Best Bets: Brown Box Theatre brings Shakespeare to Delmarva

From left, actors Ivy Rya, Drew Cleveland, Tanya Stockler and Francis Xavier Ryan perform a scene from Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” presented by the Brown Box Theatre Project. The production will be staged Friday night at 7:30 on The Green in Dover and in various sites across the Delmarva region for the next three weeks. (Submitted photo/Aram Boghosian)

If you’re like many English students, the works of Shakespeare may have been a tough slog back in the day. Kyler Taustin thinks there’s a reason for that.

“We in the United States have made Shakespeare into poetry and literature within the education system and rarely are people actually performing it — are they speaking it out loud,” he said.

“And in so many ways, Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard. And it’s not meant to be read.”

To that end, Mr. Taustin started the Brown Box Theatre Project, which travels to four states each summer, bringing free full-scale theater to places and people who may not be regularly exposed to live productions.

After beginning its Delmarva swing Thursday night at the Freeman Stage in Selbyville, Brown Box will perform The Bard’s “Measure for Measure” Friday night at 7:30 on The Green in Dover. It will travel to a number of locations in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware through Sept. 21.

It just finished a two-week run in Massachusetts on Sunday.

“What these live outdoor productions are supposed to is to reintroduce Shakespeare as a playwright, which is what he truly was, and share these stories that are yes, 400-plus years old, but they are still extremely valuable as art pieces and surprisingly timely and relevant to modern-day society,” said Mr. Taustin, who is the project’s executive artistic director and the play’s director.

Brown Box is in its ninth season of bringing performances to local communities.

“It’s really about trying to break down geographical and financial barriers that prevent audiences from seeing live professional performance art,” said Mr. Taustin, who grew up in Berlin, Maryland, and attended Emerson College in Boston.

“While there are some performing arts around the peninsula, when it comes to an opportunity for professional and affordable performances around the region, the goal was to bring some of that to my home region.

“We started with very small two-person plays. We did it up north (in Boston) and traveled south for one show at the Globe Theater in Berlin,” Mr. Taustin said.

“Touring was always within the model because we always believed while we are trying to break down financial barriers within the urban centers where there is a lot of theater already, in the rural areas there are both geographic and financial barriers. We’ve expanded every year with the tour getting larger and us going to more places during the year while still serving the same mission it did on day one.”

Kyler Taustin directs “Measure for Measure” for the Brown Box Theatre Project.

The tour will take them to 35 communities this summer in both Massachusetts and the Eastern Shore. Many of the venues in which Brown Box performs are not your typical theater setups.

All, like tonight’s performance at The Green in Dover, are in outdoor spaces. Mr. Taustin describes Brown Box as a “turnkey operation,” in that it is a self-contained traveling organization.

“One of the main realizations about doing this is that many of these communities don’t have the infrastructure that would provide us with a ‘normal’ theater setting,” he said.

“We provide all of the costumes, sound, lighting, sets and all we need is a place to plug in the electric. It takes us about a year to plan these Shakespeare plays, to design them and cast them and rehearse them and then prepare them and get them ready to tour.”

He said it’s a balance between artistic integrity and the ability to perform wherever the schedule takes them.

“We have to do be so thoughtful about what we want to say with these plays as any theater artist would do. But we also have to look at the design and make sure that it is tourable. No matter if we are in a traditional amphitheater or in a traditional space or if we are in a park or in a field or in a historical site or in downtown Berlin where they close Main Street, that we make sure that the integrity of the piece and the statements that we are trying to say and the spectacle that we provide all still holds true and the production still works no matter what the backdrop may be.”

This is the third year that Brown Box will bring Shakespeare to The Green. The past two years, the company has performed “Hamlet” and “As You Like It.” “It’s one of my favorite beautiful spots” said Mr. Taustin.

Sarah Boess is the main character Isabella in “Measure for Measure.” (Submitted photo/Aram Boghosian)

“It is a beautiful, open green space with historical buildings behind it. It really is quite stunning. The trees are beautiful and really accent what we are bringing to the space. People bring their chairs and get to see this pop-up theater that is fully realized with sets and sound and the sets are impressively large that come out of one trailer on the day of the performance.

“We are able to set everything up on the day in about an hour and 20 minutes to an hour and 40 minutes, which allows us to arrive on the day, set up, perform and break it all down and we are off and headed to the next city.”

The nine-member cast plus five crew members will play Mr. Taustin’s hometown of Berlin Saturday night and Chincoteague, Virginia, on Sunday.

Other Delaware dates on the 18-city area tour are Wilmington’s Rockford Park on Wednesday, Holts Landing State Park in Dagsboro on Sept. 11, the Jay’s Nest in Seaford on Sept. 12 and the Lewes Public Library to end the tour on Sept. 21. All performances are at 7:30 p.m.

“Measure for Measure,” believed to have been written in 1603 or 1604, was chosen by Brown Box for its connection to today’s world, said Mr. Taustin.

It’s a black comedy, which tells of political upheavel. The heroine Isabella is called upon to fight back against power, corruption and sexual blackmail.

“We felt that it was surprisingly relevant to headlines of today and in many ways, sadly relevant and timely — the fact that a 400-year-old-plus text is acknowledging and addressing hypocrisy by those in power that are meant to uphold it, the abuse of power by those who are meant to uphold it, gender politics and the way that gender plays a role in the workplace and society and in politics,” Mr. Taustin said.

“The play is really just acknowledging these ideas that we’ve all seen and heard about over the last several years. No mater what side of the political spectrum you may fall on in the United States, we believe this is a conversation worth having and a topic worth discussing and hopefully all of the communities we serve will have those conversations that will ignite those thoughtful realizations about the human experience, specifically as it is painted so vividly by Shakespeare 400-plus years ago”

Mr. Taustin also hopes the performance will make audience members come to have a deeper appreciation about the work of Shakespeare overall.

“We are performing Shakespeare in palatable way. It is truly in its form when you see it the way its meant to be. It is truly for everyone and that is a surprise that I think a lot of our communities have grown to appreciate and value, is that this “foreign language,” so to speak, is actually something that they can appreciate when they are able to see and hear it the way it is actually meant to be seen.”

Due to mature themes this show is recommended for ages 13 and older with the advisory of a parent.

For more information on the Brown Box Theatre Project, visit www.brownboxtheatre.org.

JoJo Siwa in Harrington

Nickelodeon star and YouTube sensation JoJo Siwa will perform with special guest The Belles at the Delaware State Fair M&T Bank Grandstand Sunday in Harrington at 7 p.m.

Ms. Siwa’s second EP entitled “Celebrate” features four new songs: “It’s Time To Celebrate,” “#1U,” “Worldwide Party,” and “Bop!”.

JoJo Siwa will perform Sunday at the Delaware State Fair grandstand stage. (TNS photo)

The music video for “Bop!” was released on Ms. Siwa’s YouTube channel last month, and to date has garnered over 4.4 million views.

Pit tickets are $99.50. Track tickets are $59.50 – $69.50. Stadium seats will be $39.50 and grandstand/clubhouse are $34.50. Service fees are extra.

To purchase them, visit DelawareStateFair.com.

Beers, Rims & Notes

Blue Earl’s Fourth Annual Beers, Rims & Notes will take place Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. featuring a car show, craft beer, wine and spirits and live music featuring local rockabilly bands The Bullets and The Fifty Fives.

There will be a biergarten, outdoor games, a summer draft beer release and a Delicious Craving food truck.

For car show registration and tickets, visit www.blueearlbrewing.ticketleap.com/beers-rims–notes.

Blue Earl Brewing is at 210 Artisan Drive, Smyrna.

Choral Society open house

An open house for those interested in joining the Delaware Choral Society will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church, Dover, with refreshments and time to ask questions.

Delaware Choral Society this fall will rehearse the Christmas program “Realms of Glory” which will bring choral works by Mendelssohn, Holst and more to the Dover High stage on Dec. 14.

With the support of a local instrumental ensemble and under the direction of Dr. James Wilson, the choral society will share the stage with the Delaware Youth Chorale (grades 3-8).

Full rehearsals begin Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. (register starting at 6 p.m.). A $40 member registration can be paid in September. Visit www.delawarechoralsociety.org for more information.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the horror film “Don’t Let Go” and an extended cuts of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and Midsommar.

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “Men in Black: International,” the thriller “Ma” and the comedy “Booksmart.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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