by Christian Wills, Arts Journalist-in-Residence
What makes cheese and wine so special when paired together? Why do we often combine the two with the performing arts? How do we apply these to the holidays? For as long as we can remember, dining and entertainment have always gone hand and hand. Spending time with friends and family that you adore can be wonderful around the holidays. Throughout the year, Delaware Shakespeare has given back to families and communities big and small through the use of online and offline programs. With the year now coming to an end, the theatre company managed to create a special event filled with themes surrounding the holiday spirit, family ties, and romantic gestures, all while showing appreciation for the performing arts and fine dining.
On the evening of December 12th, Del Shakes hosted an end of the year party, celebrating the holiday season with wine and cheese selections. Appropriately subtitled “Scenes of Love and Family,” the naming of the event stabbed into the heart of what made the night itself so special and memorable. Emily Schuman, one of Del Shakes’ Associate Artist, hand-picked each scene with the focus of family ties, romantic interests, and comedic values.
The festive night was hosted by Del Shakes’ David Stradley. Throughout the night, Stradley would bring out the suggestions for cheese and go in depth on their origin, while wine connoisseur Dave Govatos of Swigg would accompany him and describe the wine choices in great detail. Each pairing of cheese and wine would be matched with a pre-recorded video of a Shakespearean scene, creating a “dinner and show” vibe for all general audiences and specific to each performance.
These Shakespearean performances could be compared to watching pieces of a Christmas movie or modern day television special, all while familiar faces and sounds throughout the Zoom call could be heard in accord. The atmosphere present in each person’s Zoom video also brought out the Christmas spirit in one another; decorations and Christmas trees smiled at the viewer from behind as each person was spotlighted one by one. These attributes, tied in with the promise of wine, cheese, and theatre watching, created a sense of family and togetherness that rang proudly in an online environment.
The “informal, yet interactive” nature of the show was a brilliant concept that pushed the event into a unique direction. As the time went on, the event proved itself to be a hit for wine tasters, cheese lovers, and play watchers.
Eating and watching a show of any kind are traditionally paired with each other; bringing people around a table of food and surrounded by entertainment. The level of care and attention to this kind of traditional thinking was not lost as everyone ate, spoke, and laughed with each other. The pairings of sweet red wine to aged cheese and romantically themed performances all come together to bridge the “taste” of both food and theatrics. Other combinations featured different variations, such as white wine with gouda style cheese, or Madeira with Stilton cheese; a fortified wine from Portuguese combined with a cheese produced in two different varieties.
The textures, tastes, smells, and flavors of all these food and drink items help to enrich the theatre-watching experience. Many had commented on how the cheese and wine they selected transferred them into the world of the play they were watching. Some of the variations were inspired by the real-world locations of the Shakespearean plays. The genius of eating goat cheese while watching “A Winter’s Tale” or eating a “caramel and orange-like” Beemster XO while drawing in on a “cheesy,” yet heartfelt scene about Pericles was very touching and on the nose. The parallels and oppositions of the characters and cheeses became talking-points for viewers watching at home. Even without the suggestions of cheese and wine, it’s no secret that the combination of food and drinks can bring people together, alongside an entertaining show that anyone can follow.
All in all, Delaware Shakespeare sought to capture the spirit of the holidays through food, drinks, and passion for the performing arts. The interconnectedness of dining and entertainment through Shakespearean performances set the mood for the evening to come that night. Seeing long-time friends rally together online while celebrating the holidays also impacted the atmosphere within the call. You could look at the smiling and laughing faces as many watched the performances one at a time. You could hear the joy in the voices of those that commented on flavors of cheese or tastes of sweet wine. You could feel the impact stretch across the room as it panned over everyone who participated in the thematic event of love and family. It was a great way of celebrating art, food, and wine in their finest form.