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Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014

Behind the scenes of the Utah Shakespeare Festival

By Whitney Butters, Deseret News

Published: Sat, July 26 9:00 p.m. MDT

 Members of the Utah Shakespeare Festival's stage crew switch over the scenery in the Adams Shakespearean Theatre. Because the festival's shows are shown in repertory, the stage crew switches the sets out twice each day in the Randall L. Jones Theatre and once in the Adams Shakespearean Theatre.

Members of the Utah Shakespeare Festival's stage crew switch over the scenery in the Adams Shakespearean Theatre. Because the festival's shows are shown in repertory, the stage crew switches the sets out twice each day in the Randall L. Jones Theatre and once in the Adams Shakespearean Theatre.

(Whitney Butters, Deseret News)

Long before the spotlights turn on and the first lines of dialogue are spoken, hours of work have already gone into creating the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

It starts months before the company of actors arrives for rehearsals and begins in the form of bolts of fabric, sheets of plywood, buckets of nails and the goal to transport audiences into the stories.

It’s a process the festival seeks to make engaging and transparent through offerings beyond the plays themselves. Among the extra events are Backstage Tours and Repertory Magic, which allow patrons to peel back the layers and see how much effort goes into creating the shows.

“It enriches the actual experience of watching the show when they get to see what actually is happening in between the shows or what it takes to create what’s on stage,” said Aaron Wilson, scenic director for the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

During the Backstage Tour, groups of approximately 10-12 patrons are shown the different preparation areas, beginning in the Randall L. Jones Theatre and ending across the street in the Adams Shakespearean Theatre.

Actress Deanna Ott and other company members lead the tours and share the background of the festival, giving interesting bits of history, lessons and anecdotes that audience members wouldn’t hear otherwise.

At one point on her tour, Ott explained how just the week before she had learned from a lighting technician that they use different colored lights in combination to create white light.

During a visit to the wig room, she showed off the wig she wears as Little Red in “Into the Woods,” telling the group she named it Paulette.

With a peek into the costume maintenance room, Ott explained how the room is a sort of hospital for the costumes that need to last through up to 4½ months of performances.

“Throughout the course of the season, everything needs to look the same degree of new and the same degree of old,” she explained.

While the Backstage Tour gives insight into the behind-the-scenes process for the actors, Repertory Magic deals more with how the festival staff creates the setting in which the artists perform — a responsibility that is an art in itself.

“What people don’t always realize is even though we use plywood, we use steel, and it’s very much a construction product, it’s still handmade and it’s still a part of the art,” Wilson said.

Wilson narrates as audience members watch the stage crew switch over the set from one play to another. Because the Utah Shakespeare Festival is a repertory theater, the schedule of which shows are performed and when constantly rotates. The stage crew switches the stage out twice each day in the Randall L. Jones Theatre and once in the Adams Shakespearean Theatre. It’s a task that requires a lot of manual labor and late nights for the stage crew.

“That’s another great thing for having the patrons come and watch (Repertory Magic) is so they can sort of get an appreciation for how much these guys work,” Wilson said.

On a recent afternoon, Repertory Magic gave audience members a front-row seat as the crew switched the set from “Sense and Sensibility” to “Into the Woods.”

Wilson said that the stage for “Sense and Sensibility” is made of 35 different pieces that make up the 40-by-36-foot deck. The crew stacks each piece in a specific, predetermined order, which makes it so it doesn’t take as much time or thought to put the set back together.

“It’s all about repetition, management and efficiency,” Wilson explained.

The stage carpenter runs the changeover based on a sort of instruction manual to make sure everything gets done. The carpenter make the calls as to when to move certain pieces and directs the stage crew where to go.

Occasionally, things don’t go exactly as planned: Parts get caught on each other, the automated things don’t work and pieces fall out of place.

“But that’s the exciting part of live theater,” Wilson said.

If you go …

What: Backstage Tour

When: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10:15 a.m., through Aug. 30; Thursdays and Saturdays at 11 a.m., Sept. 25-Oct. 18.

Where: Tours begin at the Randall L. Jones Theatre

Cost: $8

Note: Participants will be required to negotiate stairs

What: Repertory Magic

When: Monday and Thursday following the Randall Theatre matinee, through Aug. 28; Friday following the matinee, Sept. 26-Oct. 17

Where: Randall L. Jones Theatre

Cost: $8

Website: bard.org

Phone: 435-586-7878

Email: wbutters@deseretnews.com, Twitter: WhitneyButters

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1. Strider303
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 28, 2014

Can't say enough good things about USF. We have attended for twenty years and enjoyed the experience. My first summer I sort of went along to please my wife, but made the mistake of liking it. It is a fabulous experience to see and listen and learn about live theater.

It is money and time well spent.