For the first time in its history, Delaware Shakespeare Festival will produce a second full Shakespeare play in 2016 with the launch of a major new initiative, the Delaware Shakespeare Community Tour. In November, a professional production of Shakespeare’s “Pericles” will travel throughout the state for three weeks, performing inside community centers, homeless shelters, detention facilities and other locations where people have limited access to the arts. The Community Tour, partially supported though a $95,000 challenge grant from the Longwood Foundation, is the most significant new undertaking in a year that will see an explosion of partnerships and programming for the festival, including a collaborative “Shakespeare in Song” performance with OperaDelaware as part of its 2016 Spring Festival, a program in downtown Wilmington to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the summer production of “The Comedy of Errors” in Rockwood Park.
The Community Tour caps a period of significant growth for DSF. Since 2013, DSF has welcomed two record-breaking summer audiences to Rockwood Park and has grown programming throughout the year. The Community Tour is based on the innovative performance model of Ten Thousand Things, a Minneapolis theater company that has been bringing professional theatre, including Shakespeare, to people with little access to the wealth of the arts for more than 20 years. DSF joins a recent group of theatres, including three of the most prestigious Shakespeare companies in the United States, that are adapting the model for their own communities. “These companies have found that the authentic reactions of non-traditional audiences to Shakespeare invigorates the plays,” says David Stradley, producing artistic director of Delaware Shakespeare Festival. “Pericles is a story of a man who has it all, loses it all, and then is restored. For a non-traditional audience, some of whom are living at the extremes of life, this won’t be a fairy tale, but something that perhaps mirrors their experiences and, hopefully, provides a light at the end of a tunnel.” The Community Tour will travel to locations including the Sunday Breakfast Mission, Rose Hill Community Center and the Ferris School. Performances will be free for the venues that host productions of the Community Tour, which will play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, cafeterias, and gymnasiums. The production values will be scaled for those spaces, with live music, minimal sets, and whatever lighting is available. “Pericles” will be performed with a cast of seven or eight experienced actors—including several members of Actor’s Equity Association, the union for professional stage actors. “It’s vitally important that we provide these audiences with the absolute best that our art form can provide,” Stradley says. “If it’s their first time seeing Shakespeare performed, we want it to be an awesome experience.” The Community Tour will also include four public performances of “Pericles” that will be open to the general public, with very limited seating. Tickets will go on sale next year. Other DSF programming in 2016 will include a return of popular seasonal productions of “Shakespeare + St. Valentine” and “Shakespeare/Poe,” a new Community Cornerstone project in the spring leading up to the summer’s performance of “The Comedy of Errors,” and the summer Bridge program for at-risk youth. The Community Tour and additional programming is part of an in-process strategic plan that has also resulted in a revision to the company’s mission statement, reflecting a focus on utilizing the works of Shakespeare to explore and celebrate the shared humanity present in the community. For more information about the 2016 Community Tour and other DSF plans and programs, visit www.delshakes.org or email email@example.com.