Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Whether to Shock or Enchant: Bootless Stageworks Expands Wilmington’s Arts Offerings

Content of this post originated from the blog by JulieAnne Cross of inWilmDE.com...

The cast of Disenchanted.
Photo courtesy of Bootless Stageworks.
For nine out of the last ten years, Bootless Stageworks has staged horror-themed musical theater productions, usually in the summer, such as Evil Dead, The Musical and The Texas Chainsaw Musical!, featuring the company’s signature “splatter zone,” a section of seating where tarps and ponchos protect guests from a thorough soaking of stage blood. And where other guests wear white shirts that will serve as a stained souvenir of their experience. 

But don’t let the preponderance of singing, sweltering gore-fests fool you.

From “a galaxy far, far away” to human trafficking right here in this country, Bootless has tackled subject matter holding what is likely the broadest appeal of any theater company in Delaware, and is making its mark on the greater performing arts community by opening its doors wide to talented neighbors.

The Bootless origin story starts like just about every other arts nonprofit in our state: a group of talented friends was looking for a way to express themselves. These friends included Rosanne DellAversano and James W. Fuerst, the husband and wife team who are both co-founders and leaders of Bootless. At first known as Arden Club Theatre, after five years, Bootless gained its 501c3 in 2009…and immediately needed to seek a new venue.

During its early years, Bootless put on shows at the Church of Saints Andrew & Matthew, Reach Academy for Girls, Bellanca Air Service Hangar (replete with on-site firefighters, since the hangar was not equipped with sprinklers), empty storefronts at Riverfront Wilmington and OperaDelaware Studios.

After wandering the theatrical desert, Bootless signed a long-term lease with St. Stephen’s Church at 13th and Broom in 2014. Bootless has diligently renovated the church’s basement social hall into a 75-seat theater and flex space, and began offering five to six year-round performances in their own home.

Since then, the Bootless crew has invited hip hop, drag, comedy, open mic, and even other theater companies to share the same stage where Bootless puts on musicals, operettas, operas and stage plays.

Recent artistic guests have included Wilmington drag performer Miss Troy (possibly more widely known for her alter-ego, Aunt Mary Pat DiSabatino), a documentary presented by the Afrikan Connection and live comedy presented by Nova Scotia-born Belynda Cleare.

If generating income through refreshment sales seems like the goal of opening up their venue to entrepreneurial guest artists, you’d be underestimating Bootless’ support of performers.

DellAversano says, “Bootless firmly believes that choosing to be a working performing artist is one of the toughest career paths. It isn’t the standard nine-to-five job, and only in rare cases does it make one rich.” She adds, “The reward is usually the sheer joy of seeing a total stranger laugh, cry, contemplate or discover because of your interaction with them. During those ninety minutes or so of togetherness, there is nothing else but what is taking place on stage and being shared. It’s a profession that is uniquely intimate with millions. And, the experience provided by the artist has a real value.”

She describes the typical experience of a performing artist, which is often sharing their talents for free. The term “starving artist” is neither new nor, sadly, outdated.

Empathizing with the artists she engages, DellAversano says, “You wouldn’t ask a plumber to complete repairs for free. Why then is it perfectly fine to ask or assume an artist will work without pay? Food can’t be bought and bills can’t be paid with exposure.”

In a stroke of irony, Bootless’ founders, board and executive staff are volunteers, yet they see that their artists, including designers, musicians, playwrights and composers, get paid, and offer the same opportunity for guest artists.

DellAversano says, “Most of the time, we provide our space for free, so long as we can run concessions. Whether it be Brandon Jackson or Belynda Cleare with their comedy shows, Jea Street with his CD release party, Joe Belardo with his Open Mic Night, Miss Troy & Friends with Drag Me to Story Time, or the Afrikan Connection with the documentary film The Black Candle, Bootless does not charge a fee for the use of its venue. Plus, the artists/exhibitors keep their entire ticket sales.” 

The drag community has found a supportive home with Bootless. Preceded by Death is a Drag, a Bootless original murder mystery drag show in 2012, a number of drag events have been staged at the Broom Street facility, with more in the future.

Bootless regularly presents works that are new to Delaware audiences. IN fact, the 2016-2017 season only featured a single “standard” work — Spring Awakening — and in 2010-2011, all the company’s productions were either originals or Delaware premieres.

Approximately thirty productions in Bootless’ ten-year history were regional or local premieres. That’s too many to list, but highlights include: Orange Is The New Musical (East Coast premiere, 2017), In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) (Delaware premiere, 2016), Terminator, The Second (East Coast premiere, 2014), Jerry Springer, The Opera (regional premiere, 2012), Star Wars, A New Musical Hope (regional premiere, 2013) and a few more summer gore-fests.

Lest one think their repertoire is all pop culture and sex, note that Bootless has also tackled historical subject matter, such as The Trial of Thomas Garrett, commissioned for A Day in Old New Castle in 2010.

DellAversano says that Bootless is in contract discussions to bring several more new works to Wilmington by 2020, including a new musical based on famous serial killers, in the style of Assassins, with many members from Bootless working on its plot lines and music.

With general admission ticket prices usually lingering in the $15-22 range, it’s clear Bootless also cares about its audience. Plus it’s ADA accessible and free parking is easy to find. It makes up for moderate ticket pricing, like every other nonprofit theater, with fundraising.

Be sure to support this scrappy theater company by attending one of the mainstage productions, an open mic night, a comedy night, a visiting theater company’s production or one of the two upcoming drag shows this spring. Our picks:
  • Spice Girls Drag Tribute (Miss Troy & Friends) on Thursday, May 16 at 7:30pm.
Up next on the main stage is the INternational hit musical Disenchanted!, making its Delaware premiere from March 22 to April 6. It’s a hilariously twisted, adult themed, Disney spoof-tacular princess musical. In New York, 700 women auditioned for a one-night-only workshop of the musical, which sold out and resulted in a standing ovation, and went on to 2014 and 2015 runs, studded with celebrity audience members.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Artist Roderick Hidalgo: Torch of INspiration

Content of this post originated from the blog by Jill Althouse-Wood of inWilmDE.com...

When you are driving to interview an artist and the only thing you know about him is that his latest series of work is entirely black, as in… black layered on black, black poured over black, and black dotted with more black, you end up mind-diving through all the clichés. Is this guy Emo? Goth? New York City slick? Commander of the Night’s Watch? Darth frickIN’ Vader? Meeting Roderick Hidalgo in person defied all these preconceived notions. If I had to describe him in a word, it would be exuberant. 

Gummies on Parade by Rick Hidalgo.
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
Hidalgo greeted me at the door of his Hockessin studio/gallery space dressed in — you guessed it –– black. To be fair, I had dressed in black, too –– a trick I was employing to put my subject at ease. But I didn’t need to put Rick Hidalgo at ease; he was already in his bliss. I arrived on the day that his work was being photographed. It was a celebration of completed works which lined the walls, but huge worktables in the center of the space charged the gallery with that edgy chaos of works-in-progress. Looking more closely at these densely layered relief paintings in the photographer’s queue, I felt grateful that I was writing about these pieces and not trying to photograph them. How could a camera capture all that is going on in this wall art without the usual delineating crutches of color and tone?

Many of the pieces are heavy in relief. That sculptural quality will help viewers of the photographs get a sampling of the work, but you need to see these painting/sculpture hybrids in person to have the full experience. I wanted to reach out and run my fingers over the terrain of them. Some areas are slick, transitioning to rougher textures, while other of the works are subtler and more nuanced in their layering. Hidalgo uses different mediums and often collages objects onto canvases. One series of small square canvases features clear cubes adhered to the surfaces. Another work is a collage made up entirely of toy army men sprayed black. And then there was a piece that I can only describe as a black breast with a mirrored finish. Think what you like. Hidalgo forgoes interpretation and invites viewers to come to the pieces with his or her own varied life experience. The army man piece has created associations for war vets and peaceniks alike but for different reasons. And for some, the connection creates a map back to their childhood.

Hidalgo’s work wasn’t always so narrow of palette. Perusing his online gallery, I saw examples of early encaustics and poured lacquer paintings where bright color bloomed and spilled into hypnotic galaxies of pattern. He told me that he was honing his craft, learning techniques and getting a handle on his materials. Seeing the progression from his earlier pieces, it was easy to believe that his current work is a rejection of color and all that came before.

Hidalgo denies this. “I’ve been developing this language over fifteen years,” he said as we survey the line of finished pieces before us. His wasn’t some deep descent into the shadow realm as much as a “coming full circle,” an embrace of all that came before. I considered this for a moment, and he was right. In painting, black is a coming together of all pigments, not the rejection of them.

“This is the work I have been gearing up for. I have found my voice.”

He isn’t using that voice for his art alone. Hidalgo transcends the scope of a singular artist by promoting other local talent. See him as a tastemaker or a rule-breaker, but either way, his vision is on the rise in Wilmington. Besides his Hockessin gallery where he hosts bi-monthly exhibits of local and international artists, Hidalgo has been curating shows in the corporate galleries of Capital One in Wilmington. And he is gearing up to present a group exhibition next month at The Delaware Contemporary that will act as a complement to “Blackout,” the solo show of his latest works. The group show,“The Fire Theft,” will showcase eleven local artists as they riff on the myth that tells the story of how the earth got fire (and color).

Curious, I had to look up the myth. According to the story, there was a time when the world was cold, barren, and bleak. In this devastating landscape, there existed one fabulously plumed bird with a rainbow of tailfeathers. This special bird was tasked with flying to the sun to steal some of its fire to bring back to the desolate earth. The bird was successful, but upon returning with the flaming torch, he scorched the whole landscape and all of its inhabitants. But fire brings new life, and from this blackened environment, bright flowers blossomed, and creatures started sprouting scales and feathers in every hue. However, the bird was too charred by the journey for his original jeweled plumage to return. He remained black and charred, sacrificing his own color in the process of bringing light and color to the earth.

Does that sound like a metaphor for a certain artist’s journey? Perhaps. But forget all the clichés about sacrificial lambs or tortured artists where Roderick Hidalgo is concerned. Dude is one joyful black bird who is bringing the torch of INspiration to Wilmington.

For more information on Roderick Hidalgo or RH Gallery in Hockessin, check out his website or Facebook page. “Blackout” works by Roderick Hidalgo and “The Fire Theft” Group Exhibition, curated by Roderick Hidalgo, RH Gallery will be on display at The Delaware Contemporary, 200 South Madison Street; Wilmington, April 5-26, 2019 with an opening reception: Friday, April 5, 2019 from 5-9pm during Art Loop Wilmington.

Piffaro Channels Greek Muse for Dancer's Delight Performance

By Christine Facciolo

The calendar may have read March 17, but nary a note of an Irish gigue was to be heard in the sanctuary of Christ Church in Greenville, Delaware.

Rather, there were plenty of bransles, courantes, bourees galliardes and voltes as Piffaro joined with viol consort Sonnambula to present “Dancers’ Delight,” a celebration of Michael Praetorius’ Terpsichore.

Back, (L-R): Grant Herreid, Priscilla Herreid, Joan Kimball, Greg Ingles
& Fiona Last of Piffaro. Front: Sonnambula’s Jude Ziliak & Toma Iliev.
Photo courtesy of Piffaro.
I was unwittingly — and quite happily — introduced to those sunshine tunes via the 1967 pop hit Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead which incorporated La Bouree (32) as a musical interlude. Of course, there was no Internet back then to help me research what that sparkling tune was. It wasn’t until I got to graduate studies in Musicology that the mystery was solved.

Terpsichore — which takes its name from the Greek muse of dance — is a compendium of more than 300 (312 to be exact) dances collected, arranged and published by German composer Michael Praetorius in 1612. Most of the entrees are French dances — and Praetorius strives to include all varieties — but some come from elsewhere in Europe, for example, England and Spain.

This is not particularly profound music; most Renaissance composers directed their serious energies toward the church. But it is eminently listenable. Crisp, short and punchy, these dances deliver a certain impact with the distinct sounds of the instruments, the varied rhythms and the sheer tunefulness.

The program featured about 30 representative selections, grouped according to the type of dance.

The Terpsichore provides scant information about which instruments should play which parts but the resources available for this concert drew on a wide assortment of strings, harpsichord, percussion and winds, including shawms, recorders, krumhorns, dulcians, sackbuts and bagpipes. The resultant sound was wonderfully colorful and at times, delightfully coarse. The lively spirit of the performances — there was even an exuberant jam session on the Bransle de la Torche — made the entire experience feel authentic.

The musicians were clearly having a ball. Priscilla Herreid was magical as always on recorder and both she and Joan Kimball were soothingly mesmerizing on bagpipes. The Renaissance brass was also superb — you’d swear you were listening to modern valved instruments so robust and secure was their tone.

The concert also introduced to the Wilmington audience Fiona Last, inaugural participant in Piffaro’s Renaissance residency program designed to identify and cultivate professional players who are interested in pursuing period double reeds and brass.

For anyone wanting to experience this rarely performed work again, the program will be repeated when Piffaro guests with Sonnambula, ensemble-in-residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the Met Cloisters on June 1 at 3:00pm in New York City.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Totally Awesome Players & Delaware Young Playwrights Festival Hit the DTC Stage

DTC's Totally Awesome Players.
Photo courtesy of Delaware Theatre Company.
The content of this post comes from Delaware Theatre Company's email newsletter...

Totally Awesome Players Performs Two Original Plays
Over 25 years ago, Charles Conway, Danny Peak and some brave young actors  with support from the Delaware Foundation Reaching Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities (DFRC)  began this inspiring ensemble of kids called the Totally Awesome Players (TAP) Program. This troupe, and its newer cohort, TAP 2 ensemble founded in 2012, employ acting skills and the creation of a play to increase the collaborative skills and active creativity of adults with intellectual disabilities.

Now, the group of adults still meets weekly to collaborate with one another and put on a show. This season, as always, began with a theme: Time to Change, brainstorming how our lives can change in small ways and large ways, and how we react to the changes that we are unable to control. 

From there, the group of 33 performers and nine volunteers devised two original plays: The Best Laid Plans, a story of four students in detention exploring the paths their lives might take, and One, Two, Three, Change, a woman’s journey of positive small changes that transform into larger life changes.

The players worked tirelessly from November to March, not only improving their acting and memorizing skills, but retaining and growing the fundamental pillars of the program established back in 1992: You Can’t Be Wrong 
 a brainstorming rule that encourages any and all ideas, and No Negatives  toward yourself or others.

On Monday, March 18, 2019 the ensemble will share their original works on the DTC mainstage in the culminating performance. Admission is $5, and a reception follows the performance. 

The TAP troupes meet weekly, and participants create, write, rehearse and perform a play. These original plays are presented on the mainstage of DTC and other community venues. The program has also offered in-school workshops at the Howard T. Ennis School, a school for students with significant disabilities located in Sussex County and Kent County Community School in Dover.

The winners of the Delaware Young Playwrights Festival.
Photo courtesy of Delaware Theatre Company.
DTC Fully Produces Five Student Plays
The Delaware Young Playwrights Festival (DYPF) is a program designed to provide an outlet for Delaware students in Grades 8-12 to get the professional playwright treatment. DTC brought in designers and professional actors to bring their plays to the stage with lights, projections, sound, costumes and props.

After months of writing and editing, the culminating performance was attended by 175 people and honored all 83 students who wrote plays this season. Congratulations to everyone involved!

Delaware Young Playwrights Festival Winners
  • The Lines of Our Lives Jordyn Flaherty, Charter School of Wilmington
  • In All Honesty | Jalyn Horhn, MOT Charter High School
  • (A Little Bit) of the Book of Exodus | Tristen Hudson, St. Elizabeth School
  • Senior Year Shakespeare | John Morrison, St. Elizabeth School
  • Star Signs and Book Shops | Madelyn Thomas, St. Elizabeth School

Friday, March 15, 2019

Rehoboth Art League Hosts 23rd Young at Art Exhibition

This post content comes from a Rehoboth Art League press release...

On Saturday March 16, 2019 the Rehoboth Art League (RAL) will host the works of over 250 young artists. Students from 25 public and private schools in Sussex County will gather for the opening of the 23rd Annual Young at Art exhibit on the historic Henlopen Acres campus of the Art League. This year’s exhibit will be on view in the Corkran and Tubbs Galleries from March 16 through March 31, with an opening reception on Saturday, March 16 from 10:00am-2:00pm, with award presentations at 11:00am.

The exhibition will feature teacher-selected artwork created by students in elementary, middle and high schools in Sussex County. Each art teacher has selected the best student works to represent the school, which will be judged with ribbons, cash awards, and scholarships. In addition to a Best in Show Award and Awards of Excellence Prizes for elementary, middle, and high school students, two promising students will receive Pre-College Scholarships to the Delaware College of Art and Design. Furthermore, six promising young middle school artists will receive a Picasso O’Keeffe Scholarship to be used towards art supplies or classes.

This event is free and open to the public. Also, on display in the Step-Up Gallery is our Members’ Sales Exhibition, showcasing an eclectic collection of fine art and crafts by RAL Member Artists.

This exhibition is being underwritten by PNC Bank and is sponsored by the Village Improvement Association, The Howard Pyle Studio Group, and Old World Breads.