Let’s start with a little theatre history.
James Burbage is the man who, in 1576, built the first of Early Modern England’s iconic round outdoor playhouses. Twenty years later his son bought the old dining hall of the former Dominican Monastery. That fall Richard was the leading man at that theatre and his other son Cuthbert was helping him with the business. In 1596 the Burbages bought the Blackfriars, and the father and his sons refurbished it with galleries and turned it into England’s first purpose-built indoor theatre. James Burbage died the next year – perhaps out of anger and disappointment that the rich neighbors wouldn’t let them put on plays in their new theatre. But his company and his sons went on to build the Globe, become the chosen theatre company of the King, and move into Blackfriars almost exactly 400 years ago. The company they founded and the two playhouses they established were the dominant theatrical enterprise in London until the Puritans closed all the theatres in 1642.
Annually the American Shakespeare Center, as part of its mission of promoting the works of William Shakespeare gives the Burbage Award. There are awards for actors, there are awards for directors, there are awards for teachers, but the Burbage Award goes to someone who has had to worry not just about the show but about the sales and the donors and the bills and the patrons. It goes to a person whose work in the theatre, like that of the Burbages, has significantly advanced the love of his plays through all the perils and difficulties of creating and preserving a company and a theatre.
The first Burbage Award went to Bill Patton, who for fifty years managed the largest and oldest Shakespeare Festival in America, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival founded in 1935 by English professor Angus Bowmer.
This year’s winner of the Burbage Award, Fred C. Adams, consciously made himself the direct heir of Angus Bowmer’s work. In 1961, as a young theatre professor at Southern Utah University, Fred and his wife, doing their laundry at a laudromat called “The Double Fluffy” dreamed up the idea of creating a Shakespeare venue in Cedar City, Utah. Fred traveled to Oregon to interview Angus Bowmer and to study the operations of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But Bowmer was not the only giant Fred got in touch with. He wrote to Tyrone Guthrie, the most famous director in the world and the artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario to ask for an hour of his time. Fred tells me that Guthrie told him “no, it wouldn’t be worth my time to give you an hour; I’ll give you a day.”
Keep in mind, then, if you’ve shaken Fred’s hand or when you do, that you are one degree of separation from the two most important producers of Shakespeare in the 20th century. But know, too, that Fred has made himself a third. His Utah Shakespearean Festival is now America’s second largest. 3 hours from Las Vegas and 3.5 hours from Salt Lake City, the Festival now welcomes 150,000 patrons annually to its six-show summer season and its three-show fall season. So based only on those facts, a disinterested and impartial center for Shakespeare in performance would give its Burbage Award to Fred Adams. But the fun I have in giving this award to Fred is not exactly disinterested and certainly not impartial.
Not disinterested because Fred’s work is helping our own work to succeed. Since it began in 2001 the masters program begun by the ASC and MBC has had 80 students enroll and 9 of those students have been from Utah. It’s not that Fred sends them here; it’s that Fred has made Utah a hotbed of young Shakespeare lovers. His festival, and his education programs, now run by Michael Bahr, have created the kind of passion that finds it way to Staunton.
But this award is not impartial either. It’s personal. Like so many others who love Shakespeare and who wants to see that love on stage, I have found every conversation with Fred both a joy and an education. A joy because he is just about the best story teller I’ve ever heard. If you’ve talked to him already then you know that every word comes with a glint in his eye and big smile. An education because he knows more about the business of putting on Shakespeare than anyone but also because he knows something about everything. Have a favorite line? He’ll quote it to you. Need to know what it’s like to dine in the dessert with sheik? He’ll tell you the rules of etiquette. Want to know the best place for risotto in Capri? He’ll draw you a map. Five minutes in Fred’s company and you’ll understand how he built a miracle in Southern Utah.
Next year the Utah Shakespeare Festival will celebrate it’s fiftieth anniversary – that’s two years more than Burbage’s company lasted – and all of us here at the Blackfriars, and all of us in America are richer for it and for the work of Fred C. Adams. Please join me in recognizing that great work!
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A Midsummer Night's Dream (C)
Sunday, November 29, 2015, 2:00 pm
2015 SUMMER/FALL SEASON
2015 HOLIDAY SEASON
2016 ACTORS' RENAISSANCE SEASON
2016 SPRING SEASON