“There is always a squad, collaborators, a body that supports change occurring.”
– Sage Crump
Delaware Shakespeare is pleased to share news of a major shift to its staffing structure with the addition of the Del Shakes Artistic Squad. The Squad is conceived as a rotating, two-term collective, bringing ever-evolving points of view to the artistic leadership of the organization and allowing more artists to contribute to the long-term growth of Del Shakes.
The Squad builds on staff experimentation started during the COVID-19 pandemic and addresses issues identified during the creation of Del Shakes’ Antiracism Policy and Action Plan.
In July 2021, Newton Buchanan, Bi Jean Ngo, and Emily Schuman joined Del Shakes for a planned six-month period as Associate Artists, funded by a CARES Act grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. A later grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation allowed Del Shakes to extend the Associate Artists for another six months.
The initial purpose was for the Associate Artists to create new programming for the COVID era (outdoor, socially-distanced, virtual, etc.).
“We would get together and make these huge brainstorming docs full of seedlings of ideas that we each had for programming during the pandemic,” said Squad member Emily Schuman. “Those documents led to such unique programs as online panel discussions with distinguished theatre artists in our community that explored culturally-specific Shakespeare productions and discussed the theme of racism in Othello. Our brainstorming also led to such outdoor performances as ‘Shakespeare in Song’ – a medley of Shakespeare scenes and arias in collaboration with OperaDelaware, performed outdoors on OD’s fire escape, and ‘Soliloquy Stroll’ where audiences walked around the beautiful grounds of Rockwood Park and listened to a selection of monologues from unforgettable Shakespeare characters.”
After the murder of George Floyd, the Associate Artists, particularly Buchanan and Ngo, were involved in a major way in creating antiracism policies and action plans.
During the development of its Antiracism Policy, Del Shakes identified progress in increasing the racial diversity of casts, creative teams, board of directors, and audiences. By stark contrast, until the addition of the Associate Artists, the Del Shakes year-round administration staff had never included a BIPOC staff member.
The impact of having artists, and specifically BIPOC artists, involved in the year-round thinking of the organization was transformative for Del Shakes. Board and staff leadership, including the Associate Artists, set to work identifying sustainable models for including artists on the staff structure and increasing diversity.
It was Buchanan and Ngo who came up with the idea to shift the Associate Artist structure to become the Artistic Squad, with artists rotating in and out of a leadership collective.
“Del Shakes is a company where I find myself always wanting to say yes, so a chance to have my voice be a bigger part of the organization was meaningful to me,” said Squad member Newton Buchanan. “At the same time, it’s nothing but good for Del Shakes if more artists can be a part of the vision. A rotating Squad will hopefully lead to productions and company culture with a wider embrace for all kinds of humans.”
In July 2021, Buchanan, Ngo, and Schuman were joined by Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez and Izzy Sazak as the first iteration of the Artistic Squad. [Ngo stepped down from the Squad in October to focus on other personal and professional obligations.]
“Del Shakes’ path through the pandemic would have been very different without the artistic contributions of Bi, Emily, and Newton, as our programming developed in new and exciting ways in 2020 and 2021,” said David Stradley, producing artistic director. “In just a few short months, Izzy and Rachel have already greatly influenced Del Shakes with their creative talents. I can’t wait to see how the Squad evolves and helps Del Shakes more authentically engage with a broader reach of our community. It’s a great opportunity to practice collective artistic leadership.”
The Squad is a part of season planning, casting, and artistic oversight. Squad members also participate in Del Shakes artistic programming when appropriate, and are major components in community engagement work. One member of the Squad will serve as a voting member of the Del Shakes Board of Directors. (You can learn more about Squad duties HERE.)
“It’s refreshing and heartening to see an artistic institution like Del Shakes committing to a culture of care and equity through this rotating team of diverse artists,” said Squad member Izzy Sazak. “I’m proud to be a part of such an incredible team of creators and culture shifters, working with the kind of vision and commitment that Del Shakes is modeling. I’m grateful for all the learning and changing that has happened already, and excited for more to come.”
Squad members are mid-career theatre professionals with past Del Shakes experience and multiple creative skill sets. In its first years, a main duty of the Artistic Squad is to assist with implementation of Del Shakes’ Antiracism Policy and Action Plan. Initially, Squad member selection will be focused on BIPOC artists.
“I joined the Squad because I love asking questions and building community,” said Squad member Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez. “I believe the Squad has the potential to craft models to make theatre that takes care of people, is rooted in community care and decolonized practice, and at the same time honors the work of Shakespeare while also investigating where we are in our own history.”
Buchanan and Schuman will depart the Squad at the end of December as part of the first planned rotation. Del Shakes will announce two new Squad members in January 2022.
ABOUT THE CURRENT SQUAD MEMBERS
Newton Buchanan (he/him) is a Philadelphia-based Barrymore Award Nominated performer, and theatre producer. He is a founding member of New Light Theatre Company, and a co-founder of the newly formed Black Theatre Alliance of Philadelphia. He has worked with New Light, Simpatico Theatre Company, and Delaware Theatre Company, and is “The Delaware Guy” from “The Options in Delaware” Video (ShortOrder Productions). With Del Shakes: The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and more.
Rachel O’Hanlon Rodriguez (she/they) is a Philly-based actor, poet, teaching artist, and serves as the Operations Associate with Spiral Q. Previously, they were the Program Coordinator of the Wilma Theater’s Portable Studio. Their work is rooted in trauma-informed practice and explores generational cycles, boundaries, borders, and liberation. Rachel’s first play was produced with Manayunk Theater Company in 2020, and their first poem was published in Toho Journal Vol. 2 Issue 2. To learn more about Rachel’s creative work visit her @the.inter. section on Instagram or at www.rachelo-hanlonrodriguez.com. With Del Shakes: Soliloquy Stroll, Rosalind x 3, Juvenile Justice residencies, and more.
Izzy Sazak (they/them) is a Turkish-Colombian-American multi-disciplinary artist, writer, singer, theatre-maker and emergent facilitator; living and working on Lenni Lenape Land (Philadelphia). They’re a member of Applied Mechanics, and the lead singer of its resident punk band – The Bandits. Izzy is an eco-anarchist whose work centers on decolonizing the humyn/Earth relationship through art-making, story-telling, personal liberation, & community/movement building. With Del Shakes: Midsummer Mix Tape, Twelfth Night, O Lo Que Quieras (upcoming), and more.
Emily Schuman (she/her) is a Philadelphia-based props designer, performer, and musician. Her prop and object design work has been seen at such companies as Nichole Canuso Dance Company, InterAct Theatre Company, 1812 Productions, Applied Mechanics, Orbiter 3, and Theatre Horizon. As a performer, she has worked with Revolution Shakespeare, Walnut Street Theatre,and EgoPo Classic Theatre. With Del Shakes: The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and more.