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SUU, Utah Shakespeare Festival break ground on new art center

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While it’s only a ceremony, it’s the beginning of a lifelong goal and dream that my wife and I had, and fostered and nourished and shared, and I’ll be around to see some of it happen. – Fred Adams, founder of the Utah Shakespeare Festival

CEDAR CITY — After decades of raising funds, the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival is one step closer to having a new performing and visual arts complex.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place Thursday for the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

“It’s an extraordinary … moment that we are facing,” Fred Adams, founder of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, said with a big smile on his face. “While it’s only a ceremony, it’s the beginning of a lifelong goal and dream that my wife and I had, and fostered and nourished and shared, and I’ll be around to see some of it happen.”

Shakespeare's world-famous theater in Cedar City will soon be replaced. It will have the same look and feel but with a modern upgrade.

The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts is located off the Southern Utah University campus, where one of the festival theaters, the Randall Jones, is now. That's where the new Shakespeare theater will be built, as well as the Southern Utah Museum of Art.

“Being separated from the campus proper, we won’t have the disturbances of class and that, so it just opens up a huge, huge opportunity for us to broaden the calendar,” Adams said.

The new complex will also impact the hotels and restaurants in the area.

“Now we give them a second Christmas during the summer,” Adams said. “We’re going to be able to expand that both into the early spring and into the middle of winter.”

The center will allow the festival to expand like never before, artistic director David Ivers said.

“We are hoping that there might be a world where you go skiing during the day and come see ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in the evening because we’ll be open different parts of the year than we typically have been in the past,” Ivers said.

Not only will the expansion allow programming to be extended further into the year, it will also give the festival a third venue, artistic director Brian Vaughn said.

“(A venue) that’s devoted to new plays, as well as some smaller intimate plays that require an intimacy. For our patrons to see a play like ‘The Glass Menagerie’ in a 200-seat theatre is quite a different playgoing experience than sitting in an 800-seat house,” Vaughn said.

The festival has grown over the years, and the organization has sought a larger, more modern facility to attract more than the 150,000 visitors who attend each summer and fall.

The $30 million project, the largest in SUU’s history, will include an 890-seat theater, a youth education and rehearsal space, elevator and ADA access, dressing rooms and backstage space for artists.

The arts center will also have an artistic/production center, which will provide an area for administrative offices, education spaces, rehearsal halls, and various costume, hair and makeup shops.

Many donated to the $30 million project, but arts patron Beverley Taylor Sorensen gave the final $6 million. She was passionate about the arts, particularly for children.

“Those who knew Beverley couldn’t help but catch her enthusiasm and her commitment, and that commitment was to the future generations,” Adams said. “I don’t think it would be out of order to say millions of children within the next 20-25 years, millions of schoolchildren will be touched and impacted by the work and the vision and the generosity of Beverley Taylor Sorensen and her wonderful family.”

Sorensen’s daughter, Ann Crocker, said her mother would be thrilled to be associated with such a great center because she spent many, many years promoting arts and education throughout the state.

“I can picture no better way to pay tribute to her and to have her name be part of this wonderful institution,” Crocker said.

In addition to the $6 million contribution from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, donations to the project include $5 million from the Ralph and Betty Engelstad Family Foundation of Las Vegas, and $3 million from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation.

The stunning works of Utahn Jim Jones will be the new museum's permanent collection, and the inspiring works of William Shakespeare will come to life in the new theater.

Festival and university leaders say that combination will create a cultural epicenter for Iron County.

Construction will be underway as visitors begin their annual trek to Cedar City this summer. The Utah Shakespeare Festival opens its season June 23.

“She would be so tickled,” Crocker said of her mother. “I can’t think of any greater experience she could have had. I wish she could have held on just a little bit longer, but in my heart, I really think she is celebrating with everybody.”

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: cmikita@deseretnews.com