Best Bets: Despite stalled season, Freeman Stage moving forward

A large crowd at the Freeman Stage takes in a show featuring singer/songwriter Ben Folds and Violent Femmes in July of 2019. No announcements have been made thus far concerning shows at Freeman this summer. Whether there will be a slate of performances at the Sussex venue this season is undetermined.

With the coronavirus crisis affecting all manner life as we know it, the Freeman Stage in Selbyville has had to stand in place while still moving forward.

Although its summer season of shows is still undetermined, with no performances announced thus far, plans are on the books to build a new venue for its ever-growing fan base who have turned out in droves to see and hear national and local acts since 2008.

But before the good news about the future comes the current reality of the situation. The Freeman Stage was slated to announce its 13th season lineup in mid-March, with tickets going on sale soon after.

“Instead, we halted operations so we could monitor what we were being asked to do by our state and local officials both in the short-term, as well as to understand the implications of the pandemic on our season plans,” said Joshua M. Freeman Foundation Executive Director Patti Grimes by email this week.

“Like most businesses, our staff has been working from home since the mandate was announced by Gov. Carney in mid-March, relying heavily on video conferencing so we can still engage face-to-face with each other. We have even organized morning meditation sessions, breakfast meet-up and virtual happy hours to help us stay connected as a team.”

Ms. Grimes said this year’s season, if there is one, will look much different than first thought in many ways.

“The season we originally planned will not be the same if we are able to do so this summer. We have spent the last few months creating a path that embraces the CDC guidelines — with physical distancing and performances that are ‘right-sized’ for a smaller audience, which will be required this summer. At this time, our board of directors has not yet made a final decision on how we are going to proceed, but we are expecting a determination in the next few weeks.”

Adding to its dilemma, Ms. Grimes said the Freeman has seen cancellations or postponements of whole tours by national acts that were scheduled to play the Sussex venue this summer.

The Tamburitzans, an ensemble of musicians, dancers and singers, perform at the Freeman Stage last summer.

Ms. Grimes said the constantly evolving situation has made things very tricky to plan.

“The ever-changing landscape of these unprecedented times is probably the most challenging part. The guidelines set forth at this time may change tomorrow, making planning a lot more difficult,” she said.

Still committed their mission of providing access to everyone, they came up with several ways to present the arts virtually.

The “The Stage is Yours!,” showcases local musical talent on their Facebook page; “The Weekly Dose of the Arts,” provides grade-appropriate arts activities and their newest collaboration with artist John Donato, who creates virtual art projects anyone can do from home called “Creating Whimsical Masterpieces at Home with John Donato.”

“We’ve been very pleased with the reception those programs have received from our 30,000-plus social media followers,” Ms. Grimes said.

As this year’s season is stuck in neutral, the Freeman Foundation, the nonprofit organization which was established in 2007 to honor Josh Freeman, the former chairman of the Carl M. Freeman Companies, who died in December of 2006, is hard at work planning for the future and the new Freeman Arts Pavilion.

At the current location of The Cove Bar & Grille adjacent to the Freeman Stage, the bigger facility is expected to take three to five years to build and cost between $25 million and $27 million.

“As our audience grew and the types of performances we offered expanded over the past several years, we quickly realized we also physically outgrew the footprint of the current venue,” Ms. Grimes said.

“The planned Freeman Arts Pavilion will give our patrons more ‘leg room,’ but with the same intimate feel — and appeal — of The Freeman Stage. It will also provide enhanced and expanded production capabilities, such as loading docks, artist dressing rooms, sound and video rooms areas and adequate on-site parking, that are required by many touring artists.

“At the Stage, our maximum capacity is about 2,700, so the planned capacity of The Freeman Arts Pavilion of 4,400 – with 1,100 under a roof – is approximately a 60% increase.”

The Carl M. Freeman Foundation will donate a substantial amount toward construction, but the remaining balance (a majority of the costs) will need to be raised by the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation through a capital campaign.

An artist rendering of the proposed Freeman Arts Pavilion shows an expanded area that is expected to have a capacity of 4,400 people with 1,100 under a roof. That is a 60% increase over the current capacity of 2,700 at the Freeman Stage.

“We are currently in the ‘quiet phase’ of our capital campaign and intend to publicly announce our fundraising initiative specific to The Freeman Arts Pavilion as the project evolves in the design process,” Ms. Grimes said.

But while she is looking forward to bigger things to come, Ms. Grimes said not having the arts in our lives right now in a real-life sense is a sobering time.

“Not being able to physically present our season at the Stage at this time has been disappointing for all of us because the arts are an essential part of life — they bring joy, healing and creative expression to so many. Our staff misses seeing our community create these ever-lasting memories at the Stage with family, friends and neighbors,” she said.

“Additionally, as a nonprofit, the uncertainty of the season has made the need for donations an even more integral part of our organization, since much of the earned revenue from the season ticket sales goes toward supporting our Arts Access Initiative for the local schools and community at large.”

For more information on the Freeman Stage, visit FreemanStage.org.

Clear Space expanding

Just as the Freeman Stage is looking to grow, so too is another Sussex arts facility, Clear Space Theatre.

As noted in this space last week, the Rehoboth Beach theater is on the move with plans announced this week.

Building plans at 415 Rehoboth Ave. for a theater and rehearsal theater were recently submitted to the city of Rehoboth Beach.

A rendering of expanded plans for Clear Space Theatre in Rehoboth Beach shows two buildings at 415 Rehoboth Ave. — a theater and a rehearsal space.

The plans include two structures; a 256-seat traditional theater and a rehearsal theater, known as The Spotlight Theatre. Officials say both buildings were designed within the city’s building code.

Clear Space officials say the new building plans are a result of creative thinking, combining the city code requirements and suggestions from the community.

“Our team was star struck by our original plans, however the path from last year to now has given us a much better set of plans that will address community concerns and zoning issues from the old design. The new plans create a much improved place for actors, residents and visitors to come and enjoy live theatre.” said Wesley Paulson, executive director of Clear Space Theatre in a written statement.

“Clear Space Theatre generates over one half million dollars a year to the local economy through our patron support of local restaurants and the boardwalk before and after our performances. We look forward to being a part of the city for generations to come.”

Construction on the site is expected to being in the fall. The estimated completion date for the theater is in 2022 and the Spotlight Theatre will be in 2023.

Clear Space is forming a capital campaign committee to raise the funds for the construction of the two buildings.

Clear Space performs 13 shows during their season and has year-round performing arts education classes for children and adults at the current location at 20 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach.

For more information about performing arts education or for season updates, visit ClearSpaceTheatre.org.

June Jam moved

In response to the ongoing restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, June Jam officials announced this week that they will move the 42nd annual festival to Aug. 15 from its original date of June 13.

Still held at the G and R Campground in Houston, the music event will feature Tom Petty tribute band Damn the Torpedoes, Jason Morton and the Chesapeake Sons, Petting Hendri, Nothin But Trouble, a reunion of the band Hotwire, Tenfold Trouble and Scrapple.

For more information on tickets and camping, visit JuneJam.com.

Ladybug date change

Earlier this week, we told you about the cancellation of the Ladybug Music Festivals in Milford and Wilmington. The events will now turn into a two-day digital festival showcasing female artists and female-fronted bands.

The original dates for the online event were June 10-11. However they will now be changed to sometime in July to accommodate additional artists’ schedules.

Performer announcements along with the new dates will be announced soon at LadybugFestival.com.

Shakespeare Fest canceled

Delaware Shakespeare’s board and staff have made the decision to postpone this summer’s production of “The Tempest” until the summer of 2021.

“The Delaware Shakespeare Summer Festival means so much to so many people, and we’re sorry to deliver this disappointing news,” said David Stradley, producing artistic director in a statement.

“Our audience’s affection for Del Shakes and the Rockwood Park (in Wilmington) experience is tangible. We look forward to gathering as a community again next summer, or sooner, if public health conditions allow.”

Mr. Stradley said based on the benchmarks Gov. John Carney has put in place to reopen Delaware’s economy, the earliest Delaware would enter Phase Two would be June 15 – one day before Del Shakes was to welcome more than 30 artists to start rehearsing “The Tempest.”

Phase Two still requires physical distancing in work environments and at public gatherings. He said there is no way to safely gather 30 artists in an indoor studio for an active rehearsal process while still maintaining physical distance.

“Before we can welcome an audience, we first have to welcome artists,” said Julie Russ, board president.

“The health of our artists was the leading guidepost for this decision. But the financial realities of performing to radically reduced crowds were also daunting, and Delaware Shakespeare has always carefully stewarded its resources. We are acting now to ensure the financial resources are in place to continue creating great theatre for many years into the future.”

Performances of “The Tempest” were to begin July 17.

All professional artists, crew and summer staff have been compensated for their time to date working on “The Tempest” and to show appreciation for their commitment to Del Shakes. Current holders of festival passes and two-show packages will be contacted to discuss their options.

In addition, Delaware Shakespeare is developing contingency plans for a smaller-scale event that could be offered at Rockwood Park if public health conditions allow.

Shakespeare-loving fans can view Del Shakes actors reading sonnets each weekday in videos posted on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, as well as participate in online salons such as this Saturday’s “Tales from Tour, Vol. 1,” a Zoom discussion with three veteran actors from Del Shakes Community Tours.

For more information, visit delshakes.org or email info@delshakes.org.

At Home Concerts

Finally, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs (HCA) has introduced a new digital feature highlighting local music and historic sites across the First State. The At Home Concert Series is now live on HCA’s YouTube channel.

The first concert in the series, a solo, half-hour performance by singer/guitarist Mike Miller, was recorded live in the historic courtroom of The Old State House in Dover. The series will continue with additional concerts featuring artists from around the region performing in historic venues across the state.

“History and the arts go hand-in-hand and we have a great tradition of playing host to local musicians and performers at Delaware’s historical sites,” said HCA Director Tim Slavin in a statement. “The At Home Concert Series makes that relationship even stronger and allows for more Delawareans to connect with our shared history digitally.”

The series is a partnership between HCA and the Delaware Friends of Folk, the Dover-based nonprofit that supports folk music and folk musicians on the Delmarva peninsula and throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. As part of the partnership, the Friends of Folk identifies musicians and groups to perform in the series, and the division provides the performance space and audio/visual expertise for recording the concerts.

In his introduction to the series’ inaugural concert, John Kidd, president of the Friends of Folk’s board of directors noted, “We are in the midst of a very strange situation and artists are suffering along with everyone else. What we are going to try to do with this series is to bring some artists into your computer and let you see what people are doing locally.”

The At Home Concert Series is the latest collaboration between the two organizations.

Annually since 2014, HCA has worked with the First State Heritage Park and the Friends of Folk to present The Old State House Concert Series, a set of free live performances held in The Old State House on the second Friday of each month between October and March.

Now showing

Movies at Midway in Lewes has announced it will reopen Monday with a limited schedule.

New movies available for download starting today are “The High Note,” “Teenage Girl: First Wheels” and “The Vast of Night.”