ST. GEORGE — Canceling the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2020 season because of COVID-19 was a decision executive producer Frank Mack hoped he wouldn’t have to make.
“When this first started, we initially postponed our season 10 days and thought, ‘Problem solved,’” he said. “That lasted about 10 minutes and then we started to realize, like everyone else, that this is really major.”
As recently as mid-April, the annual festival had planned to continue with contingency plans that organizers say would have kept actors and audiences safe. But since Actors’ Equity — the national union that issues the performers’ contracts — wasn’t ready to move forward, they had to cancel the season, Mack said.
The annual festival is one of Southern Utah’s most iconic events. On average, it attracts between 100,000 and 115,000 visitors to Cedar City each year, which generates roughly $35 million for the local economy, according to the festival’s most recent economic impact report. It comes as a number of high-profile theater events and destinations around the country — from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to Broadway — have also put productions on hold.
Despite the setback, the festival is positioned to survive the hit because of support from Southern Utah University, Mack said. But he warned that the effect on the community will still be large.
Southern Utah University President Scott L. Wyatt echoed that message in a statement, saying that his institution did everything it could to keep the festival's doors open.
“We know this news is difficult for the many individuals and small businesses in Cedar City who add so much to the Festival experience,” he said. “They are our most important partners and we look forward to next summer when the streets, restaurants, shops and hotels of Cedar City are full of theatre-goers once again.”
The cancellation of the summer festival is not the only hit Cedar City has taken this week.
The Utah Summer Games announced on Tuesday that this year’s games have been called off due to coronavirus concerns.
The games bring an additional 40,000 athletes and spectators to the area each year.