If what’s past truly is prologue — as a famous quote from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” says — Delaware Shakespeare couldn’t have picked a better play for its summer offering.
The play — about freedom and confinement, betrayal and compassion, forgiveness and family — will run at Rockwood Park from Friday, July 15, through July 31.
Producing Artistic Director David Stradley had picked “The Tempest” as the 2020 Rockwood production and even cast it before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world.
“It certainly is a play about what happens when you encounter chaos,” he said. “And that certainly is apt. We’ve all been through quite a tempest in the last few years.”
Now Stradley is been back laboring under the hot sun to build a square stage so that the play can be performed in the round (yeah, we know. Square. Round. Just go with it).
That allows more patrons and their picnic chairs to get as close to the stage as possible.
‘Stuff dreams are made from’
Stradley joked on Facebook that he was delighted to be back with the Pod containing the set, only to instantly question himself.
“Oh POD at Rockwood, I’ve missed you,” he wrote. “It’s been 3 years. Wait, have I missed you?”
“I’m three years older than I was the last time we did this,” Stradley, 46, joked Friday.
The production helps celebrate Delaware Shakespeare’s 20th season.
The staff and cast may be the stuff that dreams are made of — another quote from “The Tempest” — but they have not spent the last two years rehearsing the play.
Stradley said he did get the occasional text or email from Jolie Garrett, who will play Prospero, with thoughts about the play (and, by the way, “thought is free,” according to “The Tempest”).
“It’s definitely been in his heart and mind for quite a while,” Stradley said.
While many pandemic restrictions have eased, COVID-19 has continued to plague rehearsals. Various cast members have become infected and had to isolate, despite following union rules, such as wearing masks when indoors.
Stradley is paying attention to warnings that the new form of Omicron is much more infectious than the original and that cases are rising.
“The theater industry, I think, is still taking COVID more seriously than a lot of other industries,” he said. “I think the protocols that we have in place would still help us move forward no matter whatever variants come our way.”
COVID issues are complicating the schedule for a world premiere bilingual version of “Twelfth Night,” which was set to go in 2020. The community productions travel to venues such as prisons, and the company is having to wrestle with COVID rules in the locations it usually visits.
Delaware Shakespeare, and many other large arts organizations here, came out of the pandemic financially secure largely because of state and federal COVID-19 grants and funding.
Its donations from supporters maintained the same level or better the first year of the pandemic, and then dropped a bit the second, Stradley said.
“We can already tell that some of our donors are coming back and giving larger gifts now that we’ve got a full production on,” Stradley said. ((To which “The Tempest would say, ‘O, brave new world that has such people in’t!”)
“So, we’re excited to welcome everyone back to Rockwood that’s stuck with us over these last few years and give them a big, wonderful outdoor extravaganza experience,” Stradford said.
Janssen’s is back
Stradley had praised Janssen’s Market in 2022 for allowing it to keep and use the money already paid to sponsor the Rockwood picnic contest. Janssen’s is back this year, along with Swigg and the Kenny Family Foundation (Chris Kenny is the owner of Delaware LIVE; “The Tempest” has a shocking lack of quotes about grocery stores).
The picnic contest runs through all the shows. Delaware Shakespeare staff will be on the lookout for clever and fancy set-ups and take photos of them when they see them. A winner will be chosen from those.
Contestants are not allowed to build structures — say a personal gazebo — in which to eat.
“That would block the view of the people behind them,” Stradley pointed out.
“The Tempest” theme of forgiveness stands out most to him, he said.
The play starts with the magician Prospero conjuring a storm to bring his enemies to the island he’s been long exiled to by his brother, who took over his dukedom (“Hell is empty and all the devils are here,” says a line from the play.)
“Everybody in this place either has either done something wrong or had something wrong done to them,” Stradley said, “and they’re all on this journey about how to move forward together as a community. That’s also something that we’re wrestling with maybe more now than we were — when things go wrong, how we reconnect and move forward together.
“I hope, we hope everyone finds that journal rewarding and maybe find themselves thinking about their own path to either forgiving someone or seeking out forgiveness.”
The production offers a bonus for lovers of … wait for it … the glockenspiel.
“As usual, we have live music for our production and the director chose the glockenspiel,” Stradley said. “We’ll have some lovely, dreamy and spirit-like sound.”
Or, as “The Tempest” would say: “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”
Location: Rockwood Park, 4651 Washington St. Extension, Wilmington, Del.
Tickets: Pay-What-You-Decide at $10, $20, or $30, as well as options for Saved Seats, VIP tents, and Festival Passes.
For last-minute info: delshakes.org.
Food and beverages: While patrons are encouraged to bring their own picnics, food and drink is available on site.
Kiddies: Children 5 and under are admitted free every night. Children 12 and under are admitted free on Sundays when accompanied by a paid adult admission.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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