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Davis Journal

Utah Shakespeare Festival education tour going online

One year ago, the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare-in-the-Schools touring production of Romeo and Juliet was on the road performing for students across the Intermountain West. And, then, it suddenly stopped and was called home.

The COVID-19 pandemic had another victim as theatrical productions around the world were canceled. Now, 12 months later, many schools and theatres are still closed and activities have been curtailed; but the tour will go on, relaying a message of hope and perseverance – although in a different format.

This year’s “tour” of Julius Caesar will be filmed and made available free to schools, other organizations, and even individuals – beginning on March 15, the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was assassinated.

And this won’t be a fast and easy production filmed on a phone. Artists have worked for months planning the production, and professional actors have been in Cedar City living and rehearsing in a quarantine bubble for weeks. The play is filmed by a professional media company, with multiple cameras, both stationary and hand-held. The cameras will move throughout the theatre, with actors at times speaking directly into the cameras and to the audience. This attention to detail will give “playgoers” an experience similar to being in the theatre with the actors.

“It is important to the Festival that the production has the look, feel, and aesthetic of a theatre production,” said Education Director Michael Bahr, “and that it be visually stimulating and exciting. These are talented, experienced actors, designers, and artisans bringing this timely story of political intrigue and division to the Anes Studio Theatre and ultimately to schools and homes through this exciting format.”

Festival tours in the past have also included workshops for students, something that Bahr and his cohorts are making available this year through digital means. Live, interactive workshops led by the Julius Caesar cast and crew will be available March 15 to May 15. The workshops were created specifically for a virtual format and for the themes in Julius Caesar. With the help of modern technology, discussion questions, theatre exercises, breakout rooms, and chat functions the workshops will be a wholly immersive experience. 

Because of generous funding from the Utah State Office of Education/POPs program, these workshops are free for Utah public schools. Private schools and organizations and schools outside of Utah may purchase the workshops for $50. 

Anyone can request a link to the free video, and schools and organizations can request the workshops. To do so, visit www.bard.org/tour, click on the associated link, and fill out the short request form. More information and answers to questions are available by emailing the Festival Education Department at [email protected]

Bahr said this format has been both challenging and exciting: “The first week the company held rehearsals over Zoom. This scene work allowed actors to engage with their scene partners and connect in a virtual face-to-face setting. Following that week, the actors entered the space for the first time. Masks were worn throughout the rehearsal process, until final tech rehearsals.”

Students watching the play will see themselves in these actors and the characters they create, including a female Caesar, Cassius and Octavius. “This will increase the students’ connection and amplify their voices,” said Bahr. “Students will hear these famous lines that they’ve heard before, but with new meaning because of the way these actors are saying them.” Through the workshops, students will receive the opportunity to engage with the actors and really dig deep into the themes, plot, and production of Julius Caesar