Winning Utah Shakespeare Festival has garnered much critical acclaim, winning dozens of awards and achievement recognition. “The most prestigious award was being named Outstanding Regional Theater in America,” Adams said.

In his illustrious career and involvement with the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Fred Adams has directed 18 of Shakespeare’s 36 plays. “I’ve done over 360 plays around the country,” said Adams. He has also been a producing director, executive producer, and director of the Festival Capital Campaign, raising nearly $40 million for the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

But while recognition and accomplishments are gratifying, Adams said that personally he is most proud of the impact and cultural difference the Festival’s success has had on Utah’s school children. Adams said that seeing the increase in the arts in Utah elementary, middle and high schools brings him much pride. “We have made a difference!”

In closing, Adams related an experience of over 60 years ago while on an LDS mission to a frozen Finland. He said the elements were quite difficult, especially when doing the required bike riding – often in the dark! “It was crazy cold,” related Adams, adding with good nature, “just delightful!”

He said one day he finished quite exhausted, and upon arriving at his apartment, he discovered a night hiking event had been planned. Adams said that wasn’t welcome news, going hiking in the cold and dark night, with the wind howling. But he went never-the-less ... perhaps with an attitude! They got to their destination, had a bonfire and spent time with some of their new Finnish acquaintances.

“We began the long trek back home,” recalled Adams, “trudging through the snow and cold, when a young child at the front of the group shouted, ‘look up!’ I looked up to see the Aurora Borealis, one of the most beautiful scenes of nature in its full glory! It was so glorious!”

Adams said his heart was filled with wonder and reverence, as he rejoiced in seeing the rare occurrence of nature – one he probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen, if it hadn’t been for the young child. “That’s what we get to do when we serve the public, we get to be the person who encourages others to ‘look up!’”

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