Amid a growing roster of artistic venues, theaters and musical centers, Kerry Kristine McElrone and Joe Trainor created their own urban venue with a wedding on their front porch.
When two of Wilmington’s best-known musical theater influencers celebrated their marriage—and the city’s renaissance—in 2015, they turned their Kirk Avenue front porch into a magical scene, complete with lantern light and the reflections created by a surprise rain shower.
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But it should have come as no surprise, since both have built their careers—and their courtship—on and off the stages of Delaware.
McElrone has performed in Wilmington’s musical theater scene for the past 25 years and recently was named interim director of the City Theater Company.
A singer, keyboardist, bandleader and music director, Trainor was named WSTW’s 2013 Artist of the Year, and with a diverse portfolio of projects engaging regional audiences, The News Journal dubbed him “Wilmington’s Music Man.”
In their separate but complementary roles, the two have both witnessed and participated in the growth of a burgeoning arts scene bringing new and emerging talent to downtown Wilmington and beyond. Together, they represent a power couple that touch nearly every aspect of Wilmington music and theater.
CITY THEATER COMPANY IS BORN
McElrone was a freshman at St. Joseph’s University outside Philadelphia when she made a fateful connection with the area dorm coordinator and fellow theater kid Michael Gray.
“I knew him from Upper Darby Summer Stage and learned he was starting a theater company, so I performed in the very first play,” she says.
That encounter marked the beginning of what would become City Theater Company, founded in 1993. Gray served as the company’s executive director until his 2018 departure, when he turned over the reins to McElrone.
Having celebrated its 25th season in 2018, City Theater recently marked a change in venue as the new resident company at The Grand.
McElrone says the transition to director has been a big learning experience. “Mapping it all out, doing a budget, and staffing—and then after that works out, I need to concentrate on acting,” she says.
And acting is never far from her mind. In addition to performing in City Theater Company shows throughout its existence, McElrone has also acted with Arden Shakespeare, Wilmington Drama League and the Delaware Theater Company. In December, McElrone wrapped a weeklong showcase of “Mamma Mia” at The Grand, in which she performed the role of Donna.
Both Trainor and McElrone see the past decade as a new movement for the Wilmington arts scene.//photo by Joe del Tufo
WILMINGTON’S MUSIC MAN
Trainor has lived in Delaware his whole life. The 48-year-old grew up in Newport and moved to Wilmington 12 years ago.
He started playing in the Wilmington music scene in the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2000 that he tried to develop artistic programs he felt were missing from the region.
In his professional life, Trainor serves as the musical director at City Theater Company. He has also developed programs for The Grand, such as its ongoing Musikarmageddon battle of the bands and singer-songwriter competitions, which he still helps administer every year.
Trainor is also at the helm of the Joe Trainor Trio, a 10-year-old piano-based rock trio with two well-received albums of original material and a following throughout the region.
But he describes his newest venture, The Rock Orchestra, as a “tribute organization” versus a traditional cover band. The project stemmed from “In the Light,” which has put on popular large-scale tribute shows once a year since 2012. The Rock Orchestra concept is more in line with a theater company, he says, producing three large shows every year, each featuring different hand-picked musicians.
“A drummer who can play The Who wouldn’t necessarily be the same drummer best-suited for a Prince show,” Trainor says.
Trainor and McElrone met in 2003 at The Grand Opera House while she was appearing on stage in “Into the Woods.” The two worked together on various projects over the next eight years. But it wasn’t until 2011 that their friendship blossomed into a romance. The two continued to live and work together in the burgeoning arts scene and became engaged in 2013.
Juggling various artistic and musical endeavors comes easy to Trainor and McElrone, who both have seen the potential in the Wilmington arts scene.
“The Wilmington original music and classic rock cover band scene was popping in the ’80s and early ’90s,” Trainor says. “But in the ’90s, so many bars started to shut down, and then the bands didn’t really have a venue.”
Trainor says his goal is to work with as many people as possible. And that opportunity, he says, started to really blow up when he began working with the annual Shine a Light on The Queen concert, where more than 60 local musicians come together on one stage, swapping out members musical chairs-style, to benefit the nonprofit foundation dedicated to preserving The Queen theater in Wilmington.
“There’s still an audience that wants to come out and hear really good music, whether it’s tribute or original, and we’re still trying to figure out how to get them out,” he says.
A NEW MOMENTUM IN THE CITY
Both Trainor and McElrone see the past decade as a new movement for the Wilmington arts scene.
“City Theater Company was just the beginning, but the potential resurgence was one of the reasons the founders of the company chose Wilmington to operate in,” McElrone says.
Trainor credits Gable Music Ventures for helping bolster the original music scene, as well as World Café Live’s opening of The Queen in 2011, which helped provide momentum and a dedicated venue (World Café Live has since divested itself of its interest in The Queen). McElrone says projects like the Art Loop also have helped contribute to the vibrancy of the city as a cultural center.
Trainor and McElrone expect the momentum to continue as more live music, arts organizations, talent and community excitement build in the city.
Considering the state of the arts in 2019, Trainor says, “Sometimes you don’t see the movement happening until after it’s already happened.”