Monday, August 31, 2009

Wilmington Gets Its Fringe On

Just when you thought you’ve heard about all the fun arts happenings Wilmington has to offer, something new comes to town! On October1-4, 2009, the city offers its very first Fringe Wilmington Festival, with a preview party on September 30. The festival will boast performance and visual art, as well as a 24-hour filmmaking competition. The presentations will take place at various locations, including The Baby Grand, OperaDelaware Studios, the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, as well as other venues along Market Street.

What is a Fringe Festival? The festival gets its name from one that started 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Several alternative theater companies performed on the “fringe” of the Edinburgh International Festival, and a tradition was born. Today, fringe festivals can be found in New York City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Houston. These festivals offer opportunities for artists and performers to showcase material that might not be seen otherwise, because of its edgy, offbeat or “alternative” quality.

Some highlights of Fringe Wilmington include Robin Gelfenbien’s My Salvation Has a First Name, a Wienermobile Journey, OperaDelaware’s performances of “Black Horses” and “The Stronger” and Project Capoeira’s exciting Afro-Brazilian dances.

Tickets for individual performances are $10 or less, and all-access packages are available starting September 1, 2009.


Call for Children's Group Auditions at DuPont Theatre

By Guest Blogger, Diana Milburn
Diana is local musician and Manager of Audience Development at the DuPont Theatre

It's turning out to be a season of unique opportunities here at the DuPont Theatre. This is the first of two or three coming down the pike. I can't wait to tell you about this one, and there will be more, so stay tuned, Broadway fans!

Not since the boys of St. Edmond's Academy joined the cast of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in 1996 have local performers been invited to share the stage with a national Broadway touring company at the DuPont Theatre. On Saturday, September 12, the producers of THE WIZARD OF OZ come to Wilmington to hold auditions for a group of twelve local Munchkins to round out the October cast that opens our 2009-2010 season.

Here's some info on the company: "The selected children will be from an existing group of 12 and will be chosen by the National Tour talent representatives based on the best overall group talent. No individual children and/or partial group will be selected nor allowed to audition. Deadline for mandatory registration for the audition is Friday, September 4."

It’s an incredible opportunity for young aspiring actors/actresses to follow their yellow brick road. For group leaders seeking additional details, email me at

So come on out and "sing it high - sing it low" to be on stage at the DuPont Theatre.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Choral Groups Announce Audition Dates

Two local choral groups---one for children, one for adults---have announced dates for their 2009-2010 season auditions. Love to sing? Check out the below info from Wilmington Children's Chorus and the Delaware Valley Chorale. And good luck to all!

The Wilmington Children's Chorus invites children in grades 3 through high school to audition for the "Singing Ambassadors of Wilmington". Audition Workshop & Select Choir Auditions: Wednesday, September 9. This workshop is open to all interested singers and is an opportunity to review audition material with WCC staff. Auditions for returning WCC members will be held following the workshop. Call 302.762.3637 to reserve your spot. General auditions are granted by appointment: Saturday, September 12 & Sunday, September 13.

For further details, visit

The Delaware Valley Chorale will hold auditions by appointment September 8, 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. and September 12 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of Sts. Andrew & Matthew, 719 N. Shipley Street, Wilmington, Delaware. Singers should bring two (2) copies of a prepared classical solo with piano accompaniment (demonstrating appropriate range and tone). Singers must also demonstrate music-reading ability. To schedule an audition, contact Barbara Kidd at 302.234.4866 or

For further details, visit

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Farewell Summer: The Language of Good-bye

The Delaware Humanities Forum concluded its summer book series with Maribeth Fischer’s The Language of Good-bye at Presto on August 14. A performance by actors from City Theater Company was followed by a discussion with Rehoboth-based author.

The actors instantly transported us to an ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom. Annie is a newly divorced teacher who has left her husband for another man. Kerry Kristine McElrone, who plays the sometimes flustered teacher, listens attentively and with expression to the students. Mary Catherine Kelley is moving in her portrayal of Sungae, a Korean artist who finally decides to learn English after living seventeen years in this country.

In her novel, Fischer explores the role of language and its relationship to culture, expression and thought. Annie begins to understand her students’ difficulties with foreign language and culture. Her student Ba (played by James Kassees) says “You think Vietnam a war, you forget it is my country.” We later discover Sungae has refused to learn English, because she is afraid to have words for the great losses in her life.

The author related how her own experience as an ESL teacher gave her insights into foreign culture and language. Fischer, who is currently completing another novel, cautioned the authors in the audience about making a work of fiction too autobiographical. A lively discussion about the use of “life material” in fiction ensued. I look forward to more exciting things The Delaware Humanities Forum has in store for us in the coming months.


Exposing Artists' Inspiration

Last week, I joined a small group of media folk to preview the Delaware Art Museum's summer exhibit, “Exposed! Revealing Sources in Contemporary Art”. What a treat! It was wonderful to hear the Curator of American Art, Heather Campbell Coyle, talk so enthusiastically about the pieces and the fascinating background information she amassed in her research for the show.

First in our tour was the oldest piece in the exhibit: a 1964 offset lithography piece by Eugene Feldman entitled Friend's Wife (Mrs. JFK). The stark, grainy image grabs you, revisiting the raw emotion in the original Eddie Adams photo of Jackie O at Kennedy's funeral.

As expected (and to my delight), there is a series of large Warhols lining the wall. The seven colorful screenprints of Mao, 1972 come from a 10-piece portfolio. I've been enamored with all things Andy Warhol since I was a teenager (thanks to junior-high art teacher, Mrs. P.), so of course I was thrilled to see these extraordinary works, on loan from a private collection. They’re classic Warhol—irreverent, campy and powerful.

Another piece that struck me was the enormous 60-piece Deluxe by Ellen Gallagher, an African-American artist whose expansive creation features the techniques of collage, laser etching, clay, and crystal embellishment, incorporated into ad pages of Ebony magazines from the 1960s. You could literally spend hours with this piece and not take in every meticulous detail. It is a breathtaking and brilliant commentary on culture, beauty and media imagery.

Coyle’s favorite pieces include the Gallagher and a series by Richard Prince, based on pulp fiction nurse novels from the 1950s and 1960s. She noted that she enjoyed discovering the “backstory” to these artists’ inspirations, how they derived information and images from pop culture, poetry and media, and made it their own. “It adds a richness to the story if you know what the artist started with,” she said.

You can also read Coyle’s blog on the exhibit at
Don’t miss this exhibit, on view until October 4.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Modern Millie: Thoroughly Entertaining!

Starry-eyed aspiring actresses, an evil conniving villain, and an unlikely hero who saves the day: Thoroughly Modern Millie at the New Candlelight Theatre in Arden has it all. This rousing production, set during the 1920s, runs through October 10. The show is beautifully staged, choreographed and performed.

Millie Dillmount, sung beautifully by a sympathetic Erica Scanlon Harr, is a small town girl following her dreams to New York City. Her odyssey lands her in a fleabag motel, which is merely a front for a “white slavery” ring funneling unsuspecting young women to Hong Kong via a laundry hamper. Micki Sharpe, who also directs the show, plays the hysterical, conniving Mrs. Meers, slipping in and out of her fake pigeon English when necessary. Bun Foo and Ching Ho, unwilling cohorts in her slave trade, are played by Reza Mirsajadi and Brian Peeke respectively. They are side-splittingly funny as they sing their numbers in Mandarin, with the subtitle translations overhead.

As Millie’s dream of marrying her boss goes hopelessly wrong, she meets and falls in love with Jimmy Smith, played by the handsome and lithe Justin Damm. The wealthy Muzzy Van Hossmere is expertly sung by Jillian Pirtle. Megan Pisors’ portrayal of the slightly clueless Dorothy Brown is charming. As the big boss Mr. Graydon, actor Patrick O’Hara almost makes us want to like his bumbling, womanizing character.

Be sure to see this heart-warming show, filled with snappy dance numbers, whirling secretaries’ desks and flapper dresses.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

More Artful Excitement in August

Weekends in August are usually so quiet in most cities, but Wilmington on August 14 was quite the exception. I found myself revisiting the notion of human cloning as I struggled to get from one exciting event to the next. Several new exhibits had opened on the Art Loop, ArtFest was exploding on Market Street, and the Delaware Humanities Forum was concluding its Interpreting Dreams series.

Philadelphia-based Melinda Steffy is the Art Loop’s featured artist this month. Her exhibit "Vegetable/Mineral" is hanging in the lobby and along the classroom corridors of the Music School of Delaware. Though these hallways are a slightly cramped venue for some of her larger, more colorful works, the marriage of music and art is a vibrant one. How wonderful to think a student or teacher might pause after a cello lesson to look at Sequence I-III. (see photo). Steffy related to me she had an ancestry of quilters. The idea of using found objects such as old lace, or discarded plastic colored barrettes in her work continues this tradition. These objects retain their original meaning within the framework of the piece. Her show “Remnants and Residual Memories” runs from August 21 to October 4 at the Connelly Center Art Gallery at Villanova University.


Walk into the 2nd floor gallery of the Carvel State Building, and you see the photographs and captions, all beautifully blown-up and mounted. Take a few steps closer and you are drawn into the captivating and tragic tale of homelessness in our city. Valerie Miller of the Delaware State Housing Authority worked in conjunction with Friendship House, Inc. to coordinate this Photovoice project. Eight men, all over the age of 55 and living in Andrew’s Place shelter, took photos of various locations or situations familiar to them. Underneath each picture, a caption explains things a person who isn’t intimately familiar with homelessness might not notice or understand. One photo, entitled Budget Motel shows rows of empty Budget rental trucks open in the back. The caption explains that the workers from Budget leave them open because they know the homeless crawl in there to sleep. Another photo shows a woman who had just looked for food in a trashcan, and the caption relates just how common this practice is for the homeless. In reading the captions and viewing the photos, we gain a glimpse into the hardscrabble life of the homeless and destitute in our city and country. The Photovoice exhibit will be at the Carvel Building until August 28.


August Art Loop at the DCCA

Entering the Dupont Gallery I at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts on August 14 gave me a jolt. Having read the excellent notes written by Assistant Curator Susan Isaacs should have cushioned the shock but the seven stark graphite and gouache works of Zoë Charlton’s Imitation of a Life left me breathless.

Perhaps it is because Charlton has captured the good and enchained it in evil – as often happens in life. She has taken a loop from a 1934 film Imitation of Life directed by John M Stahl which is a scene in which a successful black businesswoman comes to find her daughter who has run away and is trying to pass as white. Charlton has put a Ku Klux Klan hood on the daughter’s head.

So is this an imitation of success? When the tearful mother tries to woo back her daughter to ‘black’ life, is it begging her to fail?

The seven works seem also quite stark – all on creamy white paper with no frames, the graphite figures of naked women seem indefensible – vulnerable – enslaved to the unseen evil powers that have made them toys of their masters. The occasional spots of color are mocking accessories to the crime.

If you need a lift when you leave the Dupont I, visit the Fractious Happy installation by Heather Harvey in the Constance S and Robert J. Hennessy Project Space or just wander the halls and acquaint yourself with works of the studio artists who are the mainstay of the DCCA – or come back on September 4 and see the brilliant colors of a Ken Mabrey or a fanciful construct by Jane Quattarone.

Read excellent curator notes by J Susan Isaacs and find out about future exhibits and dates :

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bid on a local artist

If you're going to Middletown for the Peach Festival, check out the regional artists at the Gibby Center, 51 W. Main St. A silent auction is under way to Aug. 21 on unframed artwork.

Gallery hours are 6 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 14; then noon to 5 p.m. Thurday and Friday; and 10 to 5 Saturday. There'll be a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 21. Call (302) 449-5396 to learn more.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brandywine Guitar Quartet Braves the Storm

The guitars of BGQ plucked Dan Graper’s arrangement of a William Zinn string quartet version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” as one hundred people listened in the beautiful Pell Gardens along the C & D Canal in Chesapeake City.

The music and the idyllic setting seemed like something from another world – picnic blankets, happy faces, dogs and babies, and a very Spanish-sounding classical guitar quartet.

After two movements of Mozart, the quartet played Graper’s arrangement of a Georg Philipp Telemann string quartet, which showed their virtuosity – especially in a tricky fugal movement. They suddenly changed style in a Vivace they added to the Telemann.

Chris Braddock joined Graper on “Ballad for Kay” for two guitars by Nick Webb of Acoustic Alchemy.

After a dramatic Intermezzo from the opera “Goyescas” by Enrique Granados, a crack of thunder drowned the applause. The quartet continued with “Blue Tango” by Leroy Anderson, but those clouds burst and the crowd ran for cover.

The untimely ending left the crowd hungry for more, but no worries. Their appetite can be appeased on October 18 at Kennett Flash in Kennett Square, when BGQ will repeat the show and feature Mark Unruh in a ragtime/swing song that garnered him a bluegrass guitar prize.

Dan Graper’s music:
Chris Braddock’s music:

Two “Loopers” Weigh In on August Art

A collaborative review by bloggers Jessica Graae & Margaret Darby.

I began my Loop at the Delaware Art Museum. The overwhelming interest in the program “Illustrating Her World” produced two interest groups, and I happily joined the second for a “pre-tour” of the adjacent Copeland Sculpture Garden and the Labyrinth. There, volunteer Carol Maurer explained the genesis of these peaceful spots, built entirely by volunteers in a former reservoir for Bancroft Mills.

“Illustrating…” follows Ellen Pyle’s development from student to master illustrator. Lisa Smith, her great-granddaughter, gave an informative and heartwarming tour, beginning with a tour of Pyle’s paintings created while studying under Howard Pyle. One can see that Ellen Pyle’s style is reminiscent---if not almost identical---to that of her teacher. Smith described with passion how, after being widowed at age 42 with four children, this determined woman began to paint again and found a niche for herself as an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post. Amazingly, for this exhibit, Smith was able to interview some of the actual models for Pyle’s illustrations, as well as obtain some original furniture featured in the paintings.
Next on my itinerary was “Un-capped”, a fresh new idea bringing graffiti art to the Loop. I traveled to a forlorn part of town, near the Fort Christina Park, not sure what to expect. Immediately I was greeted by a booming beat from a DJ table inside a fenced area where the artists were painting. Artists were all around: standing on forklifts spraying the hard-to-reach parts of the wall and kneeling to get the low corners. Serafino, one of the muralists, told me he chose to do a portrait of a soldier to honor those in Iraq. Though the mural was a spontaneous creation by many artists from the local hip-hip community, all came together as one unified piece. Freedom, a young woman I talked to, noted that some artists had previously been “in trouble” for creating their work. With “Un-capped”, they were happy to be part of a mainstream city-sponsored event---legal and much appreciated!
If you like blue, visit Graig Morris’ display upstairs at The Exchange on Market. Blue man in Key West shows a black man with graying hair on a bench in front of a hurricane fence on which the words ‘Restricted Area – Authorized Personnel Only’ are handwritten in red ink. The man is wearing a shirt of midnight blue; his face shows the weary wariness of being shut out of the mainstream. Venus is a small Florentine-style portrait of Venus rising from a Bahama-blue ocean. A new work portrays a young Michelangelo on scaffolding under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The real party was at Gallery 919. Beth Trepper’s set of three Pre-Raphaelite-style photographs taken in the gardens of Gibraltar captured the essence of works you will recognize from the Delaware Art Museum. She took antique wood frames and created matting with dried flowers in a William Morris wallpaper style.
Trepper has a knack for staging: her self-portrait dancing on the grounds of an Irish Castle makes you want to kick your shoes off and jump into the work to follow the dancer. The addition of a wig made her cousin look like a 1940s lost waif; her portrait of Edward and Patricia was so strikingly happy…I was delighted to meet Patricia herself and find that it was Trepper’s mother.
In Makin’ Bacon, a female pig perches pristinely at a French café table across from glamorous Debbie, dressed in black; the pieces gives off a hip New Yorker fashion issue feel.
Trepper’s friends and family catered, played music and sang a four-part a capella welcome.
While I can’t guarantee that Trepper and her relatives will be there every day, the photographs themselves are well worth a visit.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wilmington's Got the Blues

There has been an amazing line-up of outdoor entertainment and arts in the city this summer. The Riverfront Blues Festival, an annual three-day event, kicked off on August 7. Headliners Walter Trout and the Radicals, Charlie Musselwhite and Delbert McClinton were the main attractions.

Despite the heat and humidity, the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park was packed with humanity on Sunday: People sitting in chairs and blankets spread on the grass. Some die-hard fans crowded the stagefront, dancing and enjoying the music up close. A Tribute to Freddie King rocked the Main Stage with their rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago,” while the audience sang along. Their awesome sax and guitar riffs reminded us that the Blues is really the daddy of rock n’ roll.

On the Bandwagon Stage, 61 North gave us a Blues tour around the world, passing through England, Ireland, and the U.S. They played the classic American blues song, “When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too),” inviting guest musicians to play toward the end of their set.

Delbert McClinton delivered a program ranging from Country-Western to Chicago and New Orleans. His touching ballad “Sending Me Angels” was sweet and lyrical. From his upcoming album Acquired Taste, he sang a rollicking song, “People Just Love to Talk”. His earthy harmonica-playing gives his music the flavor of back porch blues. I watched as people carrying coolers and lawn chairs happily bounced their way out of the park on their way home to the beat of “Have a Little Faith in Me.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Brandywiners: Love and Betrayal in Camelot

The Brandywiners, a musical theater company now in its 78th year, presented “Camelot” on Friday evening, nicely staged by James F. Smith. This grand production, complete with full orchestra and colorful medieval costumes, graced the outdoor stage at Longwood Gardens. The company provides a stage for local amateur and professional thespians, while supporting civic organizations and charities through ticket sale proceeds.

The orchestra, assembled and directed by C. Lawler Rogers, Sr. is stunning. The balance between the accompaniment and the cast is excellent, with each note from the pit precise and in tune. The actors do well with Lerner and Loewe’s bittersweet musical, which is sometimes heavy on the dialogue. The show’s hilarious, yet telling one-liners keep the first act light: Arthur asks Merlin why he has never taught him of love and marriage and Merlin chides, “Don’t scramble them together that way.” The second act becomes dark and brooding: a tale of betrayal and greed. The music, humor and quirky storybook characters keep the show engaging.

Erin Cates plays a sympathetic Guenevere, singing with a clear, sweet tone. Guenevere’s “Before I Gaze at You Again” is one of musical theatre’s gems with its haunting melody and expansive phrases. Kudos to Ted Harding (Arthur) who reprises the role he did with the Brandywiners in 1981. Alexander Bowditch’s (Mordred) cuts through the stage like a knife with his confident and perfectly evil performance. He leads the men’s chorus in “Fie on Goodness”, one of the wittiest numbers in the show. In this number, we catch Broadway at its best and raunchiest, well before the “politically correct” movement made its presence known. One man sings, “When I think of the pleasures that earlier filled my life…Like the time I beheaded a man who was beating his naked wife”.

In addition to its annual summer production, the group also performs concerts of Broadway and American music under the auspices of the Brandywiners Chorale.