Thursday, March 23, 2017

Delaware Historical Society Celebrates Harriet Tubman

As part of its Untapped History Series, the Delaware Historical Society presents Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, a one-woman show featuring well-known re-enactor Kathryn Harris, who is the President of the Abraham Lincoln Association and former Library Services Director at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois. (Side note: Prior to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library opening in 2004, the Illinois State Historical Library was located underneath the Old State Capitol.)

Delaware Arts Info sat down for a chat with Ms. Harris to discover more about her performance this weekend. Check out our interview below...

*Did you write this piece and what moved you to create it? Or, what is the work's origin and how did you come to find it?
Kathryn Harris as Harriet Tubman
Yes, I wrote the piece. I wrote it around the late 1990's for presentation to an Illinois 5th Grade class as part of their study of the Antebellum and Civil War era. I had "...made another historical woman come alive" for our local Historical Society Cemetery Walk, and the President of the Society, who was also involved with the 5th Grade program, asked if I would make Harriet come alive, as the students wanted to know more about her. Since I was in the Library, I was extraordinarily positioned to have access to resources, including Harriet's 1869 biography by Sarah H. Bradford.

*What drew you to performance of this work? What is your favorite part of the performance?I was drawn to create this piece in response to the request from my friend and colleague. (She asked me to develop and deliver the presentation as a part of the 5th Grade program.) My favorite part is the Q&A, where I answer in first person narrative, as Harriet. I never know what I'll be asked, so each performance is different.

*Do you have any special inspiration or influence that you tap into in preparation for this piece?I have admired Harriet Tubman since I was in elementary school, when I read her biography. She was a truly remarkable woman. When given the opportunity, I was eager to develop this presentation. Originally after my monologue, I did not answer questions in first-person, but with the help and encouragement of a theater friend, I grew more comfortable answering questions in that scenario. Of course, all of this was because of my continual reading and research on Harriet.

*Can you talk about Harriet Tubman's connections here in Delaware?The most significant story that I know about Harriet Tubman's Delaware connections is her relationship with Thomas Garrett and their subsequent relationship with William Still of Philadelphia. Garrett was a staunch and radical abolitionist who was thoroughly committed to the abolition of slavery. He risked his life and livelihood in the fight for abolition, and opened his home as a safehouse for hundreds of fugitives that traveled with Harriet.

*What do you feel is the greatest message or experience that you'd like audiences to take with them after seeing your performance?After my performance, I hope the audience will not only learn something new about Harriet Tubman, but also that they will respect her commitment to a supremely righteous cause. She valiantly showed that she "...put her feet were her belief was." With a strong faith and trust in God, she tirelessly worked for the greatest possession: LIBERTY and FREEDOM. She was determined to have them or death 
 that was the only alternative in her view. What a woman! If only everyone today could have the courage of conviction to act for a cause in which they so fiercely believe  how much different would our world be? Sitting on the sidelines does not bring change or make our society better!


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Nymphs and the Shepherd Close Brandywine Baroque's 16-17 Season

By Christine Facciolo

BrandywineBaroque warmed a late winter night and concluded its 2016-17 season with an all-Vivaldi program.

There was no grand thought or theme unifying the concert at The Barn at Flintwoods on March 10, unless it was the sheer delight in virtuosity and the delightfully relaxed approach to the music by all concerned.

The centerpiece of the evening’s program was a performance of La ninfa e il pastore (The Nymphs and the Shepherd). This rare and beautiful gem was composed in 1715 when the thirty-something Vivaldi became music director of the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, a charitable institution dedicated to the care of orphaned and abandoned girls.

The work is not an opera but a related dramatic genre — the serenata. Serenatas first appeared in the mid-17th Century and were often composed to mark a festive or celebratory occasion. They usually consisted of two acts presented “in concert” by two or more soloists who did not wear costumes or act. In fact, there was no action to speak of. Rather, serenatas employed laudatory texts that featured discursive debates between allegorical figures. In this instance, the text refers to the trial and imprisonment of Jansenist propagandist Abbe Jean de Tourreil for his refusal to accept papal authority regarding the doctrine of predestination.

The Serenata a Tre: The Nymphs and the Shepherd paints a pastoral scene in which lust triumphs over reason. The lovelorn nymph Eurilla (soprano Laura Heimes) discovers that Alcindo (tenor Tony Boutte) with whom she is smitten is perfect in every respect save one: He is incapable of love. Encouraged by her friend Nice (soprano Julianne Baird) she sets out to correct this flaw. Passion gets rebuffed by false humility, love feigned becomes love in earnest and the chickens come home to roost.

Singers and players gave concertgoers ample opportunity to enjoy Vivaldi’s melodic gifts. The instrumentalists — Eileen Grycky (flute), Martin Davids and Edwin Huizinga (violins), Amy Leonard (viola), John Mark Rozendaal (cello) and Karen Flint (harpsichord) — played with enthusiasm and tonal finesse.

Laura Heimes was a pure-toned Eurilla, singing with lightness and agility while exercising consistent control and vocal precision throughout her impressive range.

Nice was a figure of wisdom as portrayed by Julianne Baird. Her soprano is lush and full-bodied, but she judiciously restrained her instrument to convey a steadfast sagacity.

Tony Boutte was delightful in the role of the hapless protagonist Alcindo who gets his comeuppance at the hands of the cunning nymphs. His tenor was secure and convincing as he negotiated the lion’s share of the virtuosity.

Both acts of the serenata were preceded by performances of flute concertos in G Major (RV 435) and D Major (RV 427). Soloist Eileen Grycky managed everything with her customary technical fluency and charm. These are hardly routine pieces and Grycky points up every turn with playing that uncovers the originality of Vivaldi’s idiom. The accompanying ensemble complemented with playing that was both spirited and superb. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Pippin Arrives Larger Than Life at The Playhouse

By Guest Blogger Alessandra Nicole
Alessandra is a writer and photographer-at-large and proud supporter of the local arts community.

It is amazing to realize that this larger-than-life show could possibly be contained on our home turf here at The Playhouse. Pippin questions its own existence in a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek way — there are balancing acts, air suspension and gravity-defying flips that left us astonished. The fact that the show's lead Housso Semon as the "Ring Leader" effortlessly dances on high-heeled shoes for lengthy numbers left us feeling a bit lazy in our seats. 

The Cast of Pippin. Photo courtesy of The Playhouse on Rodney Square.
Catchy, interactive songs moved the quirky plot along with honesty and good humor, which also employed subtle (and not-so-subtle) sight gags and double-entendre (that is probably not suited for all ages, although perhaps with the show's sleight-of-hand, such humor wouldn't register with more innocent eyes and ears in the audience).

Director Diane Paulis has garnered several awards for her direction on this dazzling touring production of Pippin, and it's easy to see why — but perhaps the proverbial spotlight should be on this show's stunning lighting design. Kenneth Posner has been nominated for the Tony Award for Best Lighting Design 10 times for various productions including Wicked and Hairspray. His work for Pippin has accentuated the captivating Fosse-esque choreography by Chet Walker, which is easily the number one reason to see Pippin — the energetic and physical feats of acrobatic and dance excellence!

Favorite players that had us talking on the ride home afterward:

  • Brendon Schaefer (King Charlemagne) — for his candor, mannerisms and frivolous-yet-mature attitude on ruling a kingdom that could only come from a lifetime of experience. 
  • Erica Lee Cianciulli (Fastrada) — for her devious allure and personality in stage movement where she truly made it an extension of her character.
  • Rachael Britton Hart (Berthe) — for her pointed, wicked wit and charm; a seasoned flower that gives the newer kids on the block a run for their money. 
  • General ensemble cast — for their remarkable adherence to complex choreography and overall magic and verve. 
Flawless accompaniment provided by the company's orchestra worked seamlessly to tell the story within a story of an idealistic boy prince who comes of age while having his life expectations jettisoned for something not only more realistic, but more meaningful than he ever imagined. It is a storyline with which all ages can connect — frustrations and disappointments that come with high ideals in life, landing on the uplifting message to keep imagination alive while accepting and stoking the sparks of love in the day-to-day of this modern life. "True greatness" is rarely in the fiery blaze, more often it is in the quiet whispers of the seemingly mundane, where even the average life is rather extraordinary if only we stop to take stock of it. 

Pippin runs through March 12 at The Playhouse on Rodney Square Tickets range from $40-85 and discounts are available for seniors, groups of 10 or more and children ages 12 and under.