by Gail Obenreder, Arts Journalist-in-Residence
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” Of course, in Sonnet 18 Shakespeare is speaking about the eternal beauty of his love. But in September in Delaware, the days are – indeed – often more lovely and more temperate. The air is crisp, and the equinox sun comes slanting through trees. That mellow fall embrace also bathes the Delaware Art Museum’s Copeland Sculpture Garden, the setting for Delaware Shakespeare’s latest theatrical offering.
Outdoor presentations have become de rigeur in the continuing pandemic. So, building on audience – and actor – enthusiasm for the ensemble’s Soliloquy Stroll (in July at Wilmington’s Rockwood Park), Del Shakes Producing Artistic Director David Stradley and Associate Artists Newton Buchanan, Bi Jean Ngo, and Emily Schuman spent late summer scouting for performance spots.
“Our audience loved exploring hidden nooks of Rockwood Park and being surprised by the Shakespearean connections of the locations we identified,” says Stradley. “It was a creative adventure for us to wander Wilmington, looking for other locations where Shakespeare and the world could meet and resonate.”
The troupe discovered their perfect locale in the bucolic 11-acre Copeland Sculpture Garden, where on September 26 and 27 Del Shakes will partner with the Wilmington museum to present “performances in conversation with the artworks” titled Shakespeare in the Garden.
As they visited the Museum’s outdoor “gallery,” director Ngo noted that “a lot of the sculptures – and the Garden’s natural features – inspired a feeling right away,” allowing her to naturally center the presentation (featuring six Del Shakes actors) around several of the site’s 20 contemporary sculptures.
The audience will gather first at the dramatic Orifice II (Joe Moss/1983), where Buchanan will begin the evening with that beautiful sonnet. Attendees will then break into smaller groups and be guided through the Garden to experience Shakespearean monologues or scenes in different locales.
At the artwork titled Wild Iris (Isaac Witkin/1973), Gregory Isaac will present Oberon’s magical soliloquy from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that includes “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows.” In front of the Garden’s most iconic work, the monumental Crying Giant (Tom Otterness/2002), Buchanan will appear again to offer the haunting selection from Hamlet that begins, “I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth.”
Outside the Museum’s well-loved Labyrinth – where Annie Fang will greet audiences as Hermione from The Winter’s Tale – musician David M. Raine will perform one of his original songs, prefaced with lines from Romeo and Juliet. A pastoral scene from As You Like It, with Emily Schuman as Phebe and Evan Raines as Silvius, will range throughout garden’s lush trees.
Ticket links for all four performances are available via the Del Shakes website. During the hourlong event – a partnership event in collaboration with the Museum – audience members will stand or walk through this serene sculpture garden. Masks will be required of all except the performers, and social distancing will be maintained. And the evening will end with a recapitulation of Sonnet 18 – now in a musical version written and performed by Schuman and Raines – for the audience reassembled in the Labyrinth.
Shakespeare in the Garden
Directed by Bi Jean Ngo*
Copeland Sculpture Garden, Delaware Art Museum, 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE
Sonnet 18, original music, and selections from Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and As You Like It
Featuring Newton Buchanan*, Annie Fang, Gregory Isaac, Evan Raines and Emily Schuman*; with musical guest star David M. Raine. (*Del Shakes Associate Artist)
September 26 and 27, 2020 (4 performances). $25, children under 6 free
Gail Obenreder (she/her pronouns) is a writer, producer, and arts professional who has lived and worked in Washington DC, New York, Atlanta, Seattle, southeastern Pennsylvania, and Delaware, where she lives in Wilmington. A Del Shakes arts writer-in-residence for 2020, Gail is a regular contributor to Broad Street Review and a 2016 Fellow of the O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute.