Cedar City, home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, is the next place on our list. This city becomes the stage on which a multitude of memories are made. The only question is this: Can we get Annie into the theatre?
Wednesday, August 21st, 2019
Cedar City, Utah, USA
It was late afternoon when I arrived in Cedar City. By this point, I was prepared to trade my kingdom for a T5 screwdriver. Trying to repair a shorted-out charging board on a phone while traveling can prove to be quite the task. My first impressions of the town were quite rosy, as the hardware store had the requisite tool and the beautiful library was a clean, quiet laboratory for my repairs.
With just a little daylight remaining, I thought I would ride up the hills which rise high above the east side of town. I stopped for a deer in the road, which led me to meet my new friends Kyle and Michelle.
I told them that I was looking for a nice vantage point to see the whole city and they invited me to follow them to their house. The view from there did not disappoint.
Sunsets are pretty, of course, but they cause me some consternation when I have yet to set up my tent before they arrive. I scoured the hillsides for a spot amid the rocky, dusty ground. I dropped Annie during this process and only had time for a brief apology. Eventually we found a home and set up the maroon cocoon. (Pic from the morning)
Thursday, August 22nd
Other than some passing sheep in the morning, it was an undisturbed stay in this makeshift spot. I was well-rested and eager to begin discovering what makes Cedar City unique.
The geography alone interested me. Cedar City sits at around 5,800 ft., giving it a milder climate than some other locales in southern Utah. If one gets too hot, the mountains to the east offer activities above 10,000 ft. If one gets too cold, there are toasty deserts a short distance away. If one wants to connect with natural wonders, Bryce and Zion National Parks are in the neighborhood. If one has way too much money, it can be easily left in Las Vegas which is just a two hour drive away.
I rode around town just a little bit, trying to get my bearings. I was fortunate enough to be visiting during the annual Shakespeare Festival. This event was founded by Fred Adams, a theater instructor at Southern Utah University. He saw the thousands of tourists coming to Cedar City and dreamed of staging performances for them.
The community pulled together to make this dream a reality, staging the initial event in 1962. It has grown steadily over the years, benefiting Cedar City in immeasurable ways. The festival now stretches over three months, plays in three unique theatres, presents eight different plays and has 120,000 annual audience members. It’s safe to say that Mr. Adams’ dreams have been fully realized.
There are lots of statues around the grounds of different characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Upon seeing one of Hamlet gazing at the skull of “poor Yorick,” I knew what I wanted for my official picture of Cedar City: On stage, with Annie, holding my helmet in a similar pose.
There was only one question: Was this picture to be, or not to be?
On one of the street corners of the university, a group of students was causing a ruckus. They were waving signs, imploring drivers to honk, as they welcomed new students to campus. They seemed like the kind of people who would be my friends. 🙂
Their enthusiasm was so genuine and intense that I almost felt ready to go back to college. Somebody get me a syllabus! Additionally, “Thor the Thunderbird” has to be one of the best mascots I’ve ever heard of.
One of the gals there helped with the Shakespeare Festival and she said she would do what she could to help make my photo idea a reality.
I spent the morning back at the library, getting a post published. While here I noticed a message from my cousin, Lucas, in Wisconsin. He and his family have been wonderful supporters to my quest. I stayed with them over two years ago between song places Baraboo, WI and Chaska, MN (THIS POST)
Lucas told me that his boss’ son lived in Cedar City and he could connect us. This connection happened much faster than I expected. As I sat at a bus stop eating a can of Canadian beans (no phone number…sorry to burst your guys’ bubble), a random stranger approached me, telling me I look like my cousin. This was how I met my new friend Seth (pictured below with his wife, Kristina)
I only had a brief time to chat with him right away, as I actually had an appointment. Many times I will email a visitor’s center or chamber of commerce before I arrive in a song place. Many of these emails go unreturned, but the representatives from Cedar City seemed enthused at my arrival.
I met Kaylee outside of the art museum. She was equipped with an armful of pamphlets, a head full of information and heart full of love for her home town of Cedar City. She was the perfect person to ask about the history and future of this place. Lots of the information in this post came from her. She was also enthused about my photo idea and provided me with some contact information to help make it a reality.
To be or not to be? It seemed like it was going to happen.
Throughout my various conversations, I had learned that there were actually two theatres which were approximate recreations of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The old one, the Adams Memorial Theatre, is in the middle of SUU’s campus and is no longer part of the festival.
This building was lovingly constructed between 1971 and 1977. As each season of the festival would bring in more money, more seating and fixtures would be added. It is not visible from the road so I hadn’t seen it on my preliminary scan of the area. When I approached it on foot, I was immediately awestruck.
I’m not sure how this lifeless structure of wood and stone struck such a deep chord within my soul. I loved it immediately. There were no gates on the stairway, so I walked in and admired the interior as well. This would be the perfect place for my Cedar City photo. Only a locked gate stood in Annie’s way.
I checked out a few more things before riding over to Seth’s house. He and I really hit it off right away. We had conversed for hours about deep philosophical topics before ever getting around to asking each other about what we did for work. Seth’s wife Kristina works for the University and she also sent some emails trying to help me get Annie into the theatre.
I returned to the festival grounds to take in the nightly “Greenshow.” It is a free outdoor performance of song, dance and shenanigans which is wonderfully entertaining. In the photo below, plush sheep are being sling-shotted into the crowd. I think Shakespeare would approve. 🙂
Seth took me to one of his favorite retsaurants, The Pizza Cart. The owner began with a unique oven built on a literal cart. This has now transformed into a nice establishment with great food (and gelato).
This was an absolutely wonderful day. Between waking up in the midst of sheep, to falling asleep in a comfy bed; I had learned so much, made many new friends and had so many people willing to help me.
Friday, August 23rd
I took a work day, availing myself of host’s wifi and getting to know their dogs.
I didn’t receive any positive news about getting Annie into the theatre, which was slightly disappointing.
To be or not to be?….remained the question.
Saturday, August 24th
I began my day with a visit to the Frontier Homestead Museum. This place was wonderfully done and presented a tangible account of Cedar City’s history.
Iron ore was the first thing that attracted settlers to the area. The Utah Mormon’s placed a high value of being self-sufficient with their community. Brigham Young sent teams to the area in the 1850s to investigate the feasibility of iron production and Cedar City was officially incorporated in 1868.
Iron production remained an important part of their economy until the 1980s. Nowadays, education and tourism seem to be the way forward for Cedar City.
The museum is a great mixture of indoor and outdoor, as well as information and interaction.
On the chalkboard behind me in the picture above are examples of the Deseret Alphabet. This was a movement by the LDS church in the mid-1800s to make the English language more phonetic. It was a nice idea, especially given how randomly words are pronounced in English, but it never caught on.
The guy behind the desk at the museum was very helpful. Even he made a call to a friend who worked at SUU to see if he could help me get my picture.
I made a brief stop in the Southern Utah Museum of Art. The main exhibit was from a guy who sculpted religious buildings out of guns and ammunition. I don’t agree with his philosophy which motivates his art, but the art itself was well-conceived and well executed.
Here as well, I had a very pleasant conversation with the two students who were working the desk. I think the phrase “coolest thing I’ve ever heard” may have been uttered. 🙂
I had decided that I was going to attend a play this evening. Though the ticket was about $50, a hard hit to my flimsy budget, it would have felt wrong to leave Cedar City without this experience. Other than the expenses to go to Machu Picchu in Peru, I think this is the largest leisure expenditure of the journey.
However, the festival has made sure that the full experiences reaches beyond just attending a play. About 90 minutes prior, there is a play orientation which takes place on the grounds. This provides some background into the performance and aids in one’s ability to both understand and appreciate what is happening on stage.
In terms of Shakespeare acumen, I am somewhere between a novice and an intermediate. I’m definitely not a connoisseur, but I have a passing understanding of many of his more popular works. A number of Shakespearian references have appeared in this quality publication. (“All’s Well That Welds Well“….”My kingdom for a ‘X'”) For someone like me, this orientation was extremely beneficial.
After another entertaining Greenshow, I entered the Englestad Theatre. It is state of the art in terms of facilities and accessibility. Though it lacks the character of the retired Adams Theatre, it is an impressive place.
I decided to attend a production of Twelfth Night. It is one of Shakespeare’s comedies that is actually funny, rather than dark and disturbing. Unlike some of Shakespeare’s stories, this one is really easy to follow:
It is a simple story about a girl who is shipwrecked, who decides to dress up like a boy to stay safe, who serves a duke with whom she falls in love. The duke is infatuated with a countess and sends the girl (disguised like a boy) to woo her for him, but the countess falls in love with the girl whom she thinks is a boy. The countess has two uncles, one who is a drunkard and one who is puritanical. The puritanical uncle is fooled into wearing cross-gartered yellow stockings and is pronounced insane. Things get a bit murky when the twin brother of the girl disguised as a boy shows up and everyone mistakes him for the girl….. and so on.
Like I said, very simple. 🙂
It was an incredible performance in so many ways. The actors and musicians were able to fill the theatre with sound using no amplification. I was spellbound for the entire three hours, hanging on every word. I loved hearing all the different varieties of laughs echoing around. It was a night that I will never forget. (No pictures during the performance, of course.)
It was late when the show was over, but I walked across the street back onto the SUU campus. It seemed like I was not going to get Annie inside the Adams Theatre, so I was planning to at least roll her up to the exterior at sunrise. I wanted to make sure the entrance was still unlocked.
I sat there in the pitch dark for some minutes. With sight removed, I could better feel the history of this place. I was half expectant that the ghost of Hamlet’s father was going to come pay me a visit. These quiet moments, will also be ones that I cherish.
Sunday, August 25th
I was up before the sun and got to campus at first light. I pushed Annie along the sidewalks to the theatre.
In some ways, I was almost hoping that a security guard would come by, as he might have a key to let Annie in.
Alas, my dream picture was not meant to be.
I did the best that I could, including Annie at the east gate. The pictures are not as good as they could have been, but I have some decent options to represent Cedar City.
But, soft! what light through yonder barrier breaks?
It is the east, and Annie is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid hast traveled more than she.
O, that I were a hand upon that throttle,
That I might touch that frunk!
(I know some must find this account quite verbose, but just remember: I could have written the entire thing in iambic pentameter. Next trip?)
Even though the perfect picture was “not to be,” don’t mistake this story for a tragedy. As I’ve had time to reflect, I can actually appreciate it. Had my way into the theatre been made clear with a single email, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see how many people were willing to try and help me. Ultimately, that is what will come to my mind each time I look at my picture for Cedar City.
There was still no one around in the early morning hours, so I got a few more pictures around the grounds.
“You should add an amusing alliteration there…”:
My final Shakespeare experience was a play seminar later that morning. This is like a “postgame” wrap-up where people who attended the play the previous night can ask questions and talk about their experiences. The environment is very open and relaxed, encouraging even stupid questions. (My specialty!)
In these moments, it finally crystallized in my mind what made this festival so special. For any such event, whether the theme be Shakespeare or motorcycles or basket-weaving, there is a difficult line to toe. Do you cater to the hardcore enthusiasts, or do you make it an accessible atmosphere for those who would like to develop an interest in the given theme?
The Shakespeare Festival is able to find this balance perfectly. It is definitely a place for Shakespere lovers to discuss the intricacies of their 50th viewing of Hamlet. It is simultaneously a place where someone can learn to love Shakespeare, asking questions about elements they didn’t understand. All involved, from the actors to the organizers to the people selling tarts to Fred Adams himself, should be full of pride for what this festival has become.
I did some more work during the day, getting ready to be back on the road. Seth took me out for some hill climbing in his jeep in the hills west of town. It was a lot of fun and nice to get the full panorama of the area around Cedar City.
That evening it was time for some signatures and for crossing Cedar City off of my sign. When I ask a couple to do this they usually take turns, but Seth and Kristina were perfectly in sync with both their Sharpies and their smiles.
I can’t say enough about everything that they did for me. Taking in a complete stranger, known only by a distant connection, says a lot about who they are. They made me feel perfectly welcome in their home. Having such a comfortable home base, I definitely lingered longer than I would have otherwise. Thank you guys!
I noticed that their crossing off of Cedar City marked an important moment in my trip: As of now, the only place remaining in Verse 4 is my home state of Nebraska. I’m not crossing that one off until the very end, but I definitely have been there. 🙂 This is the first time I can say I’ve been to every place mentioned in one of the verses.
What else can I say about Cedar City? Shall I compare it to a summer’s day? It has been some time since one of the song places delivered so comprehensively. So many memories were forged here and there will hopefully be more made in the future. Thank you, Cedar City.
8 to go!
Stay poetic, everybody
Realtime update: Phew! That was a lot of words for one song place. I’m still quite a ways behind, but I’ll keep chipping away at it. I’m currently in Los Angeles…I mean, Orange County…or Aliso Viejo. Wait…how many cities are in this city? I’m in California. Tomorrow I will head north, either along the coast or up to my next song place, Bakersfield. I’m excited to see more of this state.