Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred Adams dies at age 89

Composite image. Background photo outside Englestad Shakespeare Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, July 7, 2016. Inset photo of Fred Adams, date not specified | Background photo by Hollie Reina. Fred Adams photo courtesy of SUU Community Education, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Fred Adams, founder of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, died early Thursday morning at the age of 89.

Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred Adams, Cedar City, Utah, date of photo not specified | Photo courtesy of SUU Community Education, St. George News / Cedar City News

“The state’s most prominent arts leader, Adams made a deep and lasting impact on everyone he met, and it is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our leader and friend,” a press release from the Utah Shakespeare Festival stated. “Words can’t express our sorrow or grief at this time.”

Adams founded the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 1961 with his late wife, Barbara Gaddie Adams. Under his guidance, the festival grew from a budget of $1,000 and approximately 3,000 paid admissions in 1962 to an annual attendance today of approximately 100,000 and an annual budget of more than $8 million.

The festival is considered one of the most prestigious theaters in the United States and has received the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, an Emmy Award and the Utah Best of State Award, among other accolades.

During the past years, Adams nurtured the festival and arts in Utah in many ways. He directed all three plays the first season in 1962: “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Hamlet” and “The Merchant of Venice.” He was also the main fundraiser, producer and cheerleader of the fledgling company.

He worked tirelessly to have the festival’s first permanent building constructed: the Adams Memorial Shakespeare Theatre, named for Thomas and Luella Adams, the parents of Utah philanthropist Grace Tanner, wife of Obert C. Tanner. The building was finished in 1977 and was the home of the festival every summer through 2015.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called Adams “a genius.”

L-R: Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred Adams, Gov. Gary Herbert. The two and others toured The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts on the campus of Southern Utah University. Cedar City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George News / Cedar City News

“He truly was the visionary behind the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is beloved by both our state and our nation,” Herbert said in the press release. “Fred was one of a kind, and he will be sorely missed. We join with all Utahns in expressing condolences to his family.”

Frank Mack, executive producer for the festival, echoed Herbert’s sentiments.

“Fred Adams was a visionary leader, one of a handful of great artistic geniuses that helped create the regional non-profit theatre movement,” Mack said. “His invention of the Utah Shakespeare Festival is a great innovation that forever changed the destiny of the state of Utah, Cedar City, and the country. I got to know Fred not only as a mentor and an organizational leader, but as a friend who I’ll miss profoundly.”

Mack added that he is dedicated to preserving and advancing Adams’ legacy and vision.

“Our entire organization joins his family in mourning.”

In addition to his work in the early days of the festival, Adams was also instrumental in building the Randall L. Jones Theatre in 1989. The theater became the first building on the new

for the Arts, which was completed in 2016 and included three theaters in total: the Randall Theatre and the new Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre and Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre.

“Fred is the most creative, passionate and tireless person I have ever known,” Southern Utah University President Scott L Wyatt said. “In the Utah arts world he was without equal. No one has elevated the reputation of Southern Utah University and Cedar City more than him. Without doubt, he will remain in the hearts of thousands who knew him and countless others who were blessed by the art he created.”

Adams was the consummate theater professional. He was part teacher, part actor, part director, part producer and a friend to all who worked with him, the press release stated. He spent much of his time crafting the future for the festival as he met with artists and administrators to ensure the artistic integrity of the festival’s plays, educational offerings and numerous peripheral activities.

He was a mentor to many, including Brian Vaughn, who started at the festival as a young actor and is now the festival’s artistic director.

Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre
Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, an outdoor theater for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Cedar City, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of SUU, St. George News / Cedar City News

“I’m struck with deep grief and sadness as I try to measure the impact of love and generosity he gave to the world,” Vaughn said. “The achievements he made during his lifetime are monumental, and I am honored that I’ve been blessed to call him friend. A great light has gone out.”

Adams retired from the leadership of the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 2005. Since that time, he has kept active in a variety of activities, including directing, acting, fundraising and coming to his office nearly every day. He sustained warm relationships with the entire staff and board and throughout the community.

Adams was a professor of theater at SUU from 1959 to 1997 and was named professor emeritus upon his retirement from teaching. In addition to teaching SUU students, he was a mentor to countless theater artists and administrators throughout the world.

Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine, his honor and the greatness of his name shall be.

– William Shakespeare, “Henry VIII”

Adams was born in Cedar City, Utah, on Jan. 30, 1931, to Paul Monroe Adams and Louise Cruikshank Adams and moved with his family to Delta, Utah, where he graduated from Delta High School. He served in the United States Army (NSA) during the Korean War from 1952-1954, stationed in Washington, D.C., and fulfilled a three-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Finland from 1955-1957.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Brigham Young University in theatre arts and Russian. He did his pre-doctoral studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Utah.

The author of many articles appearing in several professional magazines, he was a favorite lecturer for educational institutions and professional organizations throughout the United States and Europe. He also helped create and establish the Shakespeare Theatre Association, a professional association of Shakespeare theaters.

“We are deeply saddened at the passing of Fred Adams, our founder, mentor, and friend,” said Jeff Larsen, festival board of governors chair. “His inspiration and contribution to the performing arts is irreplaceable, and his presence at the Utah Shakespeare Festival will be greatly missed.”

Utah Senate majority leader and Cedar City resident Evan Vickers called Adams a “true hero.”

“Not only to me personally but to the state of Utah as a whole,” Vickers said. “He has done the work of ten men and managed to accomplish it in just one lifetime. We are all indebted to him for the amazing things he has done for us. He will truly be missed, but his memory and legacy will last forever.”

Adams is the recipient of the prestigious SUU Presidential Medallion of Service (2019), Shakespeare Theatre Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2015), Burbage Award for Lifetime Service to the International Shakespeare Community (2010), the Utah National Guard Bronze Minuteman Award (2010), the Governor’s Award from the Utah Humanities Council (2010), the Pioneer of Progress Award for the Days of ’47 in Salt Lake City (2005), the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award (2003), the Utah Theatre Association’s Lifetime Service Award (2000), an honorary doctorate degree from Southern Utah University (1999), the Institute of Outdoor Drama’s Mark R. Sumner Award (1998), Brigham Young University’s Distinguished Service Award (1995), Geneva Steel’s Modern Pioneer Award (1994), the Cedar City Area Chamber of Commerce Arts Contribution Award (1992), Southern Utah University’s Outstanding Alumni Award (1991), the Citizen Meritorious Service Award from the American Parks and Recreation Society (1991), Utah Business Magazine’s Outstanding Business Leader recognition (1989), the First Annual Governor’s Award in the Arts (1989), and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Brigham Young University (1984 and 1987). He was also honored to carry the Olympic flame in Cedar City during the 2002 Winter Olympic Torch Relay.

Adams was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Barbara; and his sister, Martha Henstrom. He is survived by his brother, James; four children: Dorcas (Gene) Woodward, Glynis (Alan) Neves, Addison (Dana) Adams and Josh (Jamie) Adams; fourteen grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and many cousins and friends.

The family has not yet announced funeral plans. A celebration of his life will be scheduled for sometime in the near future.

Adams wishes were that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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