Showing posts with label Delaware Shakespeare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Delaware Shakespeare. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

DelShakes' "Romeo & Juliet" Community Tour Commences

Wilfredo Amill plays Romeo in Delaware Shakespeare's Community 

Tour of Romeo & Juliet. Photo courtesy of Delaware Shakespeare.
By Mike Logothetis
Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.


The Delaware Shakespeare Community Tour returns this autumn with a touching performance of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare’s classic tale of teenage love gone horribly wrong.

Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, homeless shelters and gymnasiums. The production values are scaled for those spaces with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. In this way, the tour exposes live theater to many people who’ve never experienced it.

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley looks for spaces that can hold a seated audience between 40 and 120 people in a four-sided arrangement. Stradley says that the audience will “...never feel the power of Shakespeare’s vital romantic tragedy more immediately than in our Community Tour production, where every audience member is within ten feet of the performers.”

Stradley stressed that Delaware Shakespeare searches for communities which may be underserved by the arts and whose residents might find difficulty traveling to Rockwood Park for its annual Summer Festival. The Community Tour performs for very diverse audiences and the cast reflects that diversity. African-American actor Wilfredo (Freddy) Amill plays Romeo opposite Argentine Sol Madariaga as Juliet. The two have real chemistry as “star-cross'd lovers” whose feuding families make their budding romance taboo.

Romeo and Juliet is a well-known tale of two dreamers awakening to love in a world trying to tear them apart. Director Lindsay Smiling has instructed his cast to be passionate and physically show their feelings, while speaking Shakespeare’s famous words. He has extracted stellar performances from all the actors without them appearing to overstep their roles.

The excellent Cameron DelGrosso plays a spirited Mercutio – riding a crest of bawdy independence until his best friend Romeo settles him down with tales of his budding love. DelGrosso expertly shows that fraternal loyalty and elan are imbued in Mercutio.

Tai Verley also shone as the wise, but dutiful, Nurse to Juliet. Verley was stern when required, but ultimately loving and devoted to her charge.

As previously mentioned, Amill and Madariaga display tenderness toward each other while showing resolve to make their future together a reality. Both are easy to watch and place the audience quickly on their side – the side of true love.

The multiple fight scenes were well choreographed (Jacqueline Holloway) on the small set with only two pieces of scenery. The audience felt right on top of the pithy swordplay. In the same vein, the dance during the party at the house of the Capulets made it feel like the stage was a bigger space than it was. Both were clever illusions.

Cassandra Alexander, Newton Buchanan, J Hernandez, and Maria Konstantinidis round out the top-notch cast, who often play multiple roles.

The Community Tour of Romeo and Juliet takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 23 through November 17. (Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, Sussex Correctional Institution and Ferris School are not open to the public.) 


Admission is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. There will be two ticketed performances ($18-25) on November 16 and 17 at The Siegel Jewish Community Center. These performances have only 125 tickets available for each show. The running time is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. 

Information can be found at https://delshakes.org/community-tour/.

“A thousand times good night!”

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Merry Romp at Rockwood with DelShakes

By Carol Van Zoeren
Carol is a 40+ year veteran of community theater and retired from DuPont.

I delight every year in DelShakes’ summer festival in Rockwood Park. As far as I’m concerned, it ain’t summer if I haven’t seen Shakespeare at Rockwood! 

It’s been a joy to watch DelShakes evolve over these 17 years (yes, I’ve seen every show). From their start at Archmere Academy, to staging at Rockwood in front of the mansion, to creatively locating the stage at the perfect spot on Rockwood grounds. As a friend noted, “It just gets better every year!” 

Bradley Mott (Falstaff) and Amy Frear (Mistress Ford) in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
Throughout their history, DelShakes’ mission has been to make Shakespeare accessible to all. And they continue to innovate toward that mission, most notably with the addition of the Community Tour in the fall.

DelShakes is ideal for those with little exposure to, and maybe a little nervousness about, Shakespeare. The program always includes a detailed plot synopsis. And during the delightful pre-show picnicking, the audience can enjoy and learn from the student apprentices’ “regular” language preview of the plot. This year, the preshow highlight is a funny homage to the musical Chicago.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a particularly accessible play. Shakespeare set the play in his contemporary England, and focuses on the domestic dramas of the middle class. In her notes, Director Krista Apple describes Merry Wives as “An Elizabethan sitcom.” Apple sets her production in the suburbs of the 1950s, but this sitcom is no Father Knows Best. It’s more reminiscent of 1990s sit-coms like Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond. As in many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the men are...shall we say, misguided... and the women are the real brains of the operation.

In his set design, Lance Kniskern picks up the suburban theme with the structural outlines of two houses. The partial staircase elements tipped me off that these are the quintessential home of the suburbs 
 the split-level. These structures easily represented a number of locations around the neighborhood. My only quibble is that I was a bit confused with the stage left house  the actors sometimes went through the doorway and other times narrowly skirted downstage of the doorframe, making it difficult to know if the scene was indoors or outdoors.

Merry Wives is often considered a showcase for the character of Falstaff, ably played by Bradley Mott. But what struck me in this production is what a wonderful ensemble piece it is. Through voice and physicality, each actor clearly embodies exactly who their character is, as well as the relationships between them. Brett Ashley Robinson and Amy Frear convey the genuine affection between Mistresses Page and Ford. Gregory Isaac revels in the whiplash jealousy of Master Ford. David Pica squeezes every bit of absurdity from Dr. Caius. 

I was pleased that the college apprentices are prominently featured, moreso than I recall from past shows. Each actor embraces their moment to shine, and together, the ensemble delivers non-stop hilarity.

I encourage everyone, especially Shakespeare newbies, to bring a friend, bring a picnic, and enjoy DelShakes The Merry Wives of Windsor. Maybe Shakespeare at Rockwood Park will become as much a cherished summer tradition for you as it is for me.


Friday, February 22, 2019

Three Delaware Organizations Receive $54,000 in Federal NEA Grants

The content of this post comes from a Delaware Division of the Arts press release...

As the only funder in the country to support arts activities in all 50 states and five U.S. jurisdictions, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced that three Delaware organizations will receive $54,000 in federal grants. This is the first of two major grant announcements in fiscal year 2019 and includes three of the agency’s funding categories: Art Works and Challenge America to support projects by nonprofit organizations, and Creative Writing Fellowships. Through these grants, the National Endowment for the Arts supports local economies and preserves American heritage while embracing new forms of creative expression.

“The arts enhance our communities and our lives, and we look forward to seeing these projects take place throughout the country, giving Americans opportunities to learn, to create, to heal, and to celebrate,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Delaware Shakespeare will receive a Challenge America grant in the amount of $10,000 to support a touring production of Romeo and Juliet, with related outreach activities. Proposed guest artist Lindsay Smiling will direct the production.

"Delaware Shakespeare is honored to be a recipient of an NEA Challenge America grant which will support our 2019 Community Tour production of Romeo and Juliet,” said David Stradley, producing artistic director of Delaware Shakespeare. “Our tours, bringing professional theatre to the full spectrum of humanity in our community by traveling to non-traditional venues such as prisons, homeless shelters, and mental health facilities, have been transformative for the organization and for audiences. The national recognition and support for this program from the NEA is a welcome affirmation for the vital necessity of this work."

OperaDelaware will receive an Art Works – Opera grant in the amount of $14,000 to support new productions of a new orchestral reduction of Derrick Wang's Scalia/Ginsburg and Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury as part of the 2018-19 festival.

"We are humbled to receive this support and incredible vote of confidence from the NEA for the fourth year in a row,” said Brendan Cooke, executive director of OperaDelaware. “This year's award allows us to bring Derrick Wang's wonderful opera, Scalia/Ginsburg to Wilmington, with the world premiere of a new orchestration of the work, crafted specifically for our orchestra and the magnificent Grand Opera House."

The State Education Agency Directors of Education (SEADAE), Delaware will receive an Art Works – Arts Education grant in the amount of $30,000 to support professional development training for teachers and teaching artists using the National Core Arts Standards as the basis for assessing student learning in the arts.

“It is a pleasure to be recognized by NEA regarding the work we do in ensuring equitable access to arts instruction across the country,” said Joyce Huser, SEADAE president and education program consultant, fine arts, Kansas State Department of Education. “Through the support of the NEA, all directors of the arts in state departments of education will receive the professional learning they need to support students and teachers across the country.”

The NEA Challenge America category primarily supports small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations—those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability.

Art Works is the NEA’s principal grantmaking program designed to support artistically excellent projects that celebrate our creativity and cultural heritage, invite mutual respect for differing beliefs and values, and enrich humanity.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

DelShakes' Community Tour Delivers Art with a Message

By Mike Logothetis
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.

Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
The Delaware Shakespeare Community Tour returns this autumn with a lively performance of The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare’s multi-layered drama about the corrosive impact of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. It’s a timely choice, as the instances of hate speech and hate crimes have risen in recent times (up 57% per the Anti-Defamation League's 2017 audit).

Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, homeless shelters and gymnasiums. The production values are scaled for those spaces, with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. In this way, the tour exposes live theater to many people who’ve never experienced it.

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley looks for spaces that can hold a seated audience between 40 and 120 people in a four-sided arrangement. Stradley stressed that Delaware Shakespeare searches for communities which may be underserved by the arts and whose residents might find challenges in traveling to Rockwood Park for its annual Summer Festival.

The Community Tour performs for  diverse audiences, and the cast reflects that diversity. African-American actor Kirk Wendell Brown plays the role of Shylock. In the October 2018 issue of JVoice Monthly, Stradley wrote that “...this [casting] choice was made, in part, to encourage audiences to consider other population groups who may be treated in similar ways to how we see Shylock treated.”

If you don’t know the story, The Merchant of Venice is a tale of a Jewish moneylender (Shylock) who is subjected to hate speech by members of the Christian majority in Venice, Italy. To his great dismay, his daughter Jessica (Michaela Shuchman) deserts him and elopes with Lorenzo (Wilfredo Amill), a Christian. Over the course of the play, Shylock is systematically separated from his faith, family, wealth and status. You can’t help but feel for the man who is humiliated and defeated by a rabble-rousing majority.

Stradley, who also directs The Merchant of Venice, wants to engage the community in a conversation about ensuring that “those who are perceived as different are not treated unjustly.” In the program, audience members will find questions to consider and historical context related to anti-Semitism. Each program has one of four colored stickers which asks a unique question to stimulate thought. For instance, “How do people come to hold prejudiced beliefs?” and “What would you do if you saw someone being treated badly just for being different?”

A structured conversation about the impact of prejudice and stereotyping occurs immediately following each performance. At the Christina Cultural Arts Center, many topics were covered by a wide range of audience members moved by the actions in the play. Stradley was the moderator and kept the discussion moving.

A topic that dominated the post-production discussion was empathy 
 a major theme of the play. The nine-player cast does a wonderful job showing both sides of humanity using love and hate to embrace or ostracize those they consider deserving. As Gratiano, Cameron DelGrosso spits venom at Shylock, but is a hopeless romantic around his fair Nerissa (Tai Verley). Liz Filios’ Portia is a passionate woman waiting for a loving man (Bassanio/Newton Buchanan) to win her hand, but her tenderness takes a dark turn when she tips the scales against Shylock in a court where he feels he deserves justice.

In disguise as young lawyer Balthazar, Portia argues before the duke/magistrate for mercy 
 a sentiment Shylock believes strengthens his case against Antonio, but actually weakens it: “The quality of mercy is not strained…[Mercy] is enthroned in the hearts of kings; It is an attribute to God Himself…in the course of justice none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy.”

But is it true mercy for the agrieved or a ruling in favor of the establishment?

It’s no secret that The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s most divisive plays. Depending upon who has his hands on the text, The Merchant of Venice has been used both as a treatise against anti-Semitism and as propaganda to disparage Jewish people, further cementing them as outcasts.

In the end, the production and post-performance discussions hope to shine a light on the painful damage inflicted upon a minority by mob rule. By exploring the themes in The Merchant of Venice, Delaware Shakespeare hopes to “...[highlight] our shared humanity [and] find steps to mend tears in a broader social fabric.” (JVoice Monthly, October 2018)

In the midst of these heavy themes, there is an excellent play! Considered a comedy in its time, The Merchant of Venice has meaty roles, and the Delaware Shakespeare troupe does exceptionally well. You’ll laugh at Lancelot (Emily Schuman) as well as question his motives. You feel the pain and anguish of Antonio (Gregory Isaac) as he realizes his bond of “a pound of flesh” may need to be paid. The pacing and delivery keeps the action moving in the tight confines of theater in the round. The play delivers on many fronts and is a treat for all ages.

The autumn Community Tour of The Merchant of Venice takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 24 through November 18 
— check delshakes.org for full details. (Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Sussex Correctional Institution are not open to the public, however.) 

Admission to all other performances is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. There will also be two ticketed performances ($15-25) on November 17 and 18 at OperaDelaware Studios, which have only 125 tickets available for each show.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Much Ado About DelShakes

By Mike Logothetis


Before the proverbial curtain rose on Opening Night, Delaware Shakespeare Managing Director Matt Sullivan gushed over the “strong team” of actors in Much Ado About Nothing – the 16th annual summer production for the company.  Although probably biased, Sullivan’s assessment was right on the money: The cast makes this show fantastic.

The cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
In her directorial debut with "DelShakes," Bi Jean Ngo pairs Barrymore Award-winning actress Krista Apple (Beatrice) with J Hernandez (Benedick) to lead the merry company of players in the Bard’s lively war of wits between the sexes.  But kudos also go to supporting players like Melissa Fuhr (Balthasar), Eric Mills (Don Pedro), Hannah Van Sciver (Dogberry), and Jo Vito (Claudio).  Each actor embraced the assigned role and excelled in the portrayal.

Apple’s interpretation of Beatrice was at once stern and biting, but also vulnerable and emotive.  While the proudly single Beatrice enjoys a “skirmish of wits” with any man or woman, she revels in squaring off against the formidable bachelor Benedick.  Along with his sharp tongue, Hernandez mesmerized the patrons at Rockwood Park with subtle body language and mannerisms which made his turn as Benedick wonderful.  In the same vein, Van Sciver seized the secondary role of the constable Dogberry and had the audience in the palm of her hand.  (All the while, her character probably couldn’t tell you which hand was left, right or wrong.)

The interplay and timing between the actors is exceptional and Ngo set a good pace for the action.  As the play is one of the few in the Shakespeare canon where the majority of the text is written in prose, the actors have more flexibility in their deliveries.  I credit Ngo with allowing her cast to explore the text and pauses between words, sentences, and themes.  There is a modern feel to the centuries-old script.

Ngo is a recipient of the F. Otto Haas Emerging Artist Barrymore Award and is a founding member of PAPA (Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists).  She most recently received the Fox Fellowship Foundation Award for Artist with Extraordinary Potential from TCG (Theatre Communications Group).

Michael Hahn composed all-original music for this production and Dixon Li choreographed lively dance numbers which fill the stage.  The music is a nice touch and adds great feel to the action or entr’acte.

The physical stage is an asymmetric multi-level space with a backdrop of ribbons which brings to mind a Renaissance event.  Kevin Meehan described the design as “Baz Luhrmann [meets] sexy Etsy wedding.”  The nooks and crannies of the theater set into the trees at Rockwood allow for ample hiding spots in key scenes.  The action moves seamlessly from left to right and from up to down.  It’s quite dynamic.

The plot of Much Ado About Nothing revolves around love, trickery, honor, misunderstanding, hope, deed, and misdeed.  Will Claudio win the fair hand of Hero (Claris Park) even though Don John (David Pica) plots against the union with help from Borachio (Robert Mora) and Conrade (Justin Bowen)?  Can Leonato (Michael Fuchs) find a man worthy to tame his headstrong niece Beatrice?  “6th and lastly,” will the law of Messina, romantic love, and the morality of God triumph?  It’s a Shakespearean comedy, so I think you can probably guess the answers, but maybe not the hysterical proceedings.

The part of the good Friar Francis will be played by a rotating cast of local faith leaders from the Delaware community, including Rabbi Michael Beals of Congregation Beth Shalom, the Rev. Edwin Estevez of Grace Methodist Church, the Rev. Roberta Finkelstein of the First Unitarian Universalist Church, the Rev. Emma Horn of First Presbyterian Church – Newark, Dr. Todd Townsend of The Resurrection Center, and David Savage, a lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Wilmington area.  Rev. Brian Lewis of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church may have a secondary calling as a Shakespearean actor by the way he performed his duties on Opening Night.

General admission to the festival is $20.  Tickets are $18 for seniors (65+), and active military (and their families).  Student tickets are $16.  Children age 5 and under are free.  Every Sunday is “Family Night,” with special activities before the performance and free admission for children 12 and under, when accompanied by an adult.  

To buy tickets, go to www.delshakes.org or purchase at the door.  Curtain is at 7:30 from Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 6 on Sundays.  Gates open at 6:15 p.m. for pre-show entertainment and picnics Wednesday through Saturday and at 4:45 p.m. on Sundays.  The festival concludes its summer run on July 29.

Attendees are invited to bring their own chairs, blankets and picnic baskets to Rockwood Park.  A limited number of reserved lawn chairs are available at each performance.  These “Saved Seats” are set up in premium locations in the first row of the “lawn chairs” section, behind blankets and low-backed beach chairs.  Reservations must be made in advance and cost $40.  The concession stand features picnic-appropriate sandwiches and snacks from Janssen’s Market and wine sold by the bottle in the Swigg Festival Wine Shop, as well as soft drinks, candy and Delaware Shakespeare t-shirts.

The new Delaware Shakespeare VIP Tent provides a place for groups of 10 or more to gather with clients, colleagues, and friends before the show.  Wandering Bards will visit each tent plus greet the patrons by name from the stage.  VIP Tent packages can be customized to include catered picnics, wine, reserved seats and more. 

The 2018 Delaware Shakespeare season will include two full productions – the current Summer Festival (Much Ado About Nothing) and a fall Community Tour (The Merchant of Venice) from October 24 through November 18.  The fall run will end with two ticketed performances at OperaDelaware Studios on November 17 and 18.

My recommendation is to “suffer love” and make plans to go to Rockwood.  Get there early to snag a good spot and enjoy the short pre-show modern comedy loosely based on Much Ado About Nothing.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

DelShakes' "As You Like It" Tours Community ...and We Like It!

Danielle Leneé as Rosalind and Bi Jean Ngo as Celia.
Photo by Allessandra Nicole.
Courtesy of Delaware Shakespeare.
By Mike Logothetis

The Globe Theatre in London became world renowned by staging William Shakespeare’s histories, tragedies and comedies upon its wooden planks. Shakespeare was a shareholder in the Globe, which meant the more people he got into the building, the more money he made. The Globe became iconic and drew patrons from far and wide to see The Bard’s latest (brilliant) play.

Delaware Shakespeare’s superb production of As You Like It does not have a permanent home like The Globe. Instead, the merry troupe of actors, musicians and staff are traversing Delaware this fall bringing The Bard to locations not typically hip to his iambic pentameter.

Delaware Shakespeare launched its Community Tour last year with Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums and even prisons. The production values are scaled for those spaces, with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. The year’s production is performed with a cast of eight actors and a musician, which allows for some creative multi-role casting. (In fact, the performance of As You Like It uses an audience member reading from a script to play Hymen in Act V.)

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley told me he looks for spaces that can hold a seated audience between 40 and 120 people in a four-sided arrangement. Stradley stressed that Delaware Shakespeare searches for communities which may be underserved by the arts and whose residents might find difficulty traveling to Rockwood Park for its annual Summer Festival.

The Community Tour is not just making stops, but introducing Shakespeare and the world of live theater to many people who’ve never experienced its wonders. I was pleased to see the actors welcome everyone who entered the cafeteria at Groves Adult High School in Marshallton. Cast members introduced themselves, who they would play, what we might expect, plus exchanged simple pleasantries. In this way, the space became very accessible.

As You Like It follows its heroine Rosalind (Danielle Leneé) and her cousin Celia (Bi Jean Ngo) as they flee the court of Duke Frederick (J Hernandez), who is Celia’s uncompromising father. The pair put on disguises and escape into the nearby Forest of Arden along with court fool Touchstone (Adam Altman). 

 Meanwhile, Rosalind’s suitor Orlando (Trevor William Fayle) has also fled into the woods to escape his exploitive brother Oliver (Jeffrey Cousar). The two lovers cross paths, but Orlando cannot recognize the inspiration for his many romantic poems. A variety of memorable characters also exist in the forest, notably the melancholy traveler Jaques (Liz Filios) who capably utters one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches (“All the world’s a stage/And one man in his time plays many parts”).

As previously mentioned, there are only eight actors playing the 20-odd roles in As You Like It. It’s marvelous to see Cousar and Hernandez play hot-tempered and then mild, love-struck men in the same production. Altman shined as loyal servant Adam as well as energetic and animated Touchstone. Merri Rashoyan filled four roles (and two genders) skillfully, with her Phebe being a highlight. Only Leneé (Rosalind) and Fayle (Orlando) played one part apiece — but those are meaty parts!

As in any Shakespearean comedy, there is misdirection and love and misplaced blame and redemption — all done wonderfully in this production. A nice touch to the show were the small musical interludes by Joe Trainor (guitar/drum) and Filios (ukulele/accordion). After the show, Trainor told me that Shakespeare had sprinkled partial couplets and text into the script of As You Like It. As no record of a musical score existed, Trainor took it upon himself to compose period pieces to enhance the audience experience. Kudos!

Director Madeline Sayet keeps the pacing brisk and encourages her actors to use the full space. The cast plays to all directions, which connects the action to the audience.

Highlights of the show included the gymnastic wrestling contest between Orlando (Fayle) and Charles (Rashoyan); the ludicrously beautiful facial expressions of actress Bi Jean Ngo; the combined energy of the troupe; the cleverly made trees of Arden; and all those glorious words. If not for Shakespeare’s turns of phrases and rhythmic patterns, his 400-year-old plays would just be old dusty scripts. For instance, Rosalind’s advice on love to Phebe is simply beautiful and timeless.

If, as Rosalind says, “Love is merely a madness,” then I hope newcomers to The Bard fall madly in love with his works, starting with Delaware Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

The autumn Community Tour of As You Like It takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 25 through November 12. Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Ferris School for Boys are not open to the public. Admission is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. 

There will also be three ticketed performances ($15-$100) from November 10-12 at OperaDelaware Studios.