Holiday Arts to Warm Your Hearts

Here’s a sampling of the December events in Wilmington

Retelling a Family Classic With the Drama League Family

Wilmington Drama League’s (WDL’s) mainstage collaborates with its children’s theater arm, The Chrysalis Players, to celebrate the season in the timeless tale, A Christmas Carol (Broadway Version), Dec. 15-30.

Based on the Charles Dickens classic, this holiday staple is directed by regional theater maven Jeffrey Santoro—also artistic director of the Delaware All-State Theatre—with music direction by Jake Collins and assistant direction/choreography by Shauna Goodman. A Christmas Carol (Broadway Version) was originally presented in 1994 by Radio City Entertainment at Madison Square Garden, directed by Mike Ockrent and choreographed by Delaware native Susan Stroman.

The theater typically produces a family-themed show around this time of year, notes Kathy Buterbaugh, WDL production manager, often competing in the “buzz” of other local holiday-themed shows. “But it’s always a bit more special when we can connect the excitement and flavor of the season to our stage,” she admits.

When the folks at WDL realized no one was presenting A Christmas Carol locally this season, they jumped at the opportunity. And, Buterbaugh adds, “It takes an amazing team to produce something on this large a scale, and we’re blessed to have exactly that in Jeff, Shauna and Jake, whose combined talents can handle anything.”

To put things in perspective, the cast itself numbers over 50 actors, ranging in age from 7 to 70.
“We’ve assembled some of the best talent around to bring these engaging, robust characters to life,” notes Santoro. “In the uncertainty of today, it’s nice to present a heartwarming, family-friendly production. As Dickens said, ‘No one is useless in the world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.’ That’s a great lesson for all of us this Christmas season!”

A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy miser who places money above people or happiness. With his trademark “Bah! Humbug!” Scrooge looks down on all things related to celebrating Christmas—until one evening when he is visited by three ghosts who show him the value of kindness, love and family. The production features music by celebrated composer Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens. (Fun fact: Ahrens was a main writer and performer of the beloved ABC-TV series Schoolhouse Rock!)

What is Buterbaugh’s favorite aspect of this grand-scale production? “It’s a tie,” she says. “Journey versus destination. The people involved are amazing—together we sing, dance, build, paint, fall down, get up, share a collective experience. But it’s just as thrilling to share our product with audiences, especially in this season of giving. So, my favorite part? Sharing.”

Wilmington Drama League’s A Christmas Carol (Broadway Version) runs December 15, 16, 22, 28, 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sunday, Dec. 17; Saturday, Dec. 23, and Wednesday, Dec. 27, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors/students and $10 for children and can be purchased at wilmingtondramaleague.org.

Delaware Theatre Company’s Side-Splitting Ode to the Bard

Hold onto your codpieces, Wilmington, and get ready for some jolly holiday belly laughs. Delaware Theatre Company re-creates all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays with the madcap romp The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], running now through Dec. 23.

Three men—in tights—in about 97 minutes, weave their way through parodies of The Bard’s collection of master works, including Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, Othello, Hamlet and more. Actor 1 is played by John Zak; Actor 2 by Jeffrey C. Hawkins and Actor 3 by Josh Carpenter.

Director Steve Tague (who himself has portrayed Hamlet, Macbeth and Richard III) will undoubtedly put his own stamp on this beloved spoof. Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the play premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987 and has been the most performed stage parody for the last 20 years.

“The first show I attended at DTC [in 2007] was Steve Tague’s production of Complete Works,” recalls DTC Artistic Director Bud Martin. “I don’t remember laughing so hard at a show before. When I came to work at DTC…I was anxious to have Steve revive that wonderful production for us.” Martin notes that one of the entertaining characteristics of this piece is that it can change every day based on current events. Given today’s pop culture climate, it will likely be much different from the 2007 staging. Kendall Jenner as Juliet? I can’t wait…

Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at DelawareTheatre.org or by calling 594.1100.

A Holiday Mash-Up of Two Musical Favorites

The Cartoon Christmas Trio performs with members of the Wilmington Children’s Chorus at The Queen. Photo courtesy of Rob Swanson

Two popular local ensembles join forces this season in a holiday and nostalgia-filled musical extravaganza. Bring the entire family to enjoy the Cartoon Christmas Trio accompanied by the Wilmington Children’s Chorus at the Delaware Art Museum on Sunday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m.

Since its inception in 1995 by bassist Rob Swanson, the trio’s focus has been classic soundtracks of holiday cartoon music, especially that of the beloved A Charlie Brown Christmas. The trio is Jimmy Coleman on drums, Jeff Knoettner on piano and Swanson on double bass. Recently, the trio has been adding the voices of children’s choirs to complete the original vision of the music from the Charlie Brown special.

“I believe it’s now the fourth year we’ve worked with the kids [from WCC],” says Swanson. “We’re very excited to collaborate again.”

Tickets are $10 and are available at delart.org. A cash bar and light fare will also be available for purchase.

A Stirring Holiday Story in Vivid Color

For more than 25 years, Christina Cultural Arts Center has partnered with Philadelphia’s renowned Eleone Dance Theatre to bring Wilmingtonians a dazzling blend of music, dance and spoken word with the distinctive holiday musical Carols in Color. Now, Carols returns for a one-night-only performance at The Grand Opera House Sunday, Dec. 10, at 4 p.m.

Carols in Color retells the story of the birth of Christ according to the Gospel of St. Matthew using contemporary music, exuberant dance and powerful narration. It was originally based on the piece Black Nativity by Langston Hughes and a 1960s musical adaptation by Vinette Carrol.

Carols was first produced in 1992 by Philadelphia-based director, choreographer and arranger Leon Evans and continues today under the artistic direction of Shawn-Lamere Williams with executive direction by Sheila A. Ward and the musical direction of Patrick Crawford.

Tickets are $25-35 plus fees for adults and $16 plus fees for students, and can be purchased at TicketsattheGrand.org or by calling 800.37.GRAND.

The Four-Legged Star of The Wizard of Oz

The tour stops in Wilmington through Nov. 19, and its leading pup is causing quite the buzz

Toto isn’t in Kansas anymore. In fact, he’s here in Wilmington through Sunday, Nov. 19, on The Wizard of Oz tour, making the Playhouse on Rodney Square one of its nearly 100 stops.

“Toto” – aka Murphy, a 4-and-a-half-year-old white Brussels Griffon/Cairn Terrier mix – falls seamlessly into character, says Murphy’s owner and the show’s musical director, Lizzie Webb. An impressive feat, especially since he has no special training.

His illustrious career began on Feb. 5, 2016, when Webb adopted him from the ASPCA in Chandler, Ariz. He was immediately welcomed by the theater world, where Webb has served as adjunct professor of Musical Theater at the University of Montana, as well as directing and writing shows for Zootown Cabaret, and music-directing mainstage shows like this one. Back then, Murphy started out as a trusty backstage companion to cast and crew and a pit orchestra puppy, sleeping at Webb’s feet while she played piano and conducted shows.

“He was very calm, and handled everything really well,” says Webb. “During the very next show that called for a dog, I asked the director if he wanted to use Murphy.”

He got the role. He’d be Willoughby in Mary Poppins, and later went on to play Toto on a tour prior to this one.

Now, Murphy’s a veteran performer. But during that first Wizard of Oz show, when the audience clapped wildly for him upon his entrance on stage side-by-side with the leading lady, he succumbed to the glory of his newfound fame. He ran off the stage and straight into the crowd to greet his adoring fans – with “Dorothy,” red heels flying, in pursuit down the aisles.

Perhaps wiser now that he’s nearing 5 – or maybe he’s been seasoned by tour life – he’s unperturbed by distractions. “He’s extremely calm and laidback,” says Webb. “Every once in a while he’ll look and see me in the front, but then he gets his focus back.”

His main role during performances consists of being held by the actress playing Dorothy, which he loves, says Webb, so it’s a win-win. During this tour, Webb’s favorite moment of him is during the opening scene; when Dorothy performs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” he attentively watches her sing.

“He’s so sweet and it really adds to the song and it makes it that much more special,” says Webb.

Off-stage, the pup is just as beloved. On the road he has full run of the tour bus, says Webb, and he divides his time wandering from lap to lap, cuddling with any of the 40 cast and crew members.

Murphy’s life is more glamorous than most humans could hope for. “He has his own all-access pass on his leash so that he can get into the theaters,” says Webb. “One of our hotels set up a [dog] bed and silver dishes for him. Today, we got to tour Independence Hall and he got to see some history in Philadelphia.”

Truly, can you think of a better rags-to-riches tale? He even has his own hashtag, #montanamurphy.

Travel down the Yellow Brick Road and beyond with Dorothy, Toto and their friends the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow in this production, featuring special effects, choreography and classic songs. This spectacular celebration of the iconic 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz will blow you away from the moment the tornado touches down and transports you to Oz, complete with munchkins and flying monkeys. Tickets range from $40-$75. Performance times are: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16; 8 p.m. Nov. 17; 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 18; 2 p.m. Nov. 19.

Get tickets here

Hungry for the Arts?

Satisfy your palate with this delectable menu of Wilmington-area arts

8th Avenue Arts Collective
Jasmine Brown leads this creative agency that helps artists, makers and doers to create and share in their own communities. 8th Avenue supports artists across the city through visual art exhibitions, open mic night performances and more. For September’s Art on the Town (Friday, Sept. 8), the organization features artist Erin Courtney’s acrylic resin work in an exhibit at Artist Ave Station. On Sunday, Sept. 3 and 17, 8th Avenue will host Art in the Park, an open-air, all-ages gathering. Bring your own supplies, sit together and create at the Wilmington Green Box location at 420 N. Market St. The Flavour, 8th Avenue’s regular open mic event, will be held Wednesday, Sept. 27, also at Wilmington Green Box, weather permitting. (If inclement weather, the location will be Wilmington Jaycees Clubhouse.) All events are free to attend.
800 N. Tatnall St., Wilmington • 723.9197 • 8thavenuecollective.com
Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @8thAveCG

Arden Concert Gild
Arden has an outstanding season ahead with new shows continually added. The kick-off is the annual end-of-summer jubilee, Arden Fair, on Saturday, Sept. 2, with rides, games, food, art and the free Shady Grove stage featuring music by Garry Cogdell, Steal Your Peach and Jr. Wolf. Thursday, Sept. 21, heralds the first-ever David Bromberg Quintet performance at Gild Hall. Friday, Oct. 6, brings Rhett Miller’s (of the Old 97s) solo show and Thursday, Oct. 12, Dar Williams concert and book reading (What I Found in a Thousand Towns includes an extended section on Wilmington). Hot young Brooklyn duo—the Indie-folk-with-electronic-undercurrent Overcoats—hits the stage Friday, Oct. 20.  Jazz perfection is celebrated on Friday, Oct. 27, with Etienne Charles on trumpet and percussion with his Creole Soul Sextet. Finally, on Saturday, Nov. 4, the vibrant voice of Mary Fahl (formerly of October Project) fills Gild Hall for a debut performance.
2126 The Highway, Arden • 898.9308 • ardenconcerts.com
Facebook: @ArdenConcertGild • Twitter: @ArdenConcerts

The Arts at Trinity
This free series in the heart of Wilmington, hosted by Trinity Episcopal Church, is in its seventh season of “pop-up” events in literature, drama, poetry and visual arts. This year opens on Saturday, Oct. 7, with the Serafin String Quartet performing works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and American composer William Grant Still. On Sunday, Nov. 5, Trinity Church Choir and orchestra, conducted by Terrence Gaus-Wollen, performs sacred music by Bach as part of its regular Sunday service. On Saturday, Dec. 2, rising jazz pianist Gil Scott Chapman performs, including classical and jazz works and his own compositions.
1108 N. Adams St., Wilmington • 652.8605 • theartsattrinity.org
Facebook: @TheArtsatTrinity

ArtzScape
Based in Wilmington’s bustling LoMa neighborhood, ArtzScape has created an equally bustling scene for local and regional artists, poets and musicians, providing a rental space for private and public events and encouraging active networking at events. On Sunday, Sept. 17, ArtzScape presents the third installment of its MUSIC.POETRY.ART series, featuring Christian poet Charles Robinson-Snead. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com. 205 N. Market St., Wilmington • 267.679.2711 • artzscape.com
Facebook: @ArtzScape

Christina Cultural Arts Center
A new Literary Café program leads off Christina’s 71st year, featuring author and Delaware native Jeff Hobbs on Saturday, Oct. 21, discussing his New York Times best-selling work, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Pearce. CCAC’s focus on intimate live performances returns on Saturday, Nov. 18, with a concert by SPANK, featuring gospel/soul/hip hop drummer George “Spanky” McCurdy. Finally, CCAC embraces the majesty of the holidays on Sunday, Dec. 10, with the stunning contemporary dance/music/narration production of “Carols in Color,” performed by Philly-based Eleone Dance Theatre. December wraps up with CCAC’s own Holiday Festival of the Arts on Saturday, Dec. 16. 705 N. Market St., Wilmington • 652.0101 • ccacde.org
Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @CCACDE

The Delaware Art Museum
The museum welcomes two major exhibitions this fall. The first, Tableau: The Art of Richard Cleaver (Sept. 16-Jan. 7, 2018), features elaborate sculptures full of hidden compartments to capture the lives and secrets of historical figures and personal acquaintances of the artist. The next, An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan (Oct. 21-Jan. 28, 2018), is the first major retrospective of Sloan’s work since 1988. It covers his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his depictions of New York City, his views of Gloucester, Mass., and his studies of Santa Fe, N.M. Throughout the fall, the museum also offers many engaging, informal programs for all ages: enjoy Art is Tasty (Sept. 1, Oct. 6, Nov. 3), a monthly series pairing 30-minute art discussions with a delicious lunch in the Thronson Café; take part in Peace Week Delaware or Día de los Muertos with the Labyrinth Walks on Friday, Sept. 22, or Thursday, Nov. 2; listen to Concerts on Kentmere on Thursday, Sept. 28, with “ensemble in residence,” Pyxis Piano Quartet; or talk with New York Times best-selling author Robert Wittman at his lecture and book signing on Thursday, Sept. 7, for The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich. 2301 Kentmere Pkwy., Wilmington • 571.9590 • delart.orgFacebook: @DelawareArtMuseum; Twitter/Instagram: @DelArtMuseum

The Delaware Contemporary
The Contemporary keeps our eyes, hearts and minds busy with its group exhibition that began last month and runs through Oct. 25—Spiral, Recoil: Honoring a legacy of Black Art —which asks the imperative question: In 50 years of “progress,” how far have we really come? Additional exhibits now through the fall: Artist Monique Rollins’ Eastern Poesia: A cultural exchange expressed through emotional abstraction through Nov. 19 in the Carole Bieber and Marc Hamm Gallery, and Ola Rondiak’s Behind the Lines: An Iconographic Journey of a Ukrainian Family’s Experience through Historical events, through Oct. 15 in the Beckler Family Members’ Gallery. Running Sept. 5-Dec. 3 in the Avery E. Draper Gallery is Adam Ledford’s Don’t Worry About the Government: Investigating the ideologies of mid-century modernism by leading the viewer through three-dimensional space. Be sure to stop by “the place to be” on Art Loop Fridays for exhibitions openings, open artist studios, food trucks and more. The music ensemble Mélomanie also launches its Wilmington Concert Series at the Contemporary on Saturday, Oct. 29. 200 S. Madison St., Wilmington • 656.6466 • decontemporary.orgFacebook & Instagram: @DEContemporary

Delaware Shakespeare
Once more upon a midnight dreary, Delaware Shakespeare opens many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore during its autumnal celebration of the macabre with Shakespeare, Poe and Fiends. New selections, new authors, new venues— including the courthouse in Historic New Castle and Old Town Hall in Wilmington—will usher guests into a world of literary spirits and specters for a night of readings from plays, prose and poetry. This year’s event runs one weekend only, Oct. 12-15.  The fall Community Tour production of As You Like It stars DelShakes alum Danielle Leneé as Rosalind, directed by Madeline Sayet, with original music composed and performed by Joe Trainor. The tour will present 13 free performances over three weeks (Oct. 25-Nov. 9), for audiences that traditionally have limited access to the arts, in the Rick Van Story Resource Center, Greenwood Public Library, Delaware Psychiatric Center, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia. Where possible, productions are open to the public. The tour concludes with three ticketed performances at OperaDelaware Studios (Nov. 10-12). Performance venues: Varying in Delaware • 415.3373 • delshakes.orgFacebook & Instagram: @DelShakes

Delaware Symphony Orchestra
The Orchestra’s season begins Friday, Sept. 15, at The Grand Opera House with a concert featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5; Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony No. 1; and Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp, with soloists Kim Reighley, flute, and Sarah Fuller, harp. Music Director David Amado will conduct and give a pre-concert talk one hour before each concert. The second classics concert is Thursday, Nov. 16, featuring Pictures from the Floating World by David Ludwig with guest bassoon soloist William Short; Debussy’s La Mer; and Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. The first concerts in DSO’s Chamber Series are Tuesdays, Oct. 17 and Dec. 12, in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel du Pont. 100 W. 10th St., Suite 1003, Wilmington • 656.7442, delawaresymphony.org • Facebook: @DelawareSymphony; Twitter: @DelawareSymph

Delaware Theatre Company
This fall, DTC continues its vision as the only theater in the state developing new shows for Broadway with the World Premiere musical adaptation of Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on the Ray Bradbury novel, with book by Brian Hill and music & lyrics by Neil Bartram (Sept. 13-Oct. 8). Picture 1938, a small town, a mysterious carnival and two young boys bent on escaping to find adventure and themselves. Dare to Be Black follows (Oct. 25-Nov. 12), written by Tommie J. Moore. Before Muhammad Ali, there was champion boxer Jack Johnson, whose quest for equality has never seemed more timely. Finally, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised] reinvigorates the Bard’s works in a madcap romp (Nov. 29-Dec. 23). These men in tights weave their way through all Shakespeare’s comedies, histories and tragedies in one wild ride, leaving you breathless with laughter. 200 Water St., Wilmington • 594.1100 • DelawareTheatre.orgFacebook/Instagram: @DelawareTheatreCompany • Twitter/Snapchat: @DelawareTheatre

First State Ballet Theatre
Delaware’s premiere professional ballet company first sweeps you away with Giselle—a transcendent story of a village girl transformed into a tender spirit after dying of a broken heart. The performances, at The Grand Opera House, are Saturday, Oct. 21, and Sunday, Oct. 22. Next, the company’s hallmark Up Front series opens Friday, Nov. 17, and Saturday, Nov. 18, in Studio 1 of the Grand, giving audiences an intimate look at the company’s classical and contemporary work. Then, ring in the holidays with Wilmington’s favorite tradition, the magical Nutcracker, for two dates at The Grand on Friday, Dec. 22, and Saturday, Dec. 23. 818 N. Market St., Wilmington • 658.7897 x3851 • firststateballet.comFacebook/Instagram: @FirstStateBallet • Twitter: @FSBTheatre

Gable Music Ventures
After the smashing success of this summer’s expanded two-day Ladybug Festival, Gable continues to be the conduit for live music in and around Wilmington. Gable is booking regular performances in a variety of genres at places like 40 Acres’ Halligan Bar, Concord Pike’s Stoney’s British Pub and, of course, the highly anticipated weekly curated open mic showcase, Wilmo Wednesdays, at Ernest & Scott Taproom on Market Street in downtown Wilmington. Check the website for complete, up-to-the-minute details. Performance venues: Varying in Wilmington; gablemusicventures.comFacebook & Instagram: @GableMusicVentures; Twitter: @GableMusic

The Grand Opera House & The Playhouse on Rodney Square
The Grand’s newest season is sure to impress entertainment lovers of all kinds. America’s Got Talent’s Tape Face brings unconventional silent comedy on Saturday, Oct. 14, and a Capella showmen and Grand favorite Straight No Chaser will perform two shows Sunday, Oct. 29, in what will be a certain sellout. Broadway star Ana Gasteyer fills The Playhouse with saucy songs and comedy Thursday, Dec. 7 and comedian Sinbad returns with his sharp topical humor Friday, Dec. 15.  The Playhouse on Rodney Square kicks off its Broadway in Wilmington season with The Wizard of Oz (Nov. 14-19), captivating the entire family with a trip down the Yellow Brick Road and beyond. All your favorite characters from the beloved TV classic come to life in Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical in a limited engagement to kick off the holidays with two shows on Sunday, Nov. 26.
The Grand: 818 N. Market St., Wilmington • 652.5577; TheGrandWilmington.org • Facebook: @TheGrandWilmington; Twitter/Instagram: @TheGrandWilm
The Playhouse: 1007 N. Market St., Wilmington • 888.0200 ThePlayhouseDE.org • Facebook: @ThePlayhouseDE

Market Street Music
Wilmington’s most affordable and diverse music series presents full-length Festival Concerts featuring organist David Schelat on Saturday, Oct. 14; Pyxis Piano Quartet on Saturday, Oct. 28; and Mastersingers of Wilmington on Saturday, Nov. 4. Its much-beloved mid-day music fest, Thursday Noontime Concerts, begin Thursday, Oct. 5, with a varied roster that includes the Copeland String Quartet; regional favorite artists like pianist Daniel Carunchio and countertenor Gus Mercante; and a return appearance by the Lyra Russian Choir—the vocal ensemble of St. Petersburg. The noontime series culminates in the holiday tradition of the Cartoon Christmas Trio on Thursday, Dec. 7, and a holiday choral concert by Center City Chorale on Thursday, Dec. 14. Performance venue: First & Central Presbyterian Church, 1101 N. Market St., Wilmington • 654.5371 • marketstreetmusicde.orgFacebook: @MarketStreetMusicDE

Mélomanie
Wilmington’s “provocative pairings” music ensemble celebrates its 25th anniversary season. A new partnership with the Delaware Historical Society presents two performances: the first on Saturday, Sept. 30, Up Close and Personal, features violinist Christof Richter, and the second on Sunday, Dec. 3, which includes holiday music. A post-concert partnership with La Fia Bistro also follows each of those performances. The ensemble’s Wilmington Concert Series at The Delaware Contemporary begins on Sunday, Oct. 29, with a premiere by composer Mark Hagerty and guest percussionist Chris Hanning. The remaining series dates—Sundays, Jan. 14, March 11 and April 8—see three additional premieres written for the ensemble as well as a collaboration with Delaware’s Poets Laureate, The Twin Poets. Performance venues: The Delaware Historical Society, 505 N. Market St., Wilmington & The Delaware Contemporary, 200 S. Madison St., Wilmington • 764.6338 • melomanie.orgFacebook: @MelomanieDE

The Music School of Delaware
The Music School boasts a busy fall of performances, both student and professional. Its Wilmington Branch professional concerts will feature the music of the Revolutionary War; the 10th anniversary of its “Music of Many Lands” program; and an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. Additionally, faculty recitals at both Wilmington and Milford Branches will be presented throughout the season. The Wilmington Community Orchestra, under the baton of Tiffany Lu, will perform works from Barber to Beethoven. Alumni return to share their musical stories in concert. And, the school continues to host its Classical Cafe sessions (complimentary coffee and donuts included), where attendees engage in lively discussion with select faculty on a variety of music-related topics. The Music School also hosts and presents events in genres from classical to rock, including quarterly Open Mic Nights, a monthly Bluegrass Jam, jazz and rock performances. 4101 Washington St., Wilmington • 762.1132 • musicschoolofdelaware.orgFacebook, Twitter & Instagram: @MusicSchoolofDE

OperaDelaware
OperaDelaware continues to tweak our perceptions of what opera is and what it can be in its distinctive programming and collaborations. The fall begins with Opera Uncorked! on Friday, Oct. 20, and Sunday, Oct. 22. Arias, Ambers and IPAs will flow at the group’s Riverfront Studio as operatic highlights are paired with your favorite beers provided by Swigg. Saturday, Nov 18, and Sunday, Nov. 19, features Werther—Jules Massenet’s opera based on Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther—in concert with piano, again at the Riverfront Studio. 4 S. Poplar St., Wilmington • 442.7807 • operade.orgFacebook, Twitter & Instagram: @OperaDelaware

The Queen Wilmington
The Queen is bringing national touring acts to Wilmington that have never performed in the area—Third Eye Blind, Regina Spektor, Cheap Trick, Andrew Dice Clay, Kevin Smith, Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness and more. With genres ranging from reggae to rock and roll to hip hop, there’s something for every kind of music lover here. 500 N. Market St., Wilmington • 215.309.0150; thequeenwilmington.comFacebook, Twitter & Instagram: @QueenWilmington

Summer in the Parks
This annual city-wide program completed its final week of free arts activities, and by all accounts, it was another wonderful collaborative effort by the City of Wilmington, the Grand Opera House and the 176 individuals (including 50 students), representing 31 artists/organizations who participated. This year’s Summer in the Parks has served 2,700 participants. Approximately 80 percent of those participating were children. Nearly 1,000 observers enjoyed the arts throughout almost every neighborhood, providing a total arts reach of 3,667 people.  In all, Summer in the Parks presented 52 daytime events and eight evening concerts, showcasing all types of music, dance and movement, arts and crafts, live theater and fun workshops. At the end of August, the Grand Opera House and the City of Wilmington Department of Parks & Recreation held an end-of-summer BIG BASH, featuring a performance with Illstyle & Peace on the mobile stage, to celebrate the program’s success. Performance Venues: Varying Parks in Wilmington • 658.7897; thegrandwilmington.org/parks • Facebook: @SummerinParks

University of Delaware Department of Music
The Concert Season begins Friday, Sept. 15, with a return performance by the Calidore String Quartet. Additional season highlights include Sublime Strings, a group of five performances anchored by Quartet-in-Residence Serafin String Quartet, Blair String Quartet and Calidore String Quartet. UD Faculty perform at the Faculty Gala on Saturday, Sept. 23; in Faculty Jazz on Monday, Oct. 16, and in acclaimed Resident Ensembles and Faculty Artist Recitals throughout the semester. Students also perform throughout the semester in the award-winning UD Chorale, UD Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band and UD Opera Theatre. The popular Chamber Orchestra Cinema Series opens with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1927), a silent movie with live orchestral accompaniment on Friday, Oct. 20. Gore Recital Hall, Roselle Center for the Performing Arts, Newark • 831.2578 • music.udel.edu

University of Delaware Master Players Concert Series
Producing Artistic Director Xiang Gao invites you to experience “Unity in Variety,” celebrating music as our diverse planet’s universal language. Now in its 14th year, Master Players Concert Series brings the world’s top musicians and ensembles to Delaware in its role as UD’s cultural ambassador. The three concerts on campus begin with musicians of the Baltimore classical music scene performing solo and chamber works in The Stars of Baltimore: Season Opening Gala on Sunday, Oct. 1; The Shanghai String Quartet: 35 Years of Our American Experience on Saturday, Nov. 4; and Holiday Pops: Frank Sinatra’s Coming to Town on Saturday, Dec. 9. Mitchell Hall, Roselle Center for the Performing Arts, Newark • 831.2905 • masterplayers.udel.eduFacebook & Twitter: @UDMPCS

Wilmington Drama League
For its 85th season launch, the Drama League presents Godspell (Sept. 15-24), directed by Chris Turner with music directed by Caty Butler. Based on the Gospel according to Matthew, the show features a troupe of eccentric players who team up with Jesus to teach His lessons in a new age through parables, games and tomfoolery. More madcap comedy follows with the farce Moon Over Buffalo (Oct. 20-29), centering on two stage actors with one last shot at stardom—if they can keep their act and relationship together. The Tony Award-winning Peter and the Starcatcher arrives Nov. 10-19, telling the story of how a miserable orphan comes to be The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (AKA Peter Pan). The fall season closes with the classic tale A Christmas Carol (Dec.15-27), reimagined by Broadway heavy hitters Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens. 10 W. Lea Blvd., Wilmington • 764.1172 • wilmingtondramaleague.orgFacebook: @WilmingtonDramaLeague; Instagram: @WilmingtonDramaLeague

Rock Opera Kicks Off CTC’s 24th Season

Photo Joe del Tufo

City Theater Company, Delaware’s off-Broadway experience, drops the axe on its 24th season with Lizzie, a blistering rock opera based on the 19th century legend of Lizzie Borden (Sept. 8-16). Four women front a six-piece rock band to tell a tale of murder and mayhem, with music by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt; lyrics by Cheslik-DeMeyer and Tim Maner; book and additional music by Maner, and additional lyrics by Hewitt. The musical is based on an original concept by Cheslik-DeMeyer and Maner.

Michael Gray, CTC’s producing artistic director, helms the piece, which he’s been looking forward to producing for some time. “I was intrigued by the story told by four women (though ‘men’ were always present) and how the music (rock, thrash, punk) was used to capture their rage—the years of abuse and neglect, and the loneliness and betrayal that led to the horrific murders. It’s compelling to see one woman, in a time when single women had little status, take control of her narrative. That’s the story we are excited to portray.”

Lizzie marks the CTC debut of Darby Elizabeth McLaughlin in the title role, alongside Jill Knapp of popular band Hot Breakfast!, Kyleen Shaw and Grace Tarves. The band features Caty Butler, Meghan Doyle, Jon Luther, Noelle Picara, Joey Lopes and Sheila Hershey.

CTC‘s Fearless Improv—the only comedy improv team in Wilmington—returned to Wilmington this summer with Third Thursday shows at Chelsea Tavern and continue through the year’s end with performances on Sept. 21, Oct. 19, Nov. 16 and Dec 21. Additional shows are scheduled at Penn’s Place in Old New Castle on two Saturdays, Sept. 9 and Nov. 11. Fearless also offers Improv 101 and Improv 301—eight-week, two-hour workshops open to the public that teach basic scene work and advanced performance techniques. Both classes begin Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Delaware Historical Society in downtown Wilmington.

In December, CTC returns to The Black Box to present a stripped-down version of the Sondheim classic Sunday in the Park with George (Dec 1-16). Gray has plans to collaborate with local visual artists to produce a “live” piece of art during each production—in essence, delivering a new and exciting multi-genre experience every night.

Class Venue: Delaware Historical Society, 505 N. Market St., Wilmington; Performance Venue: Chelsea Tavern, 821 N. Market Street, Wilmington • 220.8285 • city-theater.org

Facebook: @CTCImprov • Twitter/Instagram: @CityTheaterCo

UD REP Tackles Diverse Stories This Season

Photo Joe del Tufo

The University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players (REP) is the only full-time, resident professional acting ensemble in Delaware and the tri-state region, and one of a few in the United States. Their fall season includes a diverse mix of powerful stories and raucous entertainment.

“The REP’s 2017-2018 season includes something for everyone,” says Sanford Robbins, producing artistic director. “From madcap comedies to suspenseful dramas…to the world premiere of a new play written for the REP by one of America’s most gifted young playwrights, this is going to be a dynamite season.”

It opens with a powerful, intimate look at Martin Luther King, Jr. in The Mountaintop by Katori Hall (Sept. 14-Oct. 8), directed by Walter Dallas. The story finds Dr. King retiring to his quiet room in the Lorraine Motel, exhausted after delivering his famous “Mountaintop” speech. But a chance meeting with an enthusiastic maid leads him to reflect on his achievements and all the work he has left to do.

Next is the comedy You Can’t Take It with You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (Sept. 21-Oct. 8). When the eccentric, rule-defying Sycamore family is introduced to high-society parents of their daughter’s fiancé, it is anything but a quiet evening.

November brings the World Premiere of From the Author of… (Nov. 9-Dec. 3) written especially for the REP by emerging playwright Chisa Hutchinson. The story follows a famous New York author who, reeling from disastrous reviews of her new book on homelessness, tries to save face by taking in a street person to rehabilitate. It’s a wickedly blunt, funny and insightful look at loyalty, responsibility and “who owns whose story.”  Directed by Jade King Carroll, this play contains adult themes and strong language.

Roselle Center for the Arts, Newark • 831.2204 • rep.udel.edu

Facebook: @rep.udel.edu Twitter: @Delaware_REP

Theatre N Revived

A partnership between The Mill, The Kitchen and The Grand brings fresh energy to the independent theater

Theatre N has new life and new management. The arthouse cinema, reopened in October, will feature independent films every weekend and classic cinema events throughout the year. For the first time since its founding in 2002, the theater, located in the Buccini/Pollin Group-owned Nemours Building in downtown Wilmington, is no longer managed by the mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

Early this year, concerns about the theater organization and its future led to action. Robert Herrera, founder of the community-driven workspace The Mill—and the theater’s upstairs neighbor in the Nemours Building—approached BPG and Zach Phillips, filmmaker and founder of The Kitchen, about possibilities for the theater’s future. From there, a new vision was developed.

Herrera and Phillips joined forces with members of The Grand. That included Beverly Zimmerman, the original theater manager during its most successful years—2002-2013—as well as Bob Weir, a seasoned projectionist and the technical director at The Playhouse on Rodney Square, and Mark Fields, executive director of The Grand and The Playhouse.

“If anybody can revive the theater, it’s the team we have now,” says Herrera. “This is the second coming of the Theatre N.”

The partnership focuses on targeting a young entrepreneurial demographic, expanding to special events, TED Talks and more. One feature of the new system is that the team will now have access to films from every independent studio, not just a limited subset, which was the case previously. Zimmerman will once again take over the film schedule.

The 221-seat theater is undergoing renovation, including a new, state-of-the art projector, and a custom-built concession area designed by Herrera.

“Neighborhood movie theaters are an important feature of any modern city, and as the film industry rapidly changes we think independent cinema will have a growing role,” says Phillips. “Our plan for Theatre N isn’t just to be Wilmington’s indie theater. We want to be a leader in the re-imagination of what an independent theater can be, and make Theatre N a cinema destination in the region.”

Worth Trying 2016 – Focus

Welcome to our sixth annual Worth Trying Issue. Though we feature Worth Trying suggestions monthly, each January we devote much of the magazine to personal recommendations from staff, contributors and friends of Out & About. These suggestions on where and what to eat, drink, see and do are scattered throughout these pages, interspersed with our usual assortment of feature stories, news items and other fun stuff.

Enjoy, and have a very happy New Year!

trolley_grooming_loungeTrolley Grooming Lounge
Technically, this isn’t from me, it’s from my hubby. On a tip from our bestie living in “Trolleywood,” Scott visited Trolley Grooming Lounge for a quick haircut. He loved the stylists and the chill atmosphere. It’s become location of choice for all his ‘scaping needs. (And it’s not just for the boys. Gals are welcome too, and they now have their own product line.) Best of all, it comes with the “MKF Seal of Approval.” You can “like” them on Facebook at Trolley Grooming Lounge.

— Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald, Contributing Writer

YMCAThe Central YMCA
This time of year we all make resolutions to get in better shape, so if joining a fitness center is in your plans, pay a visit to the Central YMCA. Though the facility has been serving the Wilmington community since 1929, the fitness center is state-of-the-art, offering 96 high-end workout machines in an invigorating setting accented by a giant glass wall that overlooks 12th Street. But what’s unique about the Central Y is its egalitarian feel. One day you’ll be working out next to a U.S. Senator, the next day you’ll be sweating it out with your mailman.

— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

the set of items of equipment for travel

REI (Recreation Equipment Inc.), Christiana Fashion Center
When REI opened its voluminous (23,500 square feet) Christiana store earlier this fall, outdoor cognoscenti anticipated a serious dose of “wilderness porn.” The store does not disappoint. Although many sporting goods stores carry basic hiking, camping, and other outdoor gear, REI focuses exclusively on those pursuits with a larger and more varied selection of clothing and goods. The store also offers seasonal classes, trips, and bike repairs. An added benefit: REI provides a low-cost membership that gives discounts and an annual rebate based on one’s purchases.

— Mark Fields, Movie Reviewer

Himalayan_Salt_LampHimalayan Salt Lamp
These are big, hollow salt crystals that are mined from underground salt mines in the Himalayan Mountains with a light bulb inserted in the middle. People claim they can neutralize pollutants in the air caused by electronics, like TVs and computer screens, by emitting negative ions. They also claim other “benefits,” such as reducing respiratory symptoms and improving mood and creativity. I have one next to my computer screen at work, and one at home in the living room. I’m not too sure how beneficial it’s been to my health, but I think it’s definitely improved my mood and creativity, especially on rainy days. And it looks pretty cool. I got mine at Home Depot.

— Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

good_paintGood Paint
I wanted to repaint some of the rooms in my house recently, and in an attempt to save a few bucks I bought paint from Home Depot. What a mistake! It wasn’t too long before I stopped using that stuff and headed down to Shinn’s on Lovering Avenue—where I should have started in the first place. Higher quality paint requires far fewer coats and applies so much better. And when you need advice on the best products for your job, the folks there never steer me wrong.

— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

balance_fitnessBalance That Body
At 36, it takes more effort to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle. A friend and co-worker introduced me to Scott at Balance Strength and Fitness Center and I’ve never felt better. It’s conveniently located at 4th and Greenhill, so I can work a visit into almost any busy day. BalanceFitnessTraining.com.

— Matt Loeb, Creative Director

john_saward-viceJohn Saward, Vice Magazine
I used to write, but I stopped when I started taking photos. Others do it much better. Take Vice Magazine’s John Saward (Google him, but be prepared to lose your afternoon). He’s young, unflaggingly honest and writes these gloriously poetic tantrums. He wrote that American Bro (“The Worst Person In The World”) article that went viral last year. I love everything I’ve read of his, and it’s been a long time since a new voice stopped me. I predict Bob Yearick will hate him because his grammar takes liberties, but they do have their similarities.

Joe del Tufo, Contributing Photographer

winterthurWinterthur Museum Store
This under-the-radar treasure boasts some of the most unique home-decor accessories (and wow-worthy gifts) in the state, but few know it exists—or that Winterthur conveniently allows shoppers to park near the shop instead of taking a shuttle all the way from the visitors’ center.

— Eric Ruth, Contributing Writer

glossGloss Hair & Makeup
I have been going to Tateum at Gloss for several years and love her and the salon. They always make you feel and look great. They offer a wide variety of options from wedding services to eyelash extensions. For more information, check out salondelaware.com.

— Kelly Loeb, Account Manager, Catalyst Visuals, LLC

bogsBogs
My 2-year-old daughter wanted pink boots for Christmas. I wanted to get her something warm and functional. My research led me to Bogs. The company started in Oregon with a focus on footwear for the farm industry. In addition to being super durable, comfortable, and easy to maneuver in, they are machine washable! After hearing all that, I was sold. So I was even more excited to find out that the company dedicates a portion of its sales to outdoor education and urban farming. I can’t wait to get a pair of my own. (Available online and locally at Trail Creek Outfitters in Glen Mills, Pa.)

— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

smyrnaSmyrna
If you haven’t paid a visit to the up-and-coming little town of Smyrna recently, pick a Friday night and swing by Blue Earl Brewery for some seriously good suds, food truck magic and live music. Things get started at 5 p.m., when the designated food truck or cart (usually Mr. BBQ or The Wise Pig) starts cranking out its wares, followed by local acoustic musicians like Nik Everett and Bruce Anthony, playing from 6-9 p.m. All the while, you’ll be able to drink craft brews like Walking Blues IPA and the Top of the World Imperial Stout. The 45-minute drive from Wilmington is totally worth it.

— Rob Kalesse, Contributing Writer

 

Bald eagle.

The Conowingo Dam
A trip to the banks of the Susquehanna River around the Conowingo Dam is an excellent outdoor adventure. Birds, birds and more birds await you. Bald eagles, 11 species of gulls, blue and black-crowned night herons, terns, vultures and osprey all vie for airspace. On good days you can see more than 100 bald eagles soaring in the wind currents. There are parking and viewing spots on the Harford County side of the dam. Dress warm and enjoy the scenery.

— John Murray, Contributing Writer

River Towns Ride
Cyclists are discovering that the 10-mile stretch of road between historic New Castle and historic Delaware City is a great circuit. Both ends of the route offer fantastic views of the Delaware River, it’s mostly flat, the majority of the road is recently paved, and a wide shoulder complete with sharrows (bike path designations) allows riders to feel safe. You can do the official River Towns Ride the first Saturday in October…or you can check out the ride on your own. rivertownsride.com.

— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

resturant_DepotThe Restaurant Depot
Opened last February, this big-lots food wholesaler targets restaurant owners, but membership is open to owners of any business. Just provide your EIN (employer identification number) for your free membership card, and start shopping instantly. Imagine paying wholesale for items like whole beef tenderloins and pork rib racks, an extensive selection of fresh produce, frozen hors d’oeuvres, dairy, dry goods, even paper and chemical products for the kitchen, home or small business. Located at 200 Cornell Rd., Wilmington, it’s part of a chain of stores open in 34 states and first in Delaware.

— Chef Robert Lhulier

francescasFrancesca’s for Accessories
This Greenville shop is my favorite go-to when I need jaunty, fun baubles (earrings, necklaces, etc.) for dress-up or if I need a new swag bag, tote, or wallet. The staff is friendly, fun and helpful, and I always seem to walk out with something cool…mostly just what I was looking for, but also things I never knew I wanted!

— Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald, Contributing Writer

Pure_Yoga_LOGOPure Yoga
After the crazy holiday time, do yourself a favor and head to Pure Yoga in Trolley Square for a yoga, Pilates, yoga/Pilates fusion or barre class. This intimate studio allows you to practice in a class where the teachers are able to be attentive to your needs. I love this place and its teachers. For more information about class times and schedules visit pureyogapilatesstudio.com.

— Kelly Loeb, Account Manager, Catalyst Visuals, LLC

 

Look for more Worth Trying suggestions throughout this issue!

 

 

Gridiron Tragedy as Life Lesson

In Playing the Assassin—at the Delaware Theatre Company—Wilmington’s David Robson uses the Jack Tatum-Darryl Stingley incident to address moral quandaries

David Robson doesn’t remember everything about the first play his mother took him to see—it was Ted Tally’s Terra Nova, about an ill-fated British expedition to the South Pole—but he does remember how the experience made him feel. “There’s something so primal about the magic of theater,” he says. “You see the sweat from the actors’ brows, their expressions, you’re on the journey with them. It’s an event…and every night is different. I loved that.”

Born in Philadelphia, Robson, who is 49, gives equal credit to his mom, Joan, and his wife, Sonja, for exposing him to theater. He and Sonja met in 1990 while both were auditioning for The Foreigner, a play produced by Stagecrafters in Chestnut Hill, Pa. “Hi, I’m David Robson…sorry I spit in your face,” was his post-audition attempt at wooing her. They were married three years later, and now live in Wilmington with their 15-year-old daughter, Ingrid.

Robson had written and published poetry but had never written a play. “Although I love poetry, it’s a solitary medium,” he says. “I liked the conversation of plays, the idea of subjects talking to one another and working out their differences.” So he decided to give it a try.

He began to write for the upstart City Theater Company (CTC) in Wilmington. He wrote and acted in Death of America and other works for CTC in its O’Friel’s “Pub Plays” days during the mid-‘90s. He also participated in CTC’s 10-Minute Play Festivals and a 2012 Community Series called Cruel, Calm, and Neglected, which featured four nights of his one-act plays.

“I have a great respect for what they’ve created,” Robson says of CTC founders Jon Cooper, Tom Shade and current Artistic Director Michael Gray. “Experiences that are very visceral; I’ve always admired them for that.”

City Theater Company continues to collaborate with Robson today. Earlier this year, CTC held an open reading of his new work, Afterbirth of a Nation. It’s a historical-fiction farce set in 1915 during the White House screening of Birth of a Nation. “I love history and was fascinated with the movie [Birth of a Nation],” Robson says. “I’d never written a full-length farce, but thought, ‘It would be great if we could work on this together and build all the visual stuff that actors bring to the piece.’” The play will be workshopped by CTC early next year.

David Robson (R) goes over lines with Ezra Knight and Garrett Lee Hendricks during a rehearsal. (Photo by Breck Willis, Delaware Theatre Company)
David Robson (R) goes over lines with Ezra Knight and Garrett Lee Hendricks during a rehearsal. (Photo by Breck Willis, Delaware Theatre Company)

Now the Wilmington playwright is celebrating another transformative theatrical event: the Delaware premiere of his new work, Playing the Assassin, which opened at Delaware Theatre Company on Oct. 21. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking, two-man performance, and perhaps the first that melds the brutality of American professional sports with the raw emotion of the human condition. The play runs through Sunday, Nov. 8.

In 2010, Robson came across the obituary of Jack Tatum, the notoriously hard-nosed Oakland Raider whose tackle paralyzed New England receiver Darryl Stingley in 1978.

Stingley, who was on his way to becoming one of the highest-paid NFL players of his time, instead became a quadriplegic at 26 and died from complications of his injury in 2007 at the age of 55. The hit, which was legal and drew no penalties, became a touchstone for the topic of violence in the NFL.

Robson was a football fan as a child and remembers that fateful game. “It was horrifying to me then,” he says. “It was the first time I realized football could actually be dangerous, actually hurt someone.”

After reading the obituary, it occurred to Robson that Tatum and Stingley had never reconciled. “There was no redemptive moment for them,” he says. That became the seed of his play, although it’s not written as a biography or documentary. “I like writing about unfinished business. It allows me to ‘finish a story,’ in a way,” he says.

Robson also likes the two-character form because it’s like a classic steel-cage wrestling match – one has to come out victorious, but both are going to be damaged. How will both people change as their journey progresses?

The play, while a Delaware premiere, was performed by InterAct Theatre/Act II Playhouse in Philadelphia in 2012; Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Brook, N. Y., in 2014; and Hartford Theatreworks in Hartford, Conn., in March-April of this year. Actors Garrett Lee Hendricks and Ezra Knight and Director Joe Brancato, who worked the Penguin and Hartford productions, will also do the DTC show.

“It’s kind of an artistic marriage,” Robson says of his relationship with Brancato. “He’s not only a great creative partner who really ‘gets’ me, but he also has amazing ways to get work into the right hands. I feel lucky in that regard.”

Robson is thrilled to bring his work to the First State spotlight. “The proudest – maybe weirdest – thing for me is that I’m a Delaware playwright being produced at Delaware Theatre Company,” he says. “It’s a badge of honor. It would be great if this opens the door to other writers and artists here.”

Robson is careful to note that while he appreciates football as a sport, he doesn’t consider Playing the Assassin a pro- or anti-football play. “It’s really about choices, about relationships, about moral quandaries.” His hope is that audiences leave interacting with one another, connecting the dots within their own experiences, maybe talking about how they make choices in their own lives.

“Isn’t the reason you go to theater is to feel connected to the art itself?” asks Robson. “Is there any other art form that gives you that kind of direct connection…and isn’t that what we’re all looking for?”

Remembering Their Roots

In the mid-to-late ‘90s, a group of talented young actors began learning their craft at the Wilmington Drama League. Twenty years later, they remain connected.

A hungry chicken walks into a McDonald’s.

“Do you have people nuggets?” the chicken asks.

“Umm, no…”

“Well, what kind of nuggets do you have?”

“Chicken nuggets.”

“Bwawk!” “Quack! Quack!” “Moooooo!” The chicken has brought reinforcements.

The cashier is an unwitting player in this bit of barnyard improv. Someone buys a milkshake to smooth things over, and the animals exit McDonald’s stage left and return to the Wilmington Drama League, where they will continue to rehearse The Ugly Duckling.
Twenty years later, that quacking duck is about to wrap his performance as the Big Bad in the rebooted Ghostbusters. Another member of that menagerie still performs with a chicken, five days a week on Sprout’s The Sunny Side Up Show.

And the hungry chicken? Aubrey is doing just fine, thank you.

Aubrey Plaza. Neil Casey. Carly Ciarrocchi. Keith Powell. John Gallagher, Jr. Rory Donavan. Seth Kirschner.

Aubrey Plaza at the Wilmington premier of Safety Not Guaranteed at the Grand. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)
Aubrey Plaza at the Wilmington premier of Safety Not Guaranteed at the Grand. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

If you live in Delaware, chances are excellent that you know someone who knows one of them, or you know one of them yourself. They certainly know each other, dating back to the time they all spent at the Wilmington Drama League in the mid-to-late ‘90s, through their early working days and their first big breaks, the awards, the steady work, the magazine covers, and genuine stardom … and back to Delaware for fundraisers and benefits and the occasional stop at the Charcoal Pit.

But let’s return to the beginning.

In the mid-‘90s, the Chrysalis Players were a new group within the Wilmington Drama League. Chrysalis was designed to give young performers an opportunity to write, cast, direct, act and produce their own shows and one-act plays. What they did with that freedom was up to them.

“We went crazy bananas creating things and building things and breaking things and ruining things,” Powell says.

And learning things. Chrysalis Players had their own board, which shadowed the board of the Drama League and had its own decision-making authority.

“We’re theater dorks,” Casey says. “So many people have their high school theater program. And I have that. But the Drama League was the place where the especially intense theater nerds from every school found their clubhouse.”

Many got their start in adult productions. John Gallagher Jr. (HBO’s The Newsroom, Broadway’s Spring Awakening and American Idiot) first showed up on the Drama League stage as a boy in Frankenstein. An auspicious production of Peter Pan featured the debuts of Ciarrocchi (The Sunny Side Up Show), Powell (30 Rock, The Newsroom and Keith Broke His Leg) and Rory Donavan (Broadway’s Finding Neverland: The Musical).

“Unlike a sports team or something, when you’re working on a play, it’s a community of all ages that are basically equal,” Ciarrocchi says. “I took it so seriously as an 8-year-old.”

Ciarrocchi’s time included acting as a dwarf alongside her six real-life siblings and appearing as Milky White in a production of Into the Woods. (“That part is usually played by a cardboard cut-out,” she jokes.) But it was performing in the Jeff Walker Youth One-Act Festival where these kids found their creative incubator —and their place to shine.

“The one-act festival is the thing that was very unique to us as young people, and really influenced the reason why we’re all working still today,” Powell says. “I think that it gave us a sense that you can create things yourself. You don’t have to wait for someone.”

Cast of Characters

If you were casting those Chrysalis Players of the late ‘90s in a John Hughes movie, it wouldn’t be hard to see who would play what role. Johnny is the hot older guy, and the object of many a schoolgirl crush. Keith is the driven, focused one. Aubrey’s the oddball. Neil’s the comic relief.

“I became everyone’s younger, annoying brother,” admits Rory Donavan. “But the cool thing about the drama league kids is that we were all oddballs.”

Oddballs, perhaps—and certainly committed ones. At the time, few could have predicted how many would move on to mainstream success.

“Yes, often, we realized how incredibly talented the group of kids were who were here,” says Kathy Buterbaugh, the official adult-in-the-room with the Chrysalis Players back in the day. “We did not recognize fully how unique that talent pool was. We just figured it was everywhere. But it’s really not.”

Buterbaugh, the sole employee at the Wilmington Drama League to this day, keeps some of its secrets—but she doesn’t keep them very close to the vest. She says she quietly permitted the barnyard invasion of McDonald’s (though she did insist that a milkshake be purchased). She’ll tell you about the performance of Cinderella when Plaza eschewed the original choreography in the final performance to launch into the Macarena. She knows about the time a bunch of Delaware girls with stars in their eyes went to see Gallagher in Spring Awakening and hung around the stage door to bring him a Charcoal Pit chocolate milkshake—packed in dry ice, no less.

And unlike the rest of Delaware, she’s never surprised to see them popping up on talk shows or movie trailers—possibly because she doesn’t own a TV. “When I catch what they’re doing, it’s intentional, so I have to Hulu them or whatever,” she says.

Many of those Chrysalis Players embarked on different education and career paths after their days with the Wilmington Drama League—but the time spent and lessons learned in that building on the corner of Market Street and Lea Boulevard stayed with all of them.

“The thing is that it made for a very natural transition for a lot of us—Seth and me and
Aubrey—to the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York, which is underneath a grocery store,” Casey says. “It’s just a moldy 200-seat black box in a not particularly nice area in the Penn Station region of Manhattan.”

But it had that familiar spirit of people coming together to put on a show. And it felt like home.

Breaking Big

Keith Powell remembers the night in an apartment in Astoria—“on that one block in Astoria Queens where everyone in Delaware seemed to move to”—sitting among alumni of the Wilmington Drama League and watching TV as Gallagher won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, wishing his friend Seth (that would be Seth Kirschner) a happy birthday during his acceptance speech.

It was the first big trophy won by any of them, but it wasn’t the first time their private and professional and Delaware lives would cross. Some things you might expect—like Kirschner and Plaza both appearing on 30 Rock with Powell. But far more often, you’ll see them supporting each other in small, self-produced work. There’s the Upright Citizen’s Brigade show “That’s My Booze” starring Kirschner and Plaza … and directed by Casey.

There’s Powell and Plaza popping up in the YouTube video “The Dark Side of Ring Pop,” shot by Kirschner. And the web series “Keith Powell Directs a Play” stars Plaza and Kirschner.

They act, write, direct and produce in a digital world that didn’t exist when they were performing at the Drama League, but for which they were uniquely prepared to flourish.
And—always—they had each other.

“I think what makes us particularly unique was that we all inspired each other, and we all allowed ourselves to be inspired by each other,” Powell says. “I think we’re all each other’s cheerleaders.”

He remembers giving Plaza advice on getting an agent when she appeared on 30 Rock. Ciarrocchi remembers getting pointers on improv from Plaza when she was going to school in Chicago. Donavan learned from all of them when he was running around the Drama League starting fires. (Note: He denies starting actual fires.)

“Being younger and looking up to them, everyone was the most talented thing I’d ever seen,” Donavan says. “And looking back, they were.”

And though a few have become household names, they continue to be cheerleaders for talent from Delaware. In conversation, every single person interviewed for this story dropped a name of someone else who’s in the entertainment industry and working and doing well: Filmmaker Jeremy O’Keefe. Actor/playwright Patrick Flynn. Actress/musician Heather Robb.

“The big secret in this business is that people are working and making a living long before people stop feeling sorry for them,” Casey says.

Finding Home

About 20 years have passed since the birth of the Chrysalis Players, and young playwrights and actors and set designers still gather in that building off Market Street, rehearsing one-act plays in the wings, in the lobby, in the offices—anywhere they can find space.

Buterbaugh tells the youngsters stories of Plaza and Casey, Powell and Ciarrocchi, Gallagher, Donavan and Kirschner, and how they left the cocoon, spread their wings, and learned to fly.

“They’re unintentionally inspiring a whole new generation of artists,” she says. “The youngest director in this year’s one-act festival was probably 12.”

They all come back to visit—usually in a low-key fashion, but sometimes to premiere a movie, headline a fundraiser or to direct a show. And they hold onto what they took from the Drama League —sometimes literally.

“I think I still have it,” Casey says. He’s talking about the duck costume. “If my mom threw it out, she didn’t tell me.”

Some are returning for the long haul. Donavan just bought a home in Wilmington, from where he’ll commute to continue working in Broadway’s Finding Neverland. After years of professional work, he recently directed Young Frankenstein for The Milburn Stone Theater in North East, Md., and the return to community theater refreshed him.

“The sole reason everyone is there is that they love theater,” he says. “And it’s so nice to go back and rediscover that.”

 

AUBREY PLAZA
• You know her as: April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation.
• You should see: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates with Anna Kendrick, and Dirty Grandpa with Robert De Niro, her two upcoming movies.
NEIL CASEY
• You know him as: A writer (and occasional player) on Saturday Night Live, Inside Amy Schmuer and Kroll Show.
• You should see: Ghostbusters, where he’s the bad guy.
KEITH POWELL
• You know him as: James “Toofer” Spurlock on 30 Rock.
• You should see: Keith Broke His Leg, his new web series.
JOHN GALLAGHER JR.
• You know him as: Jim Harper on The Newsroom.
• You should see: James Gunn’s The Belko Experiment. (He’s also popped up with some music gigs in New York and Philly lately.)
CARLY CIARROCCHI
• You know her as: Carly on The Sunny Side Up Show.
• You should see: The show “moving” to the city. (Your 4-year-old is very excited.)
RORY DONAVAN
• You know him as: An ensemble player in Finding Neverland on Broadway.
• You should see: Whenever he gets to fill in as Captain Hook.
SETH KIRSHNER
• You know him as: Josh on NBC’s Lipstick Jungle.
• You should see: His starring role in the indie romantic comedy Completely Normal.