SALT LAKE CITY — Whether he was acting, directing, painting a set or stitching sequins onto a costume, Fred Adams' life was in theater.

And while Adams was a constant figure in the background of his plays, he is better known for creating the Utah Shakespearean Festival held each year in Cedar City.

His life's work was recognized Thursday at the Utah Humanities Council's 22nd Annual Human Ties Awards, where Gov. Gary Herbert presented the Governor's Award in the Humanities to Adams.

"He is an example of what we've been talking about here," Herbert said as he presented the award to Adams, "civility, humanitarian effort, trying to improve the community in his own way, and having a significant impact on the goodness of the people of Utah and our surrounding areas."

While many people know the stories of William Shakespeare, not as many know the story of how the nation's second largest Shakespearean festival came to be. As a professor for Southern Utah University, Adams came up with the idea for a Cedar City Shakespearean venue in 1961.

Now, the Utah Shakespearean Festival is about to enter its 49th year. Each year, 150,000 spectators travel from around the nation for the festival, which runs from June to October. Ten plays are included in the festival, from Shakespearean classics to contemporary pieces. This year will feature "Macbeth," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Merchant of Venice," along with a handful of others.

"Cedar City really loved Shakespeare," Adams said. "In the theater department, I had done a couple of Shakespeare plays and found that they were really, really well-attended and appreciated by the locals."

But before the festival became a staple for Shakespearean culture, it was inspired by Adams' work as a professor and his attempts to connect to the Cedar City community. His first Shakespearean play as a professor at SUU was in 1961. The play's popularity sprung Adams into action.

"I think he recognized the potential of Shakespeare to energize a community," said Utah Shakespearean Festival educational director Michael Bahr.

Bahr works for the festival today, but in 1982 he was a student at SUU and was mentored by Adams. Bahr has acted in the festival and worked closely with Adams since his years at SUU, but he still talks about Adams' influence like an excited college student.

Bahr said it was Adams' "enthusiasm for the craft of theater" that made him the man he is today. Bahr attributed the festival's success to the fact that Adams had a natural rapport with his audiences.

"His audiences trust him because he knows his audiences," Bahr said.

e-mail: gbarker@desnews.com