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Utah Shakespeare Festival opens 60th season with diverse productions, casting

People perform during a production during the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. (Carole Mikita, KSL-TV)



CEDAR CITY — The Utah Shakespeare Festival has opened its 60th season with a statement about diversity in both choice of productions and casting.

For decades, the festival has brought the works of "Shakespeares of other ages" to its stages.

This season, Terence McNally's award-winning production "Ragtime" brings to the forefront the challenges many face in the diversity of the American experience.

Ezekiel Andrew plays the role of Colehouse Walker Jr. He has performed in this show six times throughout the country and loves its message.

"This show has those themes in it that will cause people to stop and be like, 'OK, there is hope, there is a way out of this,' and I am happy to be a part of that story," he said.

Andrew believes this show has the power to change the conversation in America.

"Even if it's so much as a handshake or a 'hello' to someone that doesn't look like you, or a nod or a smile to someone who may not worship the same God as you," he said. "I think it awakens the humanity in everyone, if they allow themselves to be open to that."

The stage is set with a sewing machine and lots of fabric, and it's after hours when two women have this exchange.

"It's for Carina May's wedding night."

"Don't tell me you've been in here all evening?"

"Intimate Apparel" is set in an early 1900s shop in Manhattan, where a young, African American seamstress works her way out of poverty.

Tasia Jones is the director.

"I'm hoping with this production that people find their own connections — see themselves, see their ancestors in this story and think about those who came before us," she said.

She watches the action on stage next to the lighting designer.

"Can we go back to that last cue, Donna?"

And then joins her cast on stage for one-on-one direction.

This production, she said, shines a light on divisions of race, gender and class, but opens the door to possibilities.

"Coming out of a period of tragedy and darkness and pain and suffering, there is hope," she said.

The company believes this season includes productions that will appeal to and touch all audiences.

Some plays are not appropriate for preteens.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival season continues through mid-October.

For details on the productions and more, visit Bard.org.

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Carole Mikita

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