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Frank Mack, who teaches arts administration at the University of Connecticut and previously led Shakespeare theater companies in California and New Jersey, has been named executive producer at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
"It's absolutely one of the best classical theater companies in the country in the world really," Mack said Tuesday, adding that he had jumped at the chance to work at the company he considers an industry leader. "Their work is extraordinary, and the people are fantastic."
Mack will be in Cedar City for the company's opening in July and will begin working full time at USF on Sept. 1. He replaces R. Scott Phillips, who retired in March, after more than 40 years building the festival through various leadership roles.
"I think he's a good fit for us," says USF founder Fred Adams. "I think it was his sense of respect for the staff, for his understanding of the craft. He's got a lot of Scott Phillips in him. And I think he's got the chops."
Around the festival, Adams is known, along with Phillips, his longtime producing partner, for being the kind of leader who jumped in to set up chairs as needed. In that way, he perceives Mack as a kindred spirit.
"He's been in the trenches," Adams says of Mack. "He knows what he's doing. He hasn't been sitting in the ivory tower. He's been getting his hands dirty along with everybody else on his team. He's the kind who will go out and plant flowers if it's needed. That sounds crazy, but I think it's a huge thing in an industry like ours where image counts."
In a phone interview from Connecticut, Mack agreed: "I'll be there setting up chairs just like Scott was. I'll be there greeting and getting to know people because it really is such a deep part of the fabric of Cedar City."
Previously, Mack worked as managing director at Berkeley's California Shakespeare Festival; Rochester, New York's Geva Theatre Center; the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival; and most recently, at U. Conn's Connecticut Repertory Theatre.
Also at U. Conn, he launched two graduate-level arts administration programs. He has also consulted with a variety of theaters and arts groups along the East Coast, including Baltimore's Center Stage and Washington D.C.'s African Continuum Theatre Company.
"He brings a lot of good stuff, experiences at different kinds of organizations," says Karen Azenberg, artistic director for Pioneer Theatre Company, who directed several shows at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, where she appreciated Mack's ability to talk to the artistic staff.
"Running a theater is a challenge," she says. "There are lots of different voices that go into how a theater does its business, businesswise or artistically. It's about getting people who can talk to each other well. I think that is something Frank will bring."
Mack's hire marks a significant management change for the Southern Utah University-based festival, which earlier this month announced the promotion of Brian Vaughn to sole artistic director. Vaughn had split artistic duties since 2010 with frequent acting colleague David Ivers, who last week was appointed head of the Arizona Theatre Company.
Vaughn underscored Mack's experience straddling the worlds of professional and academic theater. "I am confident our collaboration will be a rewarding one," Vaughn said in a statement.
During Phillips' 40-year staff tenure, USF grew from three annual shows and a budget of $329,000 to nine plays and a $7 million operating budget, with more than 100,000 theatergoers attending shows annually. Last summer, SUU opened the $39 million Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, which included two new theaters and the Southern Utah Museum of Art.
One of Mack's challenges, he admits, will be learning how the repertory schedule works. USF is thought to be the only theater company in the country to open six shows, plus three alternating Greenshows, in eight days. Repertory casting, too, is a complicated puzzle.
The other challenge as at every regional theater in the country, Mack says is increasing funding to match artistic ambitions. Fundraising "is work that I really love and I am excited about doing, but I don't necessarily think it's going to happen overnight, and there aren't going to be any miracles," Mack says, while adding that the "gorgeous" new theaters will help.
He says he's committed to diversity in expanding audiences, onstage stories, and in hiring, and he plans to forward that conversation.
The company sought diversity in its candidate pool by contracting with a national recruitment company, all the while seeking the right fit for USF, said Zach Murray, interim executive director, in a statement.
Adams says he's looking forward to welcoming Mack to the homegrown atmosphere of USF. "I think Frank has the ability to learn our audience, our guests, and I think that's critical," Adams says. "Coming here isn't like going to a theater in Chicago, or a theater in Milwaukee. Our guests are coming home. They're coming to their festival. And I love that it's probably the most powerful commodity we have."
Utah Shakespeare Festival
The Southern Utah University-based professional theater company's 56th season runs June 29-Oct. 21. Early season shows are: Romeo and Juliet," "As You Like It," "Shakespeare in Love," "Guys and Dollas," "A Midsummer Nights' Dream," "Treasure Island." Opening later are: "The Tavern," "How to Fight Loneliness" and "William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play." For show information and tickets, call 800-PLAYTIX or bard.org.