All Fred Adams wanted to do was bring the world of William Shakespeare to life.

So in 1961, the Southern Utah State College professor and his then fiancée, Barbara Gaddi,e organized what become known as the Utah Skakespeare Festival.

"He's been around 400 years, people have loved him for 400 years," Adams said of Shakespeare. "Why couldn't you?"

Fifty years later the festival is still going strong. More than 150,000 visitors flock to Cedar City for the festival each year. The season official opens on June 30. There will be six shows; three in the outdoor theatre and three at the indoor theatre.

In addition to the opening of the season next week, there will be a community celebration for the 50th anniversary of the festival and a special salute to Adams.

The festival has come a long way in 50 years.

Adams moved to Cedar City in 1959 and upon seeing thousands of tourists each summer, he knew there was audience potential for a theatre festival. Adams remembers sitting with Barbara outside a Laundromat called "The Fluffy Bundle" with a legal-size yellow pad in a brainstorming session.

"As my class thesis, I designed a summer Shakespeare festival," Adams said.

Taking some ideas from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he founded the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 1961 and with the help of 21 volunteers and presented the first season in 1962. As with the field of dreams, Adams built it, and actors, directors and designers came across the country to work with Adams.

"He's had such a profound influence in my life, professionally, personally," said David Ivers, the festival's new artistic director. "He has taught me an immense amount about his career, but more than that, he's taught me about character."

Brian Vaughn, also an artistic director, echoed Ivers.

"Fred Adams is an astonishing, wonderful human being," Vaughn said. "It takes a special person to have the vision, to have the inkling to go, 'I want to do this' … to know what those plays can do."

The initial two-week season attracted more than 3,200 people and earned $2,000 toward a second season. With support from the college president and the local Lion's Club, the festival flourished.

"I let him tell me about it," said Royden Braithwaite, former SUSC president, in a 1981 interview. "Fred is gifted with contagious enthusiasm as well as great talent."

Things didn't always run smoothly. One spectator remembers strong winds blowing Fred's cardboard scenery across the street in the middle of a play.

As the festival grew in size and popularity, state leaders participated. The Lord of the Feast jokingly banished former governor Scott Matheson to the dungeon. He played along by saluting the crowd.

Another governor, Mike Leavitt, saw his future wife, Jackie, on the festival stage and was immediately smitten.

"She thought she was getting some sort of Shakespeare-experienced scholar, but I was there to see her and didn't know anything about Shakespeare," Leavitt said.

Adams is 80 years old now and although he's no longer executive director, he remains a force. Adams directed the opener, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which began offering preview performances Thursday night.

Over the years the festival has garnered attention and accolades from around the globe. The festival even earned a Tony Award in 2000, a high theatre honor.

Those with connections to the Utah Shakespeare are moving on to great things.

A former Utah Shakespeare Festival actor, Patrick Page, is starring as the green goblin in "Spider-Man" on Broadway. "Lend Me a Tenor, The Musical" was developed at the festival. It has just opened in locations in London.

Adams deserves all the applause, said R. Scott Phillips, the festival's executive director.

"He connects with the audiences. He's just putting on a show in his backyard," Phillips said.

email: cmikita@desnews.com