CEDAR CITY — John DiAntonio’s laugh has the sound of appreciating that someone else has made the same connection he has. In my conversation with Utah Shakespeare Festival’s new Artistic Director, it dawns on me that taking a role once held by Utah theatre legend Fred Adams is a little bit like taking over for Walt Disney. I had the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss what his experiences bring to this role and what opportunities are in store for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. 

DiAntonio drew strong parallels between the community in his previous role as Artistic Director of Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT) in Creede, CO and his new place of residence in Cedar City, UT. “You have Creede, which was historically a mining community, but when the industry dried up you still have a town that doesn’t want to leave this beautiful place.” In its place, the town became a summer theatre destination town that brought visitors from across the country to see contemporary works such as Karen Zacarias’ Native Gardens as well as industry standards like Steel Magnolias and Little Shop of Horrors. As DiAntonio discussed loving theatre making and taking advantage of beautiful outdoors activities, the similarities grew clearer. 

I was intrigued by Theatre for Young Audiences programming that DiAntonio had worked with and developed, including touring productions for local schools. The works were devised two person pieces that focused on themes that were of import to the surrounding schools. Similarly, DiAntonio spoke with awe about the Utah Shakespeare Festival tours of Every Brilliant Thing and the annual tour of an adapted Shakespeare play. “The shows with the schools are so important because you might be giving a student their first, or in some cases only, exposure to Shakespeare.” 

There were also strong connections to new play development that Utah Shakespeare Festival has established through its event “Words Cubed”. The name is drawn from Hamlet’s famous “Words, Words Words,” quip to Polonius in Act 2 Scene 2. “I think there’s something really exciting about making space for new plays and playwrights,” DiAntionio remarks. Having seen strong new works come out of CRT, I think that there’s much to be excited about with Words Cubed and DiAntonio’s gift for finding and strengthening high quality new works. 

With so much on his plate, I asked how disappointed he was about stepping back from the daily art of acting or directing. DiAntonio shared a knowing grin with Michael Bahr, the Executive Director of Utah Shakespeare Festival. As it turns out, he won’t be stepping quite so far back from the stage as I had anticipated. This summer, patrons of the festival will be introduced to DiAntonio first hand as they see him play opposite his wife Caitlin Wise as the quarrelsome romantic duo of Kate and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. 

DiAntonio shared experiences he’s had since relocating, exploring the outdoors and connecting with the local arts programs in Cedar City. He talked about the thrill of seeing a small town be flooded during the busy season, and listened intently as Bahr and I swapped stories about how we’ve been impacted by the annual Shakespeare competition connected with the end of the festival. DiAntonio has had an off-season to get acclimated to the community and the new role, but is already enthralled with what comes next.

DiAntonio shared, “I was able to walk into a season that had already been set up, so you can see some really beautiful threads in this season. I think strong women and strong people resisting oppression and cruelty is a big part of what you’re going to see in this season.” The work is already deep in progress for what the summer of 2025 will look like with announcements of that to come later in the summer. While I wasn’t told all the details, I can confirm there will be a musical in the season.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Utah Shakespeare Festival has been a mainstay of Cedar City and the broader Utah theatre community for decades. DiAntiono brings a level of understanding of the community and roots of the festival to strengthen what has made it so good for so long. What he brings to the table as well are strong theatre skills from multiple aspects that will help continue to influence what the next generation of festival goers can enjoy for years to come. 

Editor’s Note: In some instances, quotes have been edited for simplicity and clarity.