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Wintry blast doesn't deter Shakespeare Festival groundbreaking

CEDAR CITY, Utah — From snowflakes to sun to dark gray clouds and an ever-present wind, the Utah Shakespeare Festival marked a historic day.

The previous Tuesday's high of 75 degrees gave way to one of only 48 degrees for the March 27 gathering. But the cooler weather did not deter dignitaries, board members, USF and Southern Utah University staffers, community members and festival founder Fred C. Adams from gathering to commemorate a 53-year dream and then don hardhats to break ground for the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

"We're beginning to think Fred Adams ordered this weather special to showcase how much value the retractable roof is going to add," David Ivers, artistic director, joked from the podium, referencing the plans for the new outdoor theater.

Prior to taking the stand, Ivers and fellow artistic director Brian Vaughn sat down to chat about turning the page to the next chapter of USF and SUU.

"I saw Fred this morning, and he was his normal self. But I'm sure there's a bit of butterflies, excitement and the awe that's it's finally here. It's very much the next chapter," Vaughn said.

"Fred's always been an innovator," Ivers added. "Fred has always been a visionary, and I think he will both feel a sense of relief that it's happening and he can see it, then he'll be thinking, 'All right, what's next?’ ”

For now, what's next is a state-of-the-art center for the arts. Including the current Randall L. Jones Theatre, the complex will feature a new outdoor Shakespeare theater; a new Southern Utah Museum of Art with 5,300 square feet of exhibition space; a studio theater that can seat roughly 200 people; and artistic and production facilities for the festival.

"It's definitely nostalgic, especially with the Adams Theater," said Vaughn, who not only has been a longtime performer at the festival but also was a theater student at SUU. "But there are so many inefficiencies right now with the current space."

"Right now, as a performer, you have to cover a lot of real estate just to go to the bathroom," Ivers, also a longtime performer, added. "And for someone tall like me, you have to be careful because there are protrusions from the ceiling that I have hit my head on more times than I can count."

Add to that intricate headpieces and numerous underlayers in some costumes, and "it'll be nice to have four people to a dressing room and bathroom as opposed to 25 performers sharing a bathroom," Vaughn said.

"Beyond that, the really great thing about the new facility will be the patron experience," he said. "To have patrons centralized in one location, they'll be able to bounce between three theaters and the new art museum, and they won't have to cross the street or anything."

"Also to (Vaughn's) point," Ivers said, "the center allows the administration, artisans and guest artists to be within walking distance. Right now, we're so spread out, there's so much terrain; this will remind us why we're here. And that's inspiring."

As Adams was introduced at the podium, the hundreds of people who were gathered rose to their feet, to which Adams responded, "Oh, that's not warranted — let's get this show on the road."

Among his brief remarks, he said, "Everyone has asked me how I feel ... I feel numb. And so grateful to be here to see some of it take place."

The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts is scheduled to open in 2016. In the meantime, as Ivers and Vaughn noted, the festival will offer complete seasons for 2014 and 2015 with a few "pardon our dust" signs.

Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."